June 21, 2009
I knelt next to the tub as my little girl attempted to use a plastic cup to rinse the shampoo from her hair. She’d turned four just three weeks earlier and was proud of herself for reaching this new level of independence.
I watched her for a moment, then tears flowed as a wave of guilt and shame washed over me. I thought to myself, “Have I screwed this poor kid up for the rest of her life?”
My daughter looked up at me, confused, as I pulled myself back together. I hugged her, then turned on the tub’s jets to distract her with the bubbles.
It sure as hell didn’t feel like a day to be celebrating fatherhood.
Shortly after my daughter’s fourth birthday, her mother and I split up. There was considerable conflict between us as we tried to hammer out the details of our separation. I felt like I had been pushed off a cliff and was in freefall, tumbling through space, limbs flailing, just praying for the sweet release of finally "hitting bottom."
Each day, I did my best to navigate the conflict with my ex, keep pushing forward at work, and remain calm and present for my kid. Anxiety and grief were constant companions.
And these ever-present companions were further inflamed by feelings of inadequacy. My daughter cried every time I tried to brush her hair and called out for her mother every night.
A little over a month later, a formal agreement was in place, and the three of us settled into a routine. I had finally “found bottom” and was slogging through recovering from the emotional whammy of my separation.
But, day-by-day, I got better at asking for help and found support in my family and friends. Immense kindness surrounded me; I only had to ask. And I got expert advice, too. One of the first experts I reached out to was my daughter’s hairdresser. She smiled with understanding (and a bit of amusement) as she showed me how to hold her hair while I combed out the knots and wrapped it into a ponytail. It took me a little while to get my clumsy fingers properly positioned around those tiny hair elastics, but eventually, there were no more tears.
And I started to get the hang of the single parent thing. Along with the progress with the ponytails, our nights together had become a pleasure with a relaxing bath, bedtime stories, and cuddles.
After about nine months, I began to recognize myself again. Though the journey still had many peaks and valleys, I was taking better care of myself, was genuinely having fun with my daughter, and was reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. I was feeling much better than I had in the months preceding my breakup and believed, for the first time, that my daughter and I would be OK.
But, perhaps the most significant thing I did was letting go of the guilt. Although it would have been great to have remained an intact family, that wasn't meant to be for us. Figuring out how to best function as a different type of family was the way forward for us all.
June 20, 2010
A year post-split, I was sitting in a restaurant with my family, having a celebratory meal for Father’s Day. My dad brought up an article he had read that morning about the “epidemic” of fatherlessness that was affecting North America. He made a point of leaning over to me and expressing how proud he was of me for how I had dealt with the previous 12 months.
In my new book, Single Dads are Sexy, I talk about how if you give it a year, you can give it a lifetime. I walked through fire in my first year of single fatherhood, but, perhaps the most profound discovery was seeing that challenging journey as a gift.
June 16, 2019
As I get ready to celebrate my 10th Father’s Day as a single dad on the same day as my 44th birthday, I can genuinely say I’m grateful. Being a single parent has taught me to show up in a way I don't think I did previously and has contributed significantly to who I've become; not just as a parent, but as a man.
My daughter now brushes her hair herself and the bedtime stories fell out of the routine quite some time ago. We now take evening walks and she takes pictures. What emerges from those photographs is curiosity about the world around her and a unique way of framing it. She often tilts the camera to capture her subjects slightly askew.
The kid’s gonna be all right.
Parenting through the teen years and into my daughter’s adulthood will bring even more challenges, and that’s OK with me.
After all, I’m in this for a lifetime.