Ex-wives rail about phony Facebook dads

All those shots of him and the kids make him look like a dutiful father. Meanwhile...

Ex-wives rail about phony Facebook dads

Getty Images; Photo Illustration by Taylor Shute

You see pictures of them playing with their kids in the park or posing at movie theatres. They document every family trip to a restaurant and every birthday present. Who are these seemingly devoted parents with digital cameras? They are the scourge of single moms everywhere: phony Facebook dads. “It’s infuriating! My ex’s Facebook page is full of pictures of our kids with their dad. Talk about false advertising! I still have to make him do activities with the kids!” says “Gail,” a single mom who is a translator in Montreal. (All of the single mothers in this piece requested anonymity.) “What am I going to post? Pictures of me making their lunch for school or banning the Xbox?”

“Tina,” a professor and another single mother, finally de-friended the father of her daughter. “He’s visibly trying to construct a narrative of himself as an involved father,” she noted. Aesthetician and single mom “Dina” put it another way: “What a crock! My ex’s photos say ‘Look at me, I’m a good dad,’ but I had to [garnishee] his wages to get child support. He complains about gas money to drive his daughter to birthday parties and he won’t babysit, yet he’ll post photos where he looks like the world’s best dad…right!”

Phony Facebook dads are the newest irritant for fractured families. “It’s very grating for the custodial parent, which is often the mother,” noted Deborah Brakeley, a clinical counsellor and collaborative divorce coach in Vancouver. “It’s well known that exes, particularly moms, become resentful when their partner suddenly becomes a more dutiful parent, or at least appears so. They ask, ‘Where were you?’ They feel deceived and angry.”

“Suck it up” would be the advice from Sue Johnson. “What are you going to do? You can’t counter-post photos of him looking like a creep and you can’t ask him to take the photos down,” says Johnson, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa. “Spouses are always ticked off when their ex’s image or behaviour doesn’t fit what they experienced inside the marriage. Later on, when the grieving is over, you won’t feel the same way.”

But in the early stages of divorce, especially, Facebook salts the wound. “It’s one thing to hear about your ex suddenly being Super Dad. It’s another to see it,” commiserates Leah Klungness, co-founder of the blog Single Mommyhood. “These fatherhood photo ops are a great way to convince himself he’s a great dad, or to troll for dates and aggravate his ex with the flavour-of-the-month girlfriend.”

According to Florida divorce lawyer Carin Constantine, things heat up Sunday nights, after phony Facebook dads post new pictures. “I get the calls Monday morning,” said Constantine. Montreal divorce lawyer Gabrielle Azran takes similar calls. “I hear the frustration in clients’ voices. I’ve seen a case where the father had the kids change their clothes and take more pictures, to make it look like they were doing activities on different days.”

Not all fathers are insensitive to their former wives’ feelings. Out of respect for his ex, Garnet Mierau chooses not to post pictures of his kids online. “I’ve kind of been forced into that Disney Dad role because I only have partial access to the kids. I want to have quality time and have lots of fun,” said the forester from Kamloops, B.C. “It’s not for show.”

Montreal-based family counsellor Vikki Stark is quick to defend all the wonderful single dads out there. “The photos aren’t necessarily false advertising,” notes Stark, author of Runaway Husbands. “Gaining custody can be a dramatic eye-opener for dads.” Paradoxically, adds Vancouver divorce coach Mark Smith, “divorce can turn previously uninterested dads into very active dads. Thus, the photos.”

“Is that such a horrible thing?” asks Carolyn Ellis, the Toronto-based author of The 7 Pitfalls of Single Parenting. “Don’t we want our kids to play with their dad? Keep the big picture in mind.” That’s exactly what “Pascale,” a Quebec-based single mom is doing. She has become inured to the fraudulent ways her ex-husband depicts himself online. “Ultimately, I don’t want my child’s image of his father ruined, so I don’t say anything,” she says. “I love my son more than I hate my ex. It’s called maturity.”

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