“Life With Charlie” chronicles the adventures of Darren Mattock and his boy-wonder, Charlie, as they navigate together the daring and darling world of fathers and sons.
I became a single dad for the first time when Charlie was a baby 8 months new. In my heart, I made a pact to show up as fully as I could in my life so that I could be the best dad I could be. When exploring what that really meant to me, I became aware that I had one critical choice to make and question to answer: what kind of co-parent was I going to be?
My parents separated when I was 10 years old. Everything about that experience was painful and traumatic. There was drama, violence, parental alienation, child psychologists, family court and a prolonged bitter custody battle.
I was the sensitive young boy who was dragged through it all and it broke me. I spent much of my young adult life recovering, healing and finding my way in the world after such an incredibly rough start. I wouldn’t wish that journey upon anyone, let alone the one soul I love more than anyone else.
My choice and question wasn’t really up for consideration; I already knew the answer and had a clear vision for the co-parent that I wanted to be. There was no way that I wanted Charlie to experience anything like I did. I would do anything to spare him that suffering.
Just like I had made that pact to my 9 year old self, this was my commitment to Charlie; he would never have to question where he was safe and loved — he would just have two homes to be safe and loved in by both mum and dad.
There has been so much healing for me sharing a healthy and connected co-parenting journey with Charlie’s mum. Cha is completely free to love and be himself, unconditionally. He moves between homes in our routine with ease and gentleness.
Charlie’s foundation and attachment to both of us as parents is secure. More than that, it’s unbreakable. My commitment as a co-parent is to encourage Charlie’s relationship and bond with his mum as much as I possibly can. I want him to love her with all his heart and know that he is unconditionally loved by her. I’m infinitely grateful that Charlie’s mum encourages and supports my relationship with Cha in exactly the same way.
If I was to try to break it right down, we give each other complete freedom to be the parent we want to be. There’s a profound trust and surrender in that act. Yet, as I see it, an essential one if I truly want Charlie to experience the fullness of his mum’s unconditional love. Instead of worrying about what’s potentially ‘wrong’ or what I’d like to change, I choose to focus on the strengths and goodness of what Charlie receives and experiences when he shares life with her.
I acknowledge that it is an absolute gift that I don’t have to wonder or worry if Charlie is seen, known, safe or loved when he is not with me. I know and trust that he is — completely. I empathize deeply with those who are not so fortunate for whatever reason.
The gift of this knowing is that I don’t have any co-parenting background noise and I’m not preoccupied with stress. I’m free to be in my life when I’m not sharing life with Charlie (in the physical sense and being dad). I’m constantly thankful for this — it really is the silver lining of being a single dad.
The healing for me happens in so many small moments and ways. It’s not only when I zoom out to look at the big picture of how things are for Charlie in comparison to how things were for me as a boy.
Cha’s mum and I exchange daily messages so that we’re constantly sharing and in connection with our boy. We send pictures, stories of things he says and does and general snippets of insight into his world. The joy of having a co-parenting relatingship (we may not be in relationship together now, but we’re in a relating-ship for life as co-parents!) like this is that Cha’s mum is the only other person in the Universe who knows him like I do. She gets him and gets everything I share. And likewise. There’s something precious about still being able to share Charlie like this.
We share and exchange Charlie fully, from the goofy photos, proud parenting moments and developmental milestones, school achievements, meltdown stories, parenting challenges, boy’s jokes and everything in-between. Sometimes I laugh out loud to myself in celebration of boy. Sometimes I get teary with pride. Occasionally I miss him so much it aches. But mostly, I’m grateful, happy and content that Charlie is so loved, wanted and cherished.
At the end of the day as a parent, knowing that he has this foundation means everything to me as a dad and parent. That’s why I’m the co-parent I am.
Darren Mattock is the Founder of Becoming Dad, an online community for expectant and new fathers helping dads be the best men, partners and dads they can be, right from the start.
Photo credit: Darren Mattock.