Contributed content by Brian “B-Pack” Packer
Being a long-distance dad (LDD) sucks. Don’t get me wrong, being a dad is amazing. It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. However, when your kid lives in another city, it just sucks.
Because you’re not there, you miss the little moments, the everyday things like dropping them off at school or the random moments at home while their dancing in their PJs. Sometimes, you even miss the big moments: first words, first steps, the big recital or peewee game. It’s tough. My daughter is 7 and as close as we are, there are so many moments where I wish I could just be there physically…but she’s 700 miles away and that sometimes sucks.
Last week, as I was scrolling through my timeline, I saw a flood of friends posting pictures from daddy-daughter dances and date nights. I must admit, I love when black men show up in the lives of their daughters. Because let’s face it, we’ve all dated a chick with “daddy issues” and you realize, if she would have gotten a few more hugs as a kid, she wouldn’t be so bat-sh*t crazy now.
Anywho, all the pics of little girls beaming as they got dolled up for a date with daddy had me unearthing my best Drake impression of being too deep in feelings. I kicked myself for not realizing it was daddy-daughter weekend and planning more accordingly to be there for my babygirl.
For a LDD, these moments can happen all too often. And worse, there are not many networks of resources I have found valuable for dads like me, but there are plenty of us. It takes planning and preparation to be an effective LDD and if you slack on your game, it can be a bummer for you and your little one(s).
Never fear because I’ve got five tips that have helped me over the years and hopefully can help another brother struggling to have a relationship with his youngins from afar:
Utilize Technology: If your kid is older than two, it’s highly likely they have access to some device or gadget that has WIFI and the ability to communicate with it. My 1st grader just got her first iPhone (crazy, right?). But beyond using it take 4,000 selfies a day and playing Subway Surfer, it’s a great tool for us to connect independently. I decided not to activate her phone because she doesn’t need to call anyone but when she’s at home she can text, Facetime and WIFI call at her own discretion. This is a great way to keep in touch with your kids. If you can, invest in a device they can use on their own, it also frees up the other parent’s device so they can go back to scrolling Instagram in peace.
Stay Involved: Duh right? But seriously, just because you’re not physically there every day doesn’t mean you can’t stay very much involved in their day-to-day. Every year, I try my best to take my daughter to her first day of school. Beyond the chance to get a dope Facebook photo opp, it also gives me a chance to meet her teachers and administrators face-to-face. Rather than having them assume where her daddy is, I make it known. You should do the same. Let them know you live out-of-town but very much care about their development over the year. Exchange emails and even cell numbers. Her teacher last year would text us updates on her progress, cute moments in class and general info. As she’s gotten older, the teacher’s level of parent interaction has changed but all teachers appreciate when parents are engaged for the well-being of the kid. My daughter’s school also has an email and text listserv where they send important announcements, so despite being far away I never feel like I don’t know what’s going on at the school. Ask around at your kid’s school to see if they have a similar setup.
Write Letters: This one is kind of old school, but I truly believe there is power in the written word. In today’s text message driven society, writing a letter is a gesture that goes beyond the norm. Its takes time, thought and care. I use letter writing to serve a couple of functions in my relationship with the kiddo. First, it encourages reading and writing as I write the letters to fit her reading level and always encourage her to write me back. Second, I try to make it fun. I travel often for work, so every time I visit a new city, I always pick up a couple of interesting postcards to mail out. Not only does it make my kid feel like her dad goes on great adventures all around the country, but she has an awesome keepsake that she can hold onto and cherish for years to come. If you’re not big on writing 4 pages letters, spend a $1.50 and send a postcard every once in a while. Nothing is cooler to a kid than getting something in the mail from dad.
Hop a Flight: This one is obvious but people will assume it’s expensive and it doesn’t have to be. If being a LDD has just broken you down and you NEED to be with your kid, hop on Hotwire, Expedia, Southwest, whatever and look up some cheap flight tickets. You may even want to sign-up for travel newsletters and e-alerts that let you know when flights go on sale. I once got a $40 plane ticket to go see babygirl just for the weekend. WAY better investment than blowing that money on beer and wings. There’s plenty of time for that…hell I think me and the kid went and got wings that weekend actually. Plan ahead if you can, but utilize those sick days and rollover vacation to make quick trips to be the dad you want to be. Two days with my kid fills me with an endless supply of joy, especially when I make secret trips and pick her up from school. That surprised look, with the run and hug is enough to make a thug tear up. Speaking of thugs crying over their kids, this clip HERE is pure Gold. #PancakesAndSausage
Talk to other Dads: Lastly, the one thing that I found that helps me be a better dad even at long-distance is talking to other dads. Whether they are at home or long-distance, the brotherhood of dads real. From getting advice on how to discipline, what are good gifts to buy or just funny sharing stories, it really helps fill the void of feeling like you’re only a part-time or weekend parent. Talk to your boys, one of my closest homies has a similar situation where one of his kids’ lives in another state but the way he keeps up with her makes it feel like she is in the same house. And in many ways she is. Daily check-ins via text, video chat conversations, weekend trips to visit, it all adds up to a really awesome parenting dynamic. And it helps the other parent feel like everyone is on the same team. Trust me, if you don’t want “baby mama drama” make your presence known, it works wonders.
Parenting aint easy.
No one ever said it would be and life’s circumstances sometimes force us to find creative ways to stay present in our children’s lives. Whether you’re deployed abroad, living in another state, or maybe even incarcerated, there are several ways to have a fruitful relationship with your kids despite not being able to kiss their forehead goodnight as much as you want. Brothers, let’s end this deadbeat daddy myth. We have so much to offer our bambinos, let’s make sure they flourish under the fact they know “my daddy may not be here…but he’s always around.”
Brian Packer aka B. Pack is a PR executive living and working in Chicago. He’s father to one precocious daughter nicknamed “The Spark.” In his spare time he’s passionate about what he calls “The 4 H’s”: Hip-hop, Hot Wings, superHeroes and HBCUs.