Dads, Fathers, & Men: Single Dads Are Pro Family, Too

WHOLE-sunset-daughter

Divorced dads have a harder time staying involved in their kids lives, even when they make every effort, keep every appointment, and ask for extra time.
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A funny conversation took place a few minutes ago about the popularity of the “Dads & Families” on a website where I happen to be a contributor. See, that section is getting some great writing, some great writers, and some (even more important) great traffic. All good.

Well, except the single dad, is not included anywhere in the section. We’ve got a disconnect somewhere. Because I write all the time about parenting, and family, and … divorce. Well, maybe that’s the buzz killer right there. But here’s the real buzz: dads after divorce are still dads, our families are still families. And the challenges for the single dad are not unlike the same issues for dads, but we often lack the partner to assist in the daily tasks of being a dad.

We’re talking semantics, I get that, but I’m talking about the META-discussion. Dads and Families, INCLUDES single dads of divorced families. Or, extending a bit further, step-dads.

I’m not sure if this was a result of the divorced dad stigma, the absent father stigma, or the uncaring direction of my ex-wife, I have no way to know. I can ask. I did ask.

The new film Boyhood, does a great job of watching a divorced family over a 12-year period. Sure, it’s all about the boy growing up. But it’s really about the family. The fractured family that over 50% of young families will become if statistics hold up. The divorced family is mainstream. We’re working to make it better, to make the divorce less stigmatized, but we’re still struggling a bit with the parenting piece. It’s hard being a single dad. (I don’t know about a single mom, but I’ve seen my ex-wife go through some serious growing pains as we no longer share all the chores and bills.) It’s rough.

So the meta-category in all blogs and sites about parenting, Dads & Families now needs to include, in my mind, single dads and families, or dads who still support their ex-wives and are trying to win points by being the best dad they can be. Dad’s are critical to families. And single dads are also critical and maybe in a more urgent way. The single dad is not assumed to be supportive, responsible, caring. In fact, the divorced dad might be viewed as something of a threat from time to time.

Last year, at my daughter’s elementary school it was a bit of a struggle to stay informed of parent-teacher decisions. And while I made every single parent teacher conference, I still missed out on some of the big decisions. Those decisions were made by my ex-wife and my daughter’s teacher. Did they think about asking me before moving my daughter to a different math class? I’m sure it crossed both their minds, but they didn’t. My ex, failed to give me the information to even be part of the discussion. Did they have my email address? Yes. Did they just forget? Um… Was I unavailable, or uninvolved? No.

So the Dad & Families who actually still has his family intact does benefit from some of the positive images of wholesomeness, honesty, good dad. A married dad is safe, responsible, and trustworthy. And yes, I’d bet, a good percentage of those married dads let their wives make math class decisions all the time. In fact, I’m sure I would’ve given my had-we-still-been-married wife my proxy to make the decision. But I would’ve heard about. I would’ve had an opportunity to ask, “Why.” As it happened, I was left out of the loop completely.

At the parent-teacher conference where my ex-wife and I met with the teacher the information was presented as, “She’s doing so much better in the new math class.”

Your family never end when you have kids. The marriage may be over, but in the profound words of Erma Bombeck to Arianna Huffington. “Marriages come and go, divorce is forever.”

I was confused, “What new math class?”

I could see it in both their eyes. They had made a critical decision and left me out. I’m not sure if this was a result of the divorced dad stigma, the absent father stigma, or the uncaring direction of my ex-wife, I have no way to know. I can ask. I did ask. The answer, “It  was just a miss.” Um, yeah.

Okay, here’s the wrap: Dads are Dads.

Divorced dads have a lot harder time staying involved in their kids lives, even with they make every effort, keep every appointment, and ask for more time then they are given with them, post-divorce. I am that dad. I’m still a Dad & Families dad, only I don’t have a female partner any more to help me navigate the complexities of elementary school.

We need to keep “dad” connected with +families, +responsible parent, +care provider, +nurturing, +100 present, +supportive of the ex-wife, even when he is a “divorced dad.” That’s a long way from deadbeat dad, or irresponsible dad. What’s it called when the divorced mom and the teacher make decisions without including the dad? Is there a handy label for that?

Your family becomes a lifetime commitment when you have kids. The marriage may be over, but in the profound words of Erma Bombeck to Arianna Huffington. “Marriages come and go, divorce is forever.” This is especially true if you have kids.

Please, let’s keep the conversations crossing boundaries and labels. And lets assume Dads are Dads even if they are no longer married to the Moms.

Love Always,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: girl & dad, james chew, creative commons usage

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