I am a single dad of a boy and a girl. Of course, I have many other roles but being a single father in my upmost joy in my current life (and probably will be for quite some time!). I was raised in a two parent household, so this divorce thing is quite new for me. Many others from my generation (Generation “X”) have experienced the heartache of a broken home. As a kid, I remember many of my friend’s parents splitting up. I was horrified of the thought that that might happen to my family too. Thankfully, my mom and dad are still happily married (for almost 38 years!) and I attribute many of my morals, ethics, stableness, values and faith in God to them.
Being a single dad isn’t the easiest thing in the world. In the beginning, I didn’t want it. Sure, I loved my kids. What I didn’t want (at first) was the divorce. Being a married man was what I knew for 8 ½ years before my kid’s mom left us. For 3 weeks, I had a little taste of what it was like to be a single dad. I was already very involved in my kid’s lives so it was an easy transition in some respects. I could cook, do laundry, clean, get them dressed, read to them and tuck them in at night. After being separated from their mom for 15 months, the divorce was finalized and I then officially stepped into single dadhood.
As a part of the divorce proceedings, my ex and I decided to equally share the kids. This, I know, was the best for them. Every child needs both parents involved in their lives. There needs to be a mother figure to nurture the child in ways a father wasn’t designed for. A mother listens to her kids needs, teaches femininity (to her girls), shows patience by allowing her kids to learn from their mistakes, exemplifies purity through her actions and demonstrates self control by keeping her temper in check (among other things). I am not saying here that a father cannot be any of these to his child (except for the femininity part!). These attributes simply don’t fit our nature. Just like most men would rather spend 8 hours at work than cook a meal.
Most feminists today would stop right here and say that a mother figure is all a child needs. That is where they are very wrong. All children need a father (or father figure) in their lives just as much as they need a mother (or mother figure). In the same way, a father can enrich his children’s lives in ways the mother cannot. A father shows stability in keeping routines or providing for the children, we are prayer leaders, we protect our family by locking doors or defending them from harm, and we teach our children morality, life skills and masculinity (to our sons!). Of course there are other ways we fathers influence our kid’s lives. And the same thing applies here. The mother can help out in some of these areas as well, just not to the extent that the father can.
The mother/father roles should also not conflict with each other. For example, most of the time, I support the way my kid’s mother raises them. I don’t put the burden of discipline on her shoulders by saying, “Just wait until your mother hears about this!” or “I’m going to let your mother handle this,” In other words, I still consider her a “good mom” (she just wasn’t a good wife for a lot of our marriage).
Hopefully, if you are in this situation, you and the other parent have already developed discipline tactics that worked for the kids before the divorce and are continuing along the same road during post-divorce. Unfortunately, some divorced couples cannot agree on anything, including what role they need to play in their children’s lives or one of the parents is totally absent. In this case, I suggest finding someone to step in where the missing parent was. This could be found in an uncle, aunt, grandparent or an eventual step-parent.
Raising two kids of the opposite gender requires many different strategies, tactics and methods. My daughter would rather paint a porcelain tea set then hike up Lookout Mountain and my son would rather go on a bike ride than try on different hats. This calls for much cunning, skill and sharpness on my part. I like to “mix things up” a bit and build on my continuing role as their dad. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Any man can be a father but it takes a real man to be a dad,” That is my everyday goal for my kids; to be their dad.
Sure, I discipline them and have to lay down the law sometimes but I am also their best friend and buddy. I am someone who answers when they call, invests time in them, helps them with homework, fixes their “owies” and goofs off with them. I don’t want to be a distant, always distracted and uninvolved man who is too busy playing on the computer, watching movies or playing video games to spend time with the kids. I make it a point to never turn down a chance to dance with my daughter or help my son build his “Thomas the Train” set; when I’m paying bills, eating, putting groceries away, watching a movie, no matter what I’m doing. I know guys who have had their kids taken away from them and will probably never see them. I’ve heard their regret, pain and longing when I talk to them. They only want to be with their kids but they can’t. I think of that every time I see my kids. I never want to take them for granted, so I use every moment with them to the fullest.
My kids do make me happy but they are not the objects of my happiness. Sure, they can be a big part of making me happy; they just aren’t the sole providers of my happiness. True happiness comes from within and should not be rooted in things outside myself. This is true because I have no control over how other people act towards me and how they affect my happiness. If I expect people to be the objects of my happiness, I will live a miserable life full of rejection and let-downs. My inner happiness should only come from one constant; God. He is the only one who is never changing and remains someone with whom I can expect to always love me. Things on this earth are temporary, including my kids. In the same way, they should not expect me to be the object of their happiness. Of course, they are too young to really grasp any of these concepts but I act as their moral compass and show them how to truly create joy and happiness in their lives.
As a single dad, one of the things I try to stay away from are stereotypes that tell me who I’m supposed to be. I don’t see myself as “just another single dad”. That wouldn’t get me anywhere. As I’ve said before, my single-dadhood is just one of my many roles. It’s not my entire existence. I’m not Dustin Hoffman, Mr. Mom who keeps a perfect house and fulfills the roles of both parents. A big expectation today is that single dads should raise their kids like moms do. You know what happens if we try that? We fail…miserably or we just simply give up and walk away. Bringing up kids should be totally natural for dads. Moms have their own ways of raising kids but we dads have our ways too. Here are some of the things I love to with my kids: go raspberry picking, bike riding, make smores, go fishing, take a hike, hang out at Chatfield Reservoir, go to the Butterfly Pavilions, read books, pray together, make pancakes, and many more. We dads are unique; and kids love it!
Sure, dads have the same end goals in mind for our kids that moms do. We want our kids to grow up in a loving, caring, stable home, play sports or get involved in extracurricular activities, have healthy friendships/relationships with kids from both genders, get a good education and go on to raise their own families in the same way they were brought up. Both parents would like to see their kids meet all those goals. However, both parents will have different ways of achieving those goals. Mothers will be more nurturing, while fathers will be the encouraging coaches. Neither way is wrong, they’re just different. Parents shouldn’t expect our kids to meet those goals, we should just do our best and hope that our kids make the right decisions.
Nothing makes me any less important as a dad to my kids just because their mom and I are divorced. If anything, I play more of a stabilizing role in their lives than ever before. And maybe someday if I remarry (which I hope to do), my fatherly role will continue in partnership with my new wife (and her kids). It is my goal for my kids to grow up and think back to this time of their lives with fondness. I want them to attribute their strong upbringing to me (and their mom) just as I do the same for my parents.
Here are some surprising statistics about single parent households:
- 66% of single fathers are divorced
- 25% have never tied the marital knot
- 7.5%are widowers
- 44% of their children are daughters
- 33% of the men care for preschoolers
- 61% of non-custodial fathers pay support at some level
- 66.2% of single custodial mothers work less than full time
- 24.5% of single custodial fathers work more than 44 hours weekly
- 90.2% of fathers with joint custody pay the support due
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
- There are 11,268,000 total custodial mothers
- There are 2,907,000 total custodial fathers