Father’s Day As a Single Dad: How Divorce Changed Everything

Father’s Day As a Single Dad: How Divorce Changed Everything

Father’s day was a day of celebration while I was married. As a single dad, it takes on a slightly different tone for me. I’m not sad on Father’s Day, but I am reflective of what has become of my parenting relationship. With two teenage kids that live with their mom, my involvement is less than I would like. I actively work on engaging with my kids all the time. I don’t have any built-in time with them. I have only dates, appointments, and activities. I have to dream up the connective ideas and the pursue my kids until they make themselves available.

On the last Father’s Day before my divorce, my then-wife took me and the kids to my favorite Mexican breakfast place downtown. I even got to play tennis in the morning before anyone else was awake, so I was having a peak day. Tennis, breakfast, nap, fatherhood. It was a good moment. It was the last good Father’s Day.

It would only be one year later that I’d spend Father’s day living at my sister’s house. I’m not even sure if my kids and I got together. The divorce, being told I needed to leave my own home, was a heavy blow to me, and I’m certain I spent a good deal of the first six months flipping between shock and depression. The depression came on hard.

Dad’s usually get the raw end of the deal in divorce, and mine was no exception. She asked for the divorce and got exactly what she knew she’d get: 70% of the time with the kids (the standard possession order is not balanced or fair); a healthy child support payment; the house; the ability to minimize the impact of the divorce on the kids. The last part, the minimizing, was a good thing, sort of. You see, a lot of the work of divorce is setting things up to minimize the impact the divorce is going to have on your happy kids. No matter the fairness of the split, the attention is focused on the kids and their lifestyle.

So dads move out and leave the nuclear family intact. It’s as if I was just going on a business trip. The house, the routines, the bedtime: dinner, bath, reading, sleep ritual continued, just without me. I got my kids on alternating weekends. My ex-wife got them the rest of the time. She got them without major interruptions in her living quarters or her impact on her financial wellbeing. Again, I suppose this is how it works for the best. But dads don’t have it quite as easy.

  1. Dads often have to look for new living quarters, and the financial constraints will often force us into an apartment or something quite different from our previous standard of living.
  2. Dads now have an additional financial burden that affects credit scores, ability to qualify for a new mortgage, and even how much we have left over to spend on ourselves.
  3. Dads are alone 70% of the time. If you have built your adult life around being a parent, divorce is quite a shock. Instead of bedtime routines, you get nothing. I missed my kids more than I could imagine and the main time would be in the evenings when I was getting ready for bed by myself. Where were my little ones? How come I was left alone most of the time?
  4. Dad’s house is never home. Even if you do get time with your kids, your home will never quite become their home. In my case, my kids would “pack for the weekend at dad’s” and we’d roll their little suitcases to the car. As they grew older, this chore became more tedious. I suppose dad’s can seem like a vacation at times, but mostly it was a bit of an effort to go to dad’s house.
  5. Dads begin to get left out of school decisions and discussions. Elementary schools are run by women. And as such, your kids’ teachers will be very sympathetic to your ex-wife and perhaps less so towards you. Make sure you announce your request to be added to the teacher’s mailing lists and parent/teacher appointment requests, or you are likely to be left out.

Now, nine years on, my kids are in high school, they have their own primary boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. And, my needs or desires to be with them are my responsibility. I was touched last week when my 15-year-old daughter asked if I was going available for something on Father’s Day. We’re going to try and rope my son, 17-years-old, into our plans for this coming Sunday.

And one final, trivial, question. Why is Mother’s Day during the normal school year and Father’s Day during the summer vacation time? It sure makes for less celebration of dads. Perhaps we need a single-parents day to celebrate the best of our efforts even after the marriage has dissolved. I do celebrate Father’s Day, it’s just a different approach now that I’m a single dad. I love being a dad and I’m continuing to be the best dad I can be, day in and day out.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: the year it ended, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

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