Ask my single-dad friend
Posted on December 5th, 2012
n occasion, I obtain the kind cooperation of a friend doing something quietly remarkable out in the world. I ask them questions, they answer them and you, hopefully, are briefly diverted.
Meet my friend Patrick, single dad extraordinaire.
How long have you been a single dad? In a given week, how much time do you have your sons–when you and you alone are responsible for their care and feeding?
I have been a single, divorced parent for a little over three and a half years now. Their Mother and I have a 50/50 time-share. I had to fight for that, gave up a chunk of money and child support owed to me in order to get it. Ideally, all divorcing parents would agree to equal time-share but I certainly know fathers who don’t care.
My ex and I are about to change things from a 5-2-2-5 to a week-on, week-off schedule this month. It took me awhile to come around to the idea of not seeing my boys for an entire week at a time but I’m hoping that it will be a positive routine. I’m certainly looking forward to fewer transitions.
(WW, I’m supposed to be feeding them?)
Here’s my theory: being a single parent isn’t all hard cheese and exhaustion and schlepping. Be my friend and throw me a bone. Tell me some of the unexpectedly lovely things about raising your boys yourself.
No, it’s actually more like baked Brie, warm, gooey and includes a bit of waxy crust that you aren’t always exactly sure what to do with.
I love being a dad. Love, love, love it. My boys are amazing individuals and nurturing their growth is the beginning and end to my existence. After overcoming my initial fear of a wicked custody battle, I realized that I could finally be the parent I had always known I wanted to be. I think it’s having the freedom to parent without compromise that I enjoy the most. Perhaps there a few of you out there that parent on the same philosophical plane as your spouse but that was not my case. I rejoice in being able to think on my feet, put out fires and modify the big picture without pausing to seek approval from or negotiate with another adult.
Even the time spent without my boys has a bright side. When they are with their mother I am able to take care of most of the major necessities of maintaining a home as well as maintaining myself. When they return to me, I am recharged and can provide them with enthusiastic, uninterrupted attention. Do I want to be single for the rest of my life? No. Could this all change in the near future? Hopefully. But for the time being, I have learned to embrace the affirmation of hearing two beautiful, healthy children say “I love spending time with you.”
Thank you. In exchange for responding in such a way that I feel personally validated, you may now have a paragraph to talk about the real-life, hard parts about being a single parent to your sons.
These parts, the trials, of course we all share. They are not unique to single parents. The difference is that some of you have tender eyes, open ears and soft shoulders to place all of your insecurities on…at least, I think that’s how it is supposed to go.
Mothers have been chewing each other up in the media in a more high-profile manner of late on parenting issues. As a dad, do you feel like fathers are excluded from these types of national parenting “dialogues”— if you want to be generous and call them that?
Well, obviously I can’t breastfeed so I’d rather stay out of current “trends.” (Editor’s note: Funny man.) I will however answer this question accordingly: I will never, nor have I ever wished to be, the replacement for my boys’ mother. The bond between mother and child, sound or stressful is uniquely secure in the universe. Let’s face facts. The role of dad in our society leaves much to be desired. If we ever had it or even deserved it, we certainly relinquished any “legitimate” right to comment on parenting issues long ago. Perhaps the current effervescence stems from mothers simply being fed up with parenting “alone” literally or not. Here is my “dialogue” on parenting issues: Hey, dads! Spend time with your kids.
They’re 9 and 11 now, but they’ll be in college in a heartbeat. What do you hope that the work you’re doing now with your boys will translate to in terms of their relationship to you–and the world–in 10 years’ time?
(Ugh, really WW? I’m not quite ready to confront teenage issues… Is 11 too young to be playing “truth or dare” with a girl? A 12-year-old girl? Am I supposed to chastise him or give him a high five???)
Seriously though, the work I have done on myself and the confidence that I have gathered as a single parent is paying off as we speak. I have tried to offer them a safe haven, devoid of criticism, conventions and compromise. Have I always succeeded in this goal? No, but I think have laid the foundation for a relationship where they can feel comfortable approaching me with any topic. I try to reinforce ideals. We talk about such things as not only accepting the differences that we all bring to the table, but to be confident enjoying the company of the friends they choose to have despite the ebb and flow of cliques and petty disagreements. We talk about always having a choice of behaviors and that actions speak louder than words.
Most importantly, I consistently tell them that I love them unconditionally, that they can pursue any career, job and level of education that they want with one caveat: The world is a nasty, nasty place where many people even within your own community have a crappy life. I ask them to please consider having a career that benefits people’s lives directly.
You want money? You want stuff? Great, go for it but earn it by helping society. I don’t share an enthusiasm for what the world has in store for us within the next 10 years but with any luck, the love that my boys feel from both their parents will carry us through the rough patches.∗