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Where is Phelps' Dad?

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That seems to be the question on everybody's mind these days.

UPDATE: The New York Post reported that Phelps' dad admitted he has not had a single conversation with his Olympian son since Michael left for Beijing, nor has he congratulated him on his eight gold medals: "He's so busy, I'm not sure even his agent can get a hold of him," he said.  He did also say he's been watching his son every single night on TV.


He's the IT boy of the Beijing Olympics who has made history. But when we see his mom and sisters cheering (and crying) in the stands, we always wonder: Where is Michael Phelps' dad?

In interviews, Michael has been outspoken about the sacrifices his mom made raising him, like managing his busy training schedule as a single mom. But what about Dad? Phelps' parents, Fred and Debbie, were high school sweethearts. Both parents were very involved in their children's swimming. "When we started, my dad would be up at 4 a.m. on the mornings I had 5:30 practice," said Michael's sister Hilary. Eventually, the family relocated to be closer to the aquatic center.

But over time, that special bond between the former high school sweethearts began to fade. "It was like a storybook [marriage], but sometimes chapters go in different directions," Debbie told the Baltimore Sun. "We were close, but we grew apart." Fred and Debbie separated when Michael was just 8 years old. After they divorced, it was Michael's mom who drove him to practice twice a day, spending Saturdays going from his games to practices and back. The gulf between father and son grew wider. Although neither will say publicly exactly what caused their rift, Fred Phelps (who is a Maryland State Police Officer) and Michael did not speak for several years after Michael's high school graduation party. Fred didn't even attend the 2000 Olympics. "Two days after he graduated," Fred told the Baltimore Sun, "he said he didn't want me to go to Barcelona because I hadn't been around. This is his world, and I'm just watching him travel through it. People ask me how he's doing, where he's swimming next, and it's hard to say that I don't know."

When asked about the rift, Michael has said: "There are reasons, and I really don't want to get into that. He didn't call me after I set my first world record in 2001. He didn't call me after Barcelona either." Michael's dad remarried before the 2000 Olympics and was most recently living in Linthicum, Md.

"We'll throw e-mails back and forth every now and then," Michael said of his dad in early 2004. Shortly thereafter, the Baltimore Sun reported that Michael did reconcile with his father, but they've since drifted apart again. Fred Phelps was in Greece, but obviously was not in Beijing.

When contacted by the Baltimore Sun for an interview a few weeks back, Fred Phelps declined, saying he didn't want to take away from his son's accomplishments by going into the family story. "This is just about Michael," he said. "This is his glory, his time to shine, and I want him to get everything he wants." But Fred said he is watching the Olympics back in Maryland: "I'm just on pins and needles every time Michael hits the water."

So are we, Fred. So are we.


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next: Notorious Criminal Moms
60 comments so far | Post a comment now
Joe August 19, 2008, 12:42 PM

Divorced dads get a bum rap. All the glory goes to the moms, none to the dads. Just like women get all the child support, custody, and guys get nada. WOMEN, QUIT TAKING ALL THE GLORY.

Anonymous August 19, 2008, 12:49 PM

Two words: deadbeat dad! Debbie is too gracious to say it, and Michael has too much class to say it either. But I would be at the Olympics if I was Fred Phelps, even if it was standing outside the stadium, nothing could stop me. It reminds me of my ex. He would get into a little tiff with my daughter and then wouldn’t go to her recital because “she didn’t want him there.” Of course she wanted him there, but she was just a kid. Sometimes the parent needs to do what’s best for the child despite the words he is telling you. To get remarried one week before the 2000 Olympic final in the 200 butterfly? Tasteless. Talk about insensitive timing. Couldn’t you have waited!!!!! Congrats, Debbie, for doing this on your own on your terms and for doing it with class and grace.

Anonymous August 19, 2008, 12:50 PM

Get a grip, Joe! What universe are you living in? Fred made his bed and now he needs to lie in it.

foxymama August 19, 2008, 1:30 PM

Pipe down Joe….nobody said dads aren’t great. I’ve got a fantastic one and a husband who is a stellar dad. Yeah, moms get custody lots….but what kid wouldn’t want to be taken care of by the mothers? Stop being the type of dad that encourages others to give dads bad wraps.

Anonymous August 19, 2008, 1:37 PM

Eh, I sort of agree with Joe. Maybe Michael’s dad was a PHD in the field of douchebaggery, but as far as my situation. My parents divorced when I was 5. My dad did everything he could to raise us right as my mother was and still is a total deadbeat. We lived with her for a while (almost a year and a half), but my dad managed to get us into his house shortly there after and raise my brother and I. Today we’re both successful, well adjusted adults and I owe it to him and all the sacrifices he made over the years while my mom did her own thing, never putting too much stock in her kids. Mind you, my mother never officially wanted to give up custody. So my father ended up paying her child support and alimony even after she shacked up with some guy just so she wouldn’t take my sibling and I back. So, yeah, I’m skeptical about the old stigma that women HAVE to get custody and payments in a divorce. I’m a man, but I have serious issues with our society’s “women are the weaker sex mentality”. I think if you can fight to have a right to vote, make as much money as a man, own property (all of which I believe EVERYONE should have) you should also be held to the same standards in a court and any other situation as a man would.

Charli August 19, 2008, 2:14 PM

It’s hard to say that he doesn’t want to be there for his son. I can see that. But at the same time this is Micheal’s time and it is Micheal’s decision as to who he wants there with him.

My dad and I don’t talk and his side of the family tries to include me but my dad is almost never there! So I feel your pain Micheal just in a different way.

I do also have some friends that are single dads and that do have custody over their children. So I’m not saying that all dads are the same but there are those who just don’t want to be there.

Anonymous August 19, 2008, 4:24 PM

that pic from SI looks like Phelps is wearing some kind of crazy belly dancing top. haha!

jackie August 19, 2008, 5:44 PM

OMG i know. couldn’t they get a better pic of him. looks like a hula skirt!

he’s pretty cute though.

Tom S. August 19, 2008, 10:08 PM

I am also a divorced dad, and I know that there are two sides to every story. I’m only “luke-warm” towards Mrs. Phelps. She did a good job as a single mom. But it also appears (to me…) that she might NOT be the easiest person on earth to be married to.

It could be that after their divorce, she drove a wedge between the kids and their father. I’ve been very lucky in that regard. Our divorce was civil. We both have the best interest of our kids in mind.

I hope that the Phelps children will reconcile with their father before it is too late. From the brief comments that Mr. Phelps has made to the press, he seems extremely proud of his son, and willing to remain in the background so Michael can have his moment or glory.


GT August 20, 2008, 12:44 AM

Having been dragged through a lopsided divorce myself has taught me not to believe either side. The truth lies somewhere in between. The part that the unenlightened among us don’t seem to comprehend is that it truly does not matter what you do or say. The only things that matter is what your children (and/or ex) THINKS was done or said. My guess is that Michael’s father might listened to the same bad advice given to me by, child psycologists, doctors, pastors, attorneys and other “so called” parenting experts. That bad advice was “Just be patient. The children will seek the truth eventually.” Wrong answer! Parents (Men and Women)need to fight hard for their kids and show them that they love them instead of letting the custodial parent make all of their decisions (present and future) for them. Michael Phelps has it all right now, but it isn’t worth anything if it was at the cost of his Father/Son relationship.

Duke August 20, 2008, 1:30 AM

This story /dynamic is so classic!
Over attachment by mom to son. Son is moms hero, emotional lover, no need for a dad/hubby.

Does ms. Phelps have a boyfriend? I think not. Interesting that he is the only son with 3 girls.

valerie August 20, 2008, 7:45 AM

There are always two sides to every story so let’s not get out panties in a wad. Someday Michael and his Dad will figure all this out. Let’s just hope it is before one of them regrets it. Divorce does not have to have a bad ending. People need to grow up.

JOE A. August 20, 2008, 9:41 AM

I say let them be.Let Michael enjoy his victories before the media starts disecting his personal life.We always have to try and find a bad side to everything!!!Let him enjoy his Gold medals please!!!!

Rebecca West August 20, 2008, 9:55 AM

I really am up set with this last comment, woman get the glory and men get nada. Well let me share a bit of women should get credit for what they do. I myself was a woman married to a great man however we were both young and after finding out the I was pregnant we did what any couples you do we married and then I guess the funn wore off from HIM, the father, I was committed to this marriage through good and bad, but he didn’t see it that way and then walked out of his sons life and mine, when our son was almost 15 years old he came back into it, but I made the plans for him to visit his father in California even though we lived in MI our son would come home and say he was left with babysitter and that he didn’t want to go there anymore but being a good mom I kept trying to get my son to have contact with his father but a mom can only do so much. What was hurtful was when our son graduated and went on to college Guess who took all the credit….it wasn’t the mom nor the son, The father came back fifteen years later and boy he just thought he was god. Did that hurt yes it did. But I the mother was the one who woke up when my son was sick, to school and back, to everything he needed to do I was there. You see the part I haven’t shared with you was when my ex told me that he would stay if I got fixed like a dog, because he didn’t want anymore children, well guess what young and stupid did, that’s right I did it to try and save the marriage, but he was no way ready for father hood. but after our son graduated guess what he became a father of two. So men getting the bad rapp, now all the facts before you comment on things you know nothing about. Women aren’t always the evil one. But Iam very proud of my son as well. Thanks for all comment from people who don’t know the whole stories. In Mi

Denise Garcia August 20, 2008, 10:03 AM

It’s nice to know that regardless the issues that phelps and his father have that the father chose not comment. That shows alot for Phelps father. It seems like his father still cares and has interest in his sons life, they are normal people and they get in fights too. We need to all keep an understanding that regardless what your accomplishments are they are NORMAL and things happen!

Karen Garrison-Wainer August 20, 2008, 10:21 AM

All I’m gonna say is: All this time I thought we weren’t hearing about his Dad because his Dad was a FISH or something!! LOL He is a truly great athlete. Kudos to Michael.

Janell August 20, 2008, 11:10 AM

Really people? Get a grip. We are only getting some of the story… You know that magazines edit a lot out. Regardless of what happen between his parents doesnt make his dad a bad guy or his mom a bad mom. And for the comment that she has never remarried because she has a close bond with her son is just sick and wrong. Maybe she is dating or has dated but that is not in the public eye. Let well enough alone. Until you live it you have you have no idea what they are going through. I do come from divorced parents and it didnt make who I was. I am my own person as is Michael Phelps. You Rock Michael.

Anonymous August 20, 2008, 8:47 PM

I am glad he has such wonderful support from his mom and sisters :) He is Very Lucky that he is surrounded by so much Love.

mama August 21, 2008, 12:41 AM

I feel sad for Michael and his father, I know how it is to not have your father around and wonder every day what you did wrong to not have them.

S. WILLIAMS August 21, 2008, 10:41 AM

I think people who comment on the inner workings of families, should mind their own business. How do we know this man is a deadbeat dad? None of the people involved will comment. We weren’t behind closed doors with the Phelps family.
Look how wonderful this young man has turned out. He has became a humble, graceful, articulate and respectful “MAN”. A modern day aqauman, we actually call him “Aqua T” for all the gold around his neck for his water skillz


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