Welcome to Portraits of Fatherhood: We’re telling the story of today’s dads.
There is no better place to witness the changing roles of men and women in the larger culture than through the lens of parenthood. But rather than speculate on what and how contemporary fathers do what they do, we’d like to bring you portraits of the dads themselves. In their own words. Would you like to be interviewed for this feature? See the end of the post for details.
NAME Charles Gunn
HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? Clark AFB, Phillipines/Sacramento, CA
ON THE WEB Charles Gunn Photography
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two
WORK I work as a freelance photographer and musician.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Divorced
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY? How have you, or you and your partner (if you’re partnered), arranged your life/schedule to provide the daily care for your kid(s)?
I’m a single father of two children, Vanessa 14, and Jonathan 8. They are from different mothers, but I had them both every weekend after becoming a single father. But three years ago, Vanessa began living with me full-time so, for this question, I’ll focus on my daughter.
Vanessa’s mother has not been in her life since coming to live with me full time, and rarely spends time with her. I originally wrote a lot more about her impact on me and my daughter’s lives, but I decided that this isn’t about her. But I should explain that I have her 100% of the time with occasional help from my mother.
It’s been almost a year since I left my full-time job to pursue photography, but when I worked a 9-5 things were fairly simple, mostly because we didn’t have much of a choice. Vanessa was pretty autonomous with her school routine. She woke up and got ready and walked to school all on her own. After school let out at 2:30PM, it would take Vanessa about 30 mins to walk home and I would get off around 5:30-6PM and get home about 30 mins after that. Her ability to get to and from school on her own was my main reason for moving into our housing development, even though I couldn’t really afford the rent. Because when she first came to live with me, I wasn’t within walking distance of her school or a bus stop, so I took lunch at 2:00 PM everyday and drove 20 plus miles roundtrip to pick her up from her bus stop, drive her home, and returned to work. She was in a great school district so I decided to find a way to make the rent payment every month.
After I left my full-time job, the only major change was that I was usually home when she got home, which is something I’m glad I’m able to do now and will miss when I can’t. But in January of this year, we moved out of the housing development because I could no longer afford the rent. We moved in with my friend Becks, who offered to let us stay with her temporarily. Becks lives in a different part of town, so now I make a 30 mile roundtrip to get Vanessa to and from school, twice a day if I go home after dropping her off. Sometimes I’ll work from a Starbucks close to her school to save on gas (but I usually end up spending what I’m saving on gas at Starbucks, so it’s a work in progress). Becks will pick her up from school whenever she’s on that side of town or if I’m unable to get her.
I’m currently working as a photographer and musician, and both regularly require me to work nights during the week. So our process after getting home from school is for her to get a snack and work on homework right away. I try to have dinner ready by 7:00 PM and will go over her homework and grades before or after dinner. Most of my jobs require me to leave around 8:00 PM and her bed time is 9:30PM. We’ve been doing this for a while now and she’s well versed in what to do in case of many scenarios and I check my phone as much as I can and occasionally check in with her when she’s alone. But many times Becks is home with her. I don’t like leaving Vanessa home alone at nights, and I take her with me on any job I can. But since I mostly shoot bands, most of my jobs are at bars or clubs which won’t let her in.
While writing this, I realized the huge role Becks has played in providing care for Vanessa over the last few months. Not only being there physically, but genuinely being concerned and involved in providing Vanessa with the best opportunities. Becks is a currently a writer, a Ph.D. and former professor who also left her full-time job last year. And I think having the right kind of “village” to help raise your child is often over looked, so I am truly grateful for everything she has helped during this transition.
I apologize for the length of this answer, but as you can probably tell, it’s been an important and challenging subject for me since becoming a full-time dad. When you become a single parent, no one ever discusses the “single parent guilt” that you inevitably face at some level. I think it completely determines the actions of some parents, and other parents recognize it and move past it easily. And I’m going to go ahead and answer the next question right now and say that my struggles over the last few months have probably been my worst parenting moment. In addition to the occasional guilt, I feel extra pressure to succeed because Vanessa already has one parent who couldn’t keep it together in life. This situation (working as a freelancer, living with a friend, looking for a job, and getting by on very little) is a new experience for me and is scary, confusing, and frustrating all at the same time. So in my head, I feel like I have to constantly ensure her that we are going to be just fine, even though I don’t always know how long that will take. But there’s a saying, or motto that I heard on the movie Rudy that I’ve sort of made my mantra and have said to Vanessa many times – “No excuses, do the work”. This is now something I constantly remind myself of.
So will this always be my “worst parenting moment”? I think only time can determine that. Because I also see this as an opportunity to show Vanessa what going after your passion looks like. It lets her know that chasing dreams isn’t easy, or pretty, but that it takes work and comes with a lot of heartache, but that it can be done if you want it bad enough. So I think it’s important for me to share my progress, breakthroughs, and successes that I experience away from her, with her. She knows that the one thing that I will never accept is quitting. It’s something I’ve always preached to her, and now is a great time to put my money where my mouth is and prove something to both of us.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
See above answer #1.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
This is a hard question. Vanessa has always been heavy or heavier than most of the kids her age since forever. It’s just how she rolls. So, between the ages of 6-10 I started working with her on different activities to increase the amount of exercise she was getting. At the time I only had her on weekends, so we would spend a couple hours doing everything from boxing, to running, to jumping rope. Since sports has never really been her thing, and she absolutely hates running, this was probably her least favorite part of her visits with me. My only rule for her was to never quit. So she would always push through whatever we were doing, but she was always sure to let me know how she really felt about it.
About two years after we stopped the workouts, I was at one of my first parent teacher conferences as her full-time parent and was pretty satisfied about the feedback I was getting from her teachers, with a few areas of improvement to work on. Finally, I sat with the PE teacher. She was young, white, really fit, and seemed very intense about fitness, as a PE teacher should. So I immediately knew the direction this conversation would go. But the teacher was very kind and spoke optimistically about Vanessa’s performance in PE, which I really appreciated. Then she started talking about her mile time which was one of the semester tests. I cringed as she showed me her time on the evaluation sheet, then I sighed and said, “Yeah, Vanessa’s not a big fan of running…”. She nodded in agreement, then quickly replied, “but as slow as she runs, she never quits”. I looked up at her from the paper. Her eyes smiled, “She will run the entire time. And I can tell she hates it, but she won’t stop running, and I love that about her”, she added.
I think at that moment I realized how much I love my daughter. It was more than being proud of her, or her learning something from me, it was deeper than that. Maybe I learned the impact of what you teach your children from hearing evidence that she saw the value in what I was preaching to her. I’m not sure I know all the emotions I felt when I heard that and I don’t know why I felt them. But it has been my most memorable parenting moment so I’ll call it my best parenting moment as well.
We’re looking for a few good dads.
IF you’d like to be interviewed for this feature, please write to Lisa Duggan at: [email protected]
Please write “Portraits of Fatherhood” in the subject line.