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Dads and Divorce // He wants his daughters to know him

Published Jul. 6, 2006

Mark Winn had to learn how to braid hair, how to tell which sweater goes with which skirt, how to keep track of shoe and dress sizes.

"Some things are a little tough," Winn said. "But I want to know my daughters, and I want them to know me."

Winn and Frances McCulloch got married in 1984. Their first daughter was born in 1987, and their second two years later.

"When we met, we were both going to school full time and working," said Winn, an assistant city attorney for St. Petersburg. "Once we both graduated and started in our professions, we just started growing apart and finding that we didn't have a lot of the same interests."

The couple separated in 1992 and divorced about 18 months later.

Winn, 41, wanted to make sure he did his part to minimize the effects of the divorce on his daughters.

"It's hard enough being a kid these days," he said. "You don't need adults making it tougher.

"In the settlement agreement, I tried to make sure their lives weren't disrupted. I've been making child support payments from the day I moved out."

Winn, whose own parents divorced when he was 15, moved to a house only a few blocks from his former wife and daughters. He has the girls, who are 6 and 8, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and for two weeks during the summer. They have their own room in Winn's house, filled with dolls and books and games.

Winn does volunteer work in his daughters' classrooms, attends their ballet practices and recitals and takes them to fairs, craft shows and children's theater performances.

"I love my kids," he said. "But anyone can say that. You have to realize what the most important thing is, and then you have to make the effort.

"I think we've handled this extremely well because their mom and I treat each other like adults. We don't say bad things about each other. She was the person I was married to and still care about, and the fact that we got divorced doesn't make her a bad person or me a bad person."

Frances feels the same way.

"I found it (the girls spending two nights a week with their dad) a little awkward at first," she said, "because I was used to the girls at home, sleeping in their own beds. But at the same time, I wanted them to have a good relationship with their dad.

"We've gotten into a routine now. The girls know that Wednesday and Friday are Dad's nights, and it's gone quite well."

Still, there are painful times, such as when the girls ask Mark whether he loves Frances. And why they got divorced.

"Hard questions to explain to a 6- or 8-year-old," Mark said. "But I tried to explain that just because we don't live together, that doesn't mean we don't care about each other. Things are better, and everybody is happier, if we don't live together.

"Honesty is the key. It's the best way I can show them I care about them. Hopefully, by being honest with them, they'll understand that you have to work at relationships, and that they can be very good. But relationships are not always permanent.

"Our divorce certainly wasn't a good experience, but I hope my daughters see that good things can come from situations that are not what you want them to be. People can still work together and get along. And life still can be good. It just requires a certain amount of work and effort.

"You know," he added after a moment, "fathers can be nurturing."