Kermit McKelvy Ė Walking Through Faith
Average Girl Magazine: Tell us about being a single father. What are some of the obstacles you face with regards to access and communicating with your children and building a solid relationship?
Kermit McKelvy: Communication is important, especially when it involves younger children. My children were 3 and 4 years old at the time of my divorce, and things are fine if you have a good relationship with your ex, but if not, it can be difficult to get access and to communicate. Certain topics can be controversial.
I think another issue is their privacy. They should be able to talk to their father and you know, carry on a normal conversation. But that really isnít always the case. So, kids get in this funny space where they are a little uncomfortable. They know what your relationship is with the ďExĒ spouse and so they donít really want to talk when they feel like they do because they canít. Thatís a really tough place for kids at those ages to be. So, facing those kinds of obstacles, you can understand that over time, thereís this sort of additive effect that in maybe not having the type of relationship youíd like to have, you are constantly fighting for those types of issues in that type of environment.
Of course, as they get older, you are able to call them and talk to them or they get cell phones and you are able to call them when they are away from home - they have a little bit more freedom. Then, of course, once those things become much easier to do, then you can really begin to form the types of relationships that you want to have because itís easier to talk to them; they are more comfortable talking to you.
Some of the other things are being able to spend time with them. My kids are away. So, the difficulty of getting them here is another challenge and it doesnít last a long time (the visits). So with all of those things, you got to have a plan to overcome them.
AVG: It must have been frustrating to want to have a relationship with your daughters but you werenít really able to. How did you keep focused on maintaining that relationship even though at that time because of their young ages, it didnít seem like it was working?
KM: You just do what you need to do and what you need to do is be in touch. It may not be ideal, but itís better to be in touch then it is to not be in touch. So, you go ahead and send them letters and packages. And the other thing I learned pretty early is that their mother is pretty much in control until some point in their life. So, I always kept a lot of documentation, a lot of recordings, things like that where I could go back and say ďYou know what, I called you 8 times last month. You see these little entries here? Thatís every time I called you.Ē
So, I think what that did for the kids is even though we may have gone long stretches where we didnít actually talk, they knew and understood from the documentation and records, Ďyou know my father was trying to reach out to me.í I think thatís very important. My background and particular relationship - and I believe itís true of a lot of folks - is that for whatever reason, thereís not a lot of overt cooperative behavior that comes from your ex-spouse. You donít know what drives them. And so I always focused on my kids and making sure that I could explain to them that I wanted to be an active part of their lives, that they were very important to me and that we needed to build a relationship. And so every thing that I did, was and really do now is with the idea that I can go back and show them and demonstrate to them in very real and tangible ways that those things were true.
I also think that kids have this 6th sense where they know whatís true and whatís right, and whatís not true. And so being able to demonstrate things in a tangible way is very important. But I also think they have feeling or a sense of what your real motivations are and they will give you credit for that.
AVG: What is your advice for men who want to have a relationship with their children, but their relationships with their exís are strained?
KM: My observation is that the system is slanted away from fathers and youíve got to understand and realize that. If you are in a place where you find that not to be a true, then thatís a very valuable thing. But I think thatís the first thing you got to realize. You also have got to realize is that there are resources beyond you that you can tap into: Fathers and Families and some other organizations that will help you, give you legal advice, give you coping mechanisms. I found those to be very valuable. I joined a couple of those. They donít represent you, but they can give you guidance and tips on how to handle yourself.
I think one of the most important things is you just got to, in the words of Pastor Lance Watsonís terms, ďkeep paddling.Ē You got to keep sending the cards, you got to keep placing the phone calls, and keep records because your kids are going to be 11, 12, 15 years old one day and they are going to understand when you show them that call log that you were calling them 12 times a month and they werenít getting any of the messages. They are going to understand that and thatís going to be tremendously, tremendously important to them.
Exercise your visitation rights. You cannot control what she does, but follow through on what you can do. Go to the pick up point. Go to the airport at the time the kids are supposed to arrive. If they are not there, deal with that in the court system later. All your actions and expectations are to comply with the legal requirements and see your kids.
Avg: How do you think the courts treat fathers who are not deadbeat dads?
KM: I have had some personal experiences with that that have convinced me that thereís an underlying assumption in at least the CA court systems, and probably other court systems, that every dad is a deadbeat dad. For example, when you have a signed visitation agreement and time rolls around for the kids to come out and the mother doesnít want them to come, you end up hiring an attorney and going back to court. First thing they are going to want you to do is go to mediation. So, the lady who is your mediator gets on the phone and asks you to explain why you want to place these kids in such a juxtaposed position. So, the line of questioning and the tone Ė the asking you to explain yourself Ė those are all things that indicate that you understand their position right up front.
I just fundamentally, in my experience, believe that that is the case and itís a very, very difficult thing to deal with. You can be current in all of your child support, you could be current in all of your agreements, but you are constantly, constantly defending yourself against accusations the mother makes. They donít even have to have proof behind it. They only need the mother to say something is so and you are now on the defense trying to explain yourself. The courts are very much making the fundamental assumption that every father is a deadbeat dad. The end result is that a lot of good fathers just end up surrendering to the system. They decide to wait until their children are older to start a new relationship with them thatís not hindered by the courts or the mother.
Get a good attorney. You really need a method of getting a good, solid attorney: one who understands you and what you are trying to do. You want them certified in family law. I didnít know the difference when I first go into this, but now that I am learning, I wouldnít have an attorney whoís not certified in Family Law. Itís another level of qualification and certification they have to take. Once you do that, you understand the difference between a good attorney and an attorney whoís just being an attorney. They understand how the law works and which judge behaves in a certain way, and other important things.
AVG: You are remarried now. So how have you worked now on having a blended family?
KM: We have dealt with it at face value. I think thereís the relationship between me and my kids, me and my wife, and my wife and my kids. I never tried to define that. I allowed her to define that. So, itís really interesting because as a person who has children, your first decision criteria goes to the kids, and once you decide this person is good for your kids, then you can decide if this person is good for you. And once you get through all of that, the next thing I found in our relationship was how to define the relationship between this new spouse that I have and my kids. I pretty much decided that that really wasnít for me to define. The only requirement I placed on myself what that she was a good influence in their life.
Then, I depended on her to work with the kids to define what their relationship was going to be and she did that. Their relationship is a wonderful combo of being a friend and role model while still instilling good values and discipline in them as well. I think if you asked her, she wouldnít say that she is a mother to them, but she is a very good role model and friend to them. She has ways with them that I donít necessarily have because they have built their relationship. I think itís very pleasing, very wonderful what they have built.
AVG: Whatís it like raising daughters today in terms of communicating with them and being in their lives?
KM: I am very fortunate that my daughters are very well grounded, very level headed, very balanced. My girls are 17 and 15 now. In raising daughters, I have tried to almost minimize how I interact with them in terms of whether they were going to be girls or boys. For example, growing up, I loved to play football and so I would watch it with them because I didnít see any reason not to. Iíd make it a big thing. We'd get some popcorn, some hot chocolate and watch the football game, and we played football along with the game. We had a great time. I found that they loved that - the wrestling around and being tossed around - and as they get older, we get into conversations about what it means to be a lady - to be a woman. Of course they get my perspective, but I think thatís probably a fairly important input: hereís what my idea of being a girl, a woman is.
I want them to be confident and independent and own their own decisions. I donít want them to ever give up their femininity either. Thatís important. I expect them to balance those things out. My daughters are athletes, so when they are out in the field, they can wear their socks the way they want, but when they come off the field, be a lady. Be comfortable in your femininity; be comfortable in who you are. Itís about being comfortable across that spectrum. I think fundamentally, there are some basic differences between men and women, and I also think that there are opportunities to achieve in many different forums, but itís defined by the individual, not by society, and I want them to be comfortable in doing that.
~Rebekah L. Pierce
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