In spite of what meninists and so-called father’s rights groups would like you to believe, the single father does exist. Further, he doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars or prove that the mother of his child is on drugs. Sometimes, couples decide together that it is in the best interest of the children to be with their father most of the time. Sometimes, tragedy strikes. Sometimes, moms leave.
Every single father has their story, their own experiences that led them to single parenthood, but many of them have very similar experiences when it comes to navigating life as a single parent. What does it mean to be a single dad in the 21st century? It means living with a lot of contradictions.
Some People Call You a Hero
You’re a single parent? Good for you! That is so brave. You must work so hard every day. Compliments are great, but it becomes pretty obvious that much of this adulation comes from a pretty sexist place. It communicates that men:
● Deserve to be rewarded for meeting the most basic parenting standards.
● Need to have their egos stroked for parenting their children.
● Must be doing something extraordinary by spending more than 50% of their time with their children.
This kind of bigotry doesn’t just negatively affect men, It also adversely affects women. When guys are lauded as heroes for doing their jobs, and women are ignored, that breeds hostility.
Others Assume You Are an Idiot
She always looks so nice! Is her mom dressing her? I bet you have an amazing girlfriend. I bet if you asked grandma would do that for you. This is the flip side of the hero post. It is the assumption that if you do anything right, you must be getting help somewhere.
Then there are the people who take it upon themselves to help you, whether you ask for help or not. Ultimately, it can be frustrating to be the target of some pretty frustrating concern.
You Realize That Many Women Just Cannot Win
Ask a random group of people why a father has primary custody. Then, ask them why the mother has primary custody. The answers will be disturbing. If she gives up custody to pursue her career, she has abandoned her child. If she struggles on an emotional level to parent her children, she is a bad person. Postpartum depression or other circumstances be damned. Clearly, she must be lazy, addicted, and uncaring.
Perhaps the most painful thing about this is the assumption that the single dad resents or dislikes the mother of his children. In truth, even when there is resentment or anger, it still pains a father to hear the other parent being smeared. Side note, if you are a father who does take pleasure in the character assassination of the other parent, it’s time to step back and reevaluate things.
The World is Not Designed For The Single Father
In 2015, Ashton Kutcher wrote a post on Facebook about the lack of changing tables in men’s restrooms. His post was insightful, and it created a lot of important engagement. It also barely touched on this issue.
Not only do single fathers have to navigate where to change their child’s diapers without looking, like a creepo, but they also have to make their way through a world that presumes moms are doing all of the parenting. Many single dads are welcome to attend mom and me activities but are frequently asked if mom will be showing up next time.
Some Days Are Horrible, And Nothing Happens to Mitigate That
Everybody has read some version of the following story. It was a horrible day. My kids fought all day long. My youngest told me that he hated my guts. I worked hard to put together a fun day, and nobody bothered to thank me for it. I was frustrated and resentful. I was truly angry with my children. Then it happened. One of my kids did something that was:
● Glurgingly Adorable
● An Indication That They Suddenly Understood And Were Newly Appreciative
● Made an Insightfully Funny Remark
That never happens. Some days simply go from bad to worse, and there is no single moment that makes that day better. It sucks, but there is some good news. That’s okay. You can survive that. Even better, these are the days where you will be forced to be a good parent. If not, these are the days that you will use to learn to forgive yourself your flaws. Eventually, you will find a balance between school, work, and home life.
You Might Have to Learn Some Skills on The Fly
A few years ago, a video that was shot in a pediatrician’s office went viral. A little boy was receiving a shot and was crying. Out of the frame, his father could be heard encouraging the
boy to stop crying, and instead shout out loud, ‘I’m a man.’ That video was mostly praised because people believed that the father was teaching his son needed skills.
● Don’t cry.
● Control your emotions.
● Perception of your masculinity matters more than your feelings.
On the other hand, a photo with a teenaged boy resting his head on his father’s shoulder went viral for another reason. The outcry was loud and clear. The show of physical affection was weird and creepy. It was ‘gay.’ Dad’s shouldn’t be affectionate to their sons. Only moms should do that.
What’s the point? When men become single parents, they have to make themselves learn emotional skills that they may not have been taught. Worse, they may have to force themselves to emotionally engage with their children in ways that they were told were harmful.
Finally, don’t assume that every single father who struggles with this was raised in a super traditional home, or unduly influenced by chauvinistic ideology. Even when men are raised in super-progressive homes, they can still be hit with a lot of subtle programming about what their roles should be. Meeting your child’s emotional needs by breaking deeply ingrained habits can be challenging, to say the least.
Sometimes You Feel Lost When Your Kids Aren’t With You
As stressful as it is to have your kids full time without a partner to have your back, it can suck even worse when they are away. Even if you trust the other parent completely, the thought that you aren’t there can be agonizing. You wonder: What am I missing? What if they get hurt? What if they get sick and they want me?
There’s no easy solution to this, but if you can, try to communicate with the other parent as positively as you can. In some cases, this might mean holding your tongue and putting a lot of resentments aside. It also means being as open and forthcoming with them as you want them to be with you.
Single parenting is challenging, rewarding, and frustrating. The world is not 100 percent ready for the single dad, but progress is being made every day.