Trails of co-parenting with my ex.

I've made some posts elsewhere so I'm sure there are a few that know a part of my situation.
As of January I'm able to see my 7-year-old daughter every other Saturday and Sunday for 7 hours each day. This was interrupted for a few months due to COVID but I spoke to my daughter a few times a week via facetime to keep in contact. Recently we started up my visits again.
When I see her we play boardgames & dolls & legos & Video games, watch movies, and bake/cook together. She says she has a good time. We'd go out and do more away from the house, but COVID complicates that.
My problem is that I worry I'm not connecting with her. My ex alienated her from me all last year (I got to see her once a month for like 2 hours) and manipulated her into referring to my ex's boyfriend as "dad" within a month or two of my daughter meeting him.
During my visits my daughter rarely calls me dad (she usually refers to me by my first name), and I never hear her say she loves me (not even "I love you too" when I say it to her). I feel like she purposely withholds saying these things because she doesn't feel like she's allowed to say them.
Honestly I don't even feel like a dad anymore. I just kinda feel like "the cool uncle" or something. I would love to ask my daughter if she loves me, but that doesn't seem appropriate to ask. Nor does making her call me dad instead of by my first name.
I'm going to be asking for more time to be negotiated by my lawyers. Sadly my job doesn't give me a lot of freedom during the week since I work overnights. But I'd like to get overnights on my weekends as well as phone calls during the week.

Advice wise I'd just like to know what I can do. Is there anything I can do to connect with her better. Anyway we can discuss my concerns about her being alienated with me without putting her into a awkward situation or laying any blame on anyone (including her mother). I know this stuff takes time, but its always hard to tell if things are progressing positively instead of negatively when things are slow going either way.
There was one positive thing during my last visit. While playing Animal Crossing with me she did call me dad. She also told me that my animal crossing "me" was her "me's" dad too. That made me feel better.
Just seeing if anyone here has any suggestions or thoughts on the subject.
 
I'm so sorry, especially that shitty behavior your ex is exhibiting. That's pretty much rule #1 of how NOT to act when you divorce and share kids. The best I can advise is 1) keep doing what your doing and make as much time with her as possible. As she gets older and more independent, she will be able to parse your dedication and your ex's manipulation. It's frustrating, but you need to play the long game. And 2) ask her about her interests. Let her talk about her favorite shows, activities, toys, books, etc. It will help you plan how to spend your time. I could never give a damn about cars and automotives, but the way it lights up my son, I've made a point to learn and give him as many resources as I can to nuture his interest. If there's anything she's always going to need, it's stability and someone she knows will support her and her interests.
 
First bit of advice: Remember that no matter what labels you give each other or which are given to you by others, you are still father and daughter and this can never be changed.

Next, in English, "Dad" does not always mean "Father." It is usually a term used to denote the male figure who positively influenced you the most while growing up. If she is calling someone else "Dad," then this may mainly be because you only spend 7hrs/week with her. FWIW my son has been calling me and his mother by our first names since he was 2. He refers to us as "my dad/my mom" to other people, but not to us directly.

I hear a lot about how YOU are unhappy with the situation and how much it makes YOU uncomfortable when she does not refer to YOU as "Dad." Again, see advice #1, but it makes me concerned that I do not hear anything about how it makes HER feel when you insist that she call you "Dad." The priority here, I think, is that she should feel comfortable around you and look forward to seeing you & spending time with you, and not focus on which label she uses to describe you/ask for your attention. At this point in my writing, @Celt Z has snuck in a post, and she is giving the same advice I was about to here--support her, allow her to feel comfortable around you, allow her to trust you, and allow her to open up to you, and you will be doing all the things a dad does, title or no title. DO NOT set up a situation where she feels like you and her mother are playing tug-of-war for her affections, for her approval, or whatever. That will just make her feel like she is a sports trophy to be passed back and forth. Do not make her feel like a trophy.

If anything, I'm actually somewhat encouraged that it doesn't sound like she is taking advantage of the situation to milk you for favors and such ("a REAL Dad would buy me a pony!"), which I assume means she has a good head on her shoulders and a great chance to figure out how things stand for herself, later.

--Patrick
 
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First bit of advice: Remember that no matter what labels you give each other or which are given to you by others, you are still father and daughter and this can never be changed.

Next, in English, "Dad" does not always mean "Father." It is usually a term used to denote the male figure who positively influenced you the most while growing up. If she is calling someone else "Dad," then this may mainly be because you only spend 7hrs/week with her.

I hear a lot about how YOU are unhappy with the situation and how much it makes YOU uncomfortable when she does not refer to YOU as "Dad." Again, see advice #1, but it makes me concerned that I do not hear anything about how it makes HER feel when you insist that she call you "Dad." The priority here, I think, is that she should feel comfortable around you and look forward to seeing you & spending time with you, and not focus on which label she uses to describe you/ask for your attention. At this point in my writing, @Celt Z has snuck in a post, and she is giving the same advice I was about to here--support her, allow her to feel comfortable around you, allow her to trust you, and allow her to open up to you, and you will be doing all the things a dad does, title or no title. DO NOT set up a situation where she feels like you and her mother are playing tug-of-war for her affections, for her approval, or whatever. That will just make her feel like she is a sports trophy to be passed back and forth. Do not make her feel like a trophy.

If anything, I'm actually somewhat encouraged that it doesn't sound like she is taking advantage of the situation to milk you for favors and such ("a REAL Dad would buy me a pony!"), which I assume means she has a good head on her shoulders and a great chance to figure out how things stand for herself, later.

--Patrick
I'm definitely not insisting that she call me dad. It's just something that she did all the time and that stopped when the new guy came in. I know the manipulations my ex uses. She used them on my step kids when I first became involved with her too. This is just rinse-and-repeat for my ex.
I'm sorry if I didn't give the impression that I care about my daughter's feelings more than my own. I do. And for the reasons you've already mentioned I do not stoop to the tactics of her mother. I have never suggested to my daughter that her mother is purposely keeping us apart as much as possible, nor do I say anything bad about her at all. If anything I'm very supportive of her caring very much about her mother, and even the boyfriend; A while back my daughter once even asked me if it was okay to have two dads. I told her she can love as many people as she wants.
I want to be able to spend a lot more time with my daughter. There will be no additional time until the courts open up again probably. My ex isn't going to give me anything until she's risking being chewed out by a judge. My current amount of time with her is based on a step-program meant to gradually give me more time with my daughter to ensure she doesn't get overwhelmed. The weekend schedule I have with her is currently step 3. We were supposed to discuss step 4, and on, in June and begin implementing step 4 (likely to include overnights) as of July 1st. We could easily decide these things without a lawyer so long as they is written confirmation, but currently my ex won't even allow me a single facetime call with my daughter once a week. Everything I get I'm going to have to fight for, she has made that very clear.
 
I'm so sorry, especially that shitty behavior your ex is exhibiting. That's pretty much rule #1 of how NOT to act when you divorce and share kids. The best I can advise is 1) keep doing what your doing and make as much time with her as possible. As she gets older and more independent, she will be able to parse your dedication and your ex's manipulation. It's frustrating, but you need to play the long game. And 2) ask her about her interests. Let her talk about her favorite shows, activities, toys, books, etc. It will help you plan how to spend your time. I could never give a damn about cars and automotives, but the way it lights up my son, I've made a point to learn and give him as many resources as I can to nuture his interest. If there's anything she's always going to need, it's stability and someone she knows will support her and her interests.
She expressed an interest in me watching the Twilight movies with her. I've never be interested and never owned the films preceding this conversation.
So I bought the films and we've attempted to sit down to watch the third and fourth films (her favorites). We only stopped because she got bored and wanted to play some Animal Crossing. But yes. I want to encourage her to tell me what she enjoys and I'll find ways to share them with her if she wants me to.
 
The last few weekends went well. We never did fully get through any of the Twlight movies (I think I've seen about half each of three of the films) but the time has been spent well. A few visits past she's watching this Youtube channel at my place called Cookie Swirl C (some of you parents with younger kids may know of her). It's a show where the youtuber unboxes and plays with various little kid toys (huge market for that kind of stuff on youtube). In one of the episodes she was particularly fascinated with a dispenser toy that drops vending machine capsules filled with doll parts so you can piece together your own creations. I picked up one for her and we had a lot of fun doing that together. There's also been a lot of Minecraft together and Untitled Goose Game. I recently picked up Slime Rancher with my daughter in mind, so maybe she will like that too. I was also pleased that she sat down to watch Spirited Away with me and absolutely loved it. She came back this weekend and wanted to share Kiki's Delivery Service with me because she watched it with her mother recently after her interest in Spirited Away.

Progress wise I feel the connection between us is getting stronger. But I still only see her every other weekend so there's not a lot of time together to cement it I feel. She still, for some reason, withholds saying things like "I love you" to me (even in response when I say it to her). I'm not pushing her to say it or even mentioning it. If she wants to say it she will say it. She still gives me hugs and snuggles up to me during movies, so I believe she does love me. My best guess is she is still confused over everything. But when she does finally say it again I'll probably tear the hell up.
 
Somehow managed to negotiate an overnight with my daughter every other weekend. It's a strong step.
 
Biting my finger nails right now.
Due to the difficult degree of guests at work over the weekends upper management have pretty much nixed my every other Saturday night off. This means I've had to message my ex and ask for a different overnight during the week.
I honestly do not expect my ex to be accommodating.
 
Things have been moving forward. I'm seeing Hailey every Sunday for about 7 hours. Had to give up my overnights for now due to work constraints. But my ex has been surprisingly reasonable with my visit schedule. Even giving me a two-hour dinner with Hailey every other week (my first dinner with her was last Friday). The last two Sundays have been pretty chill, but we did get to go to the LA zoo the first Sunday. The zoo is currently on a phase 1 reopening and so they are only operating at 20% capacity. I'm looking for some other things that we can do on Sundays. I might even see if Sarah will let me have her for a few extra hours with me so we don't have to rush her home.
Divorce may also finally be pushing forward. Heard from my lawyer that Sarah finally has turned in her financial declaration last week, despite it being due last March.
 

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A dinner with Hailey tonight. I asked her if she was excited for an upcoming overnight we have scheduled for when she is on Thanksgiving Break and she said yes. I asked her if she wanted to do two overnights in a row with me and her eyes lit up. Which is frustrating because I earlier asked my ex if it would be possible to do two nights overnight instead of one since it was Hailey's Thanksgiving Break. She told me "Hailey only wants to do one overnight" and left it at that. This is an ongoing problem such as with my request for some vacation time with Hailey: "Hailey has concerns about a week with you that she would like addressed before we agree to anything" she replied.

My ex needs control over my visits. If her need for that control cannot be justified she will guide my daughter's answers to manipulate for that control.
 
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