This post is from Kyle Bradford. Kyle is a divorced father and founder of ChopperPapa. He hosts the monthly podcast, Fatherhood Wide Open and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.
If you’re a single or divorced father I feel your pain. I’ve been one for almost a decade and during that time have had the pleasure of experiencing every emotion men in our situation go through. I know what it’s like to have your soul ripped away Sunday evenings, I understand the helplessness, frustration, and wondering if a toss of the towel wouldn’t be best for everyone. I’m intimately familiar with the hidden dangers masquerading as shiny objects lying in wait for the single dad—looking to drag him away from what really matters.
Being a single father means we may never have a ‘traditional’ relationship with our children; we cannot always be there to tuck them in at night or band-aide every scrape and bruise. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be any less extraordinary; being fathers who have tremendously positive impacts on our children’s lives. Regardless of the claims made by many in the larger culture, fathers are a vital component for the long-term success of children and that fact isn’t contingent on our marital or relationship status.
Regrettably, I began my single fatherhood journey alone, refusing to connect with other men who have walked the path before me, choosing instead to strike out on my own. As a result I made terrible mistakes; choices, looking back, I would gladly change. My only saving grace was the age of my children. Both under the age of three when I divorced, I was able to hide many of those poor decisions behind their naivety and naptime. Most fathers aren’t so fortunate.
Certainly, I have been burned by these rings of fire and have the scorch marks to prove it, but one thing about mistakes are the lessons they hide, if only we pay attention. As a ‘seasoned’ single dad, I’m often asked for advice by those just beginning the single fatherhood journey, and while there is no ‘one size’ answer to solve all of our problems I have come to recognize certain stops we all should make along the journey if we wish to be the father our children need.
1) Responsibility: I’m referring to all areas of single fatherhood, especially the financial. Arguments can be made for and against the fairness of child support. But there can be no doubt that our responsibility to provide for our children, and their mother, is not subject to relationship status. Being accountable means fulfilling the emotional—and the financial—needs of our children. A great single dad does not look to avoid or ignore these responsibilities.
2) Reliability: Children from broken homes already have an uphill climb, they don’t need an inconsistent father to make things worse. A great single dad is a reliable single dad. That means being a consistent presence in our children’s lives, attending sporting events, recitals, and the annual daddy-daughter dance is just a start. And the following is of special note, if you say you will be there—be there. Too many children are left sitting on the front porch waiting for a father, who said he would come, that never shows.
3) Guardrails: While "Disney-Land dad" might appear more the grumblings of a jealous mom, many single dads are prone to let kids get away with too much simply because it’s easier. Kids need healthy boundaries and this is especially so of kids from broken homes. Set out clear ground rules with your children that correspond with what is happening at mom’s house. If they can’t do something at her house, they shouldn’t do it at yours, either.
4) Family: You’re a family whether there’s a mom in the home or not. So as fathers, we should do our best to make our home feel like their home. Children shouldn’t think they’re staying at a hotel when they come to dad’s house. That means keeping our home clean and kid friendly with snacks, books, and games they enjoy. If possible, it also implies giving our kids a space of their own. A room or, if nothing else, a corner where they can feel secure. Additionally, being a family means doing things as a family and that starts with regularly eating dinners together, in our technology-riddled world there may be no better place to pour our lives into our children than around a table.
5) Respect: Your children’s mother may not be your best friend. Co-parenting is rife with emotions that lead to deep scars but it is vital that fathers NEVER speak negatively about their child’s mother, including snide remarks, off-color comments, or innuendos about her, her behavior, or her partner. Even if she chooses not to return the favor, fathers should set the example by taking the high road. Anything less is selfishness whose purpose is persuading kids to choose sides.
Parenting in what I call the ‘modern family’ isn’t without significant trials and challenges, it’s enough to make parent, dad or mom, want to give up. But it’s in these times of turmoil that children need the strength of a father, to have a man they can look to for inspiration and wisdom, a man who can impact them in healthy ways. Because the fact of the matter is, as single fathers we will have an influence on our children; it is for us to decide what that will ultimately be.