I recently blogged about the stigma of being a single mum, as a guest for the fabulous The Mother Edit. It got me thinking about the single dad and the struggles they may face too. So, here’s a great viewpoint from the other side, courtesy of the brilliant Dating Dad.
Single dad struggles
“Social stigma is the disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society.” So says the dictionary, and so is it proven in life. There are many reasons people are stigmatised to greater or lesser degrees. Sadly, being a single dad remains one of them.
Being a single parent of either gender is tough. You are constantly being pulled from pillar to post. It’s a delicate balance of raising your kids, getting household chores done, holding down a job and trying, sometimes, to carve out a little time for yourself. Broadly speaking, it’s a thankless task, a never ending grind and, some days, the best you can hope for is survival.
All too often when someone thinks of the term ‘single dad’ the thought is usually a sad one. The traditional stereotype of a single dad is one where he had an affair or somehow caused the breakup of the marriage through being a bad person. Now, he gets to see his kids once a fortnight at the weekends. He is pretty useless at household chores, just about getting by without washing up the plates more than once a week, and never remembers school events. The stereotypical single dad works all hours so is often too busy to do any social events. He stands alone in the playground on the school drop offs shunned by the parents in couples for being single. He is even shunned by the single mums for being different.
This is, of course, bullshit.
I can only use my own life as an example. But I’m sure I’m far from alone in the single dad world. My marriage broke down after I caught my wife having an affair. Life irrevocably changed forever as I kicked her out and worked out how to cope alone. These days she has sorted out a place of her own and so my kids now live with me at least 50% of the time. As far as their day-to-day lives go, there is no difference to how things were before. They have annoyingly healthy (at times) meals cooked for them, they help with chores, their clothes are washed and replaced when outgrown. Hell, they do their homework and they go out on treat trips every now and then. The only difference now is that there is only one person doing that for them rather than two.
I never at any stage chose to be a single dad. I never wanted to be. Nor would I recommend it to anyone else if there is a viable alternative for happiness. I sometimes want to scream at the top of my lungs that I’m a good man and that it wasn’t my fault. I’m the one who was and is the main care provider. I am not a part-time dad who’s making it up as he goes along. Well, I am making it up of course, but no more than any other parent out there.
I want to bring up my single dad expertise up when I buy flowers with my kids and the checkout assistant asks if I want to take the price off “so she won’t know how much they were”. To tell them that the flowers are for me, that I have no-one to give them to and that’s not because I fucked up my marriage and split my family up. When I buy cleaning products I want to say it’s because I need them, that I buy them on a regular basis and that I know what all of them are for. I also want to say that dads can be primary caregivers too.
I’ve had this argument with my kid’s schools over and over again. Every year, they default contact details to my ex’s house. Every letter and phone call goes to her instead of me. I’ve clearly and repeatedly filled in forms which state that the children live with me. I’m the first point of contact and therefore she comes after me – but this doesn’t compute. This isn’t a petty act of jealousy or revenge on my part, it’s a simple fact. They do live with me, I’m much closer to the school than my ex and I often work from home. So, it’s practical that I be called first. But the underlying issue is that I’m a dad, she’s the mum and mums are “always” the primary caregiver.
It’s difficult not to bash their mother in front of my kids. Not to show them my pain and anger, belittle her choice of partner, or let anything show even on my face. She is still their mother, they still need to respect her and they must have a relationship with her whether they want to or not. But, I need them to know she did it to me, not to them. She intended to leave me, not them. I cannot and will not do anything to break that bond, even if it causes me problems.
I truly wish I wasn’t a single dad. I can’t even bring myself to watch Outnumbered anymore as it makes me sad that I’ll never have someone to share all of the parenting trials and tribulations with. Someone to pick up the things I missed, to decide what we’re having for dinner, to pop a wash load on or to tell the kids off if they’re misbehaving. Yes, perhaps one day a woman might come into my life who will be willing and able to do that. But I will always feel that I am the one truly responsible for them.
I’d love to see more single dads groups, where dads could positively support each other and do things they enjoy together with their kids. Every single dads online group I’ve joined has simply been filled with bitter, hate-filled men who simply attack all women. Just because a woman hurt them then ALL WOMEN ARE EVIL AND HEARTLESS. I’ve even been attacked in these groups because – shock horror – I go on dates and I am trying to find a woman to love. According to many, I should instead be utterly focussed on my kids until they all move out. Anyone else coming into my life would be a distraction and take up time, money and energy that should be devoted to my kids.
I’m sorry, what now?! I should be denied happiness in a romantic sense because it would impact negatively on my kids? The same kids who are always asking me if I’ve found a girlfriend yet? Those kids who live with my ex almost half the time, leaving me alone and with nothing else to do? Nah, mate, I can’t agree with you on that one. Now my life has been split in two I have to cope in two worlds – that of being a dad and that of being single. The former will always be my biggest priority. But it is in no way exclusive of the latter.
It really does affect dating, though. The instant a match on an app finds out I’ve got kids they ghost four times out of five. Then, they find out that I’ve got four the remainder ghost four times out of five. And the instant they know that I have them half the time or more, the remainder ghost four times out of five. These aren’t exaggerated numbers either. Sadly, despite my very best efforts, it’s rare indeed that I get women willing to date me no matter how much I explain that I’m not looking for a step mother because I’ve got the whole single dad thing down.
Don’t take on me or my kids
I don’t need them to “take on” my kids, or perhaps one day be more than simply a positive influence on their lives. Actually, I can manage the school runs and the housework and the bills and even the embarrassing chats about sex and growing up. We are open and honest because they know that I’m there every bit as much as their mum would have been and that there’s nothing I won’t do to help them.
When my life changed, I used to force myself to look in the mirror every morning and say “you’ve got this”. And, just like single dads all over the world are, it turns out I was right.”
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