I am an enigma. Maybe wrap that in an outer shell of tissue paper and stuff me in a paper-mache design and watch me deflate. Why do I say this? Because I am at once a reviled and beloved character. One who is so necessary for the rearing of children and yet so dispensable when we dislike them for whatever reason. I am both the backbone and the appendix of the family unit. I seem to be absolutely essential for a child to be successful and yet eminently discarded as one sees fit. You love and hate me for I am the single dad and this is the “single dad life”.
I can trace this duality of feeling about single dads back to the initial notion of what a single father is, and what that means. Because I would tell you I am a single father because I am not with my daughter’s mother, I get significant amounts of time with her apart from her mother, and I cannot count on the other parent in almost any situation except to take my child from me. I feel alone and desperate on many days of the week ending in day. And what’s worse, I perpetually worry about my child being taken from me altogether.
Not so with most mothers. If you are single and parenting a child as a mother, they will assume you to be a single mother responsible for the caregiving of the child. Even if you give up significant portions of time to your ex, people still assume you to be the primary caregiver, as if the father does not exist. And for the most part, even if courts have attempted to rectify the problem, the mother gets the benefit of the doubt in almost all cases where parties do not agree because they assume the mother is the caregiver.
Finally, as most mothers get primary custody and the ability to keep the child and make sure they have a life apart from you, frustrating you from being able to establish a form of residence with you because to do so would be some kind of a betrayal, the child chooses to live with the other parent as they go into their teen years because that’s where all their life has revolved around. And it’s just simpler to spend time with the one parent than being shuffled back and forth just for the benefit of the child. Courts listen to those 14-year-old kids as they choose to ostracize one parent and expect you to be happy with cutting off the contact.
Suffice it to say, many people when I inform them of my situation do not even consider me a single father. As if somehow my parenthood were revoked due to insufficient time, of which I had no choice in the matter. Because the other parent stays home, not because they made some choice to be a sacrificial stay at home mom, but because they cannot work due to mental illness. So, I work, provide, and am forced into less time with my child because I get to be the responsible one while my daughter’s mother cannot help her condition and therefore gets all the benefits. Whether unfair or not, it’s the way it is. And so then people view me accordingly. Congrats single dad.
But to truly understand the life of a single father, you have to understand what his day looks like. I’m not sure you can consider any day normal for a single father. And less so for one who attempts to do it in the era of COVID-19. You need to walk a mile in his shoes. Whether those shoes feel glamorous or not, one can only guess. So let’s take a look at the life of a single father, this single father, on Monday, September 14th. And oh yes, it was my birthday. Welcome to the life of a single dad.
Welcome To The Single Dad Life
I wake to the groan of my prostate, which has been telling me more and more of late I need to get up and use the restroom . . . at 5:00 A.M. It’s my birthday. It’s my day off. And I should be able to sleep in. But I cannot. I do go back to bed. And I toss and turn in my bed for a couple of hours till the sun starts peeping through the windows. Now if it were a weekend and on my birthday, I would be picking up my daughter as soon as possible. But today my daughter goes to school online. And so I must wait until 3:00 P.M. Not because there was a specific time my daughter leaves from school. But 3 P.M. is as good a time as any . . . giving her time to finish her schoolwork.
My birthday happens on Monday this year. And so, my daughter has therapy. Which, of course, I want my daughter to do therapy. I ask her if she can take the time off therapy for the day a month in advance. But I get no movement from my daughter or her mother on that front because she’s getting Labor Day, the week before, off from therapy. So, Labor Day gets more importance in the calendar than my birthday. I’m a parent. I get the world doesn’t revolve around me. But feeling like I get a third or fourth place in the scheme of things is not an easy way to start a day.
At 7:00 A.M. I get up and start answering some of my birthday messages online. And then I promise to work on my blog post I knew I needed to finish. I had been working on this for a week, and it was long past overdue. I needed to finish it up. So, I set everything else aside. I’m writing a review of Mulan. I can’t get my daughter to even watch Mulan. Why? Could be a lot of reasons. Bad reviews. Disney filmed in a bad portion of China and my daughter feels bad about that.
But ever-present in the back of my mind? This was my ex-wife’s favorite princess. I could say from her youth but that isn’t exactly true. More like college age. But this means my daughter will feel bad for watching the film without her mother. Because anything her mother claims as hers, I can’t get her to do with me. Or she will feel guilty she did, which is almost worse. Because then I feel bad for making my daughter feel guilty.
So I ended up watching the film on my own. And was writing a review on a film I hoped to share the experience with my daughter. But I cannot. And given she doesn’t own Disney Plus, who knows how long it will be before my daughter will be ok to watch it? I’m not counting on any time soon.
It’s My Birthday And I Should Be Celebrating
But I finish the review and start promoting as well as writing thank-you notes to my friends for a while, online. This takes me well into the late morning. It’s about 10:30 A.M. when a friend of mine suggests I Facetime. She’s a new friend, but she’s sweet, kind, and listens well. We have a really good conversation. But this reminds me of many of the friends I wished I had in my life. All the friends that I seemed to lose as I dated and married my daughter’s mother and then was married to her. When you live with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder you notice friends dropping out of your life and it’s hard to get them back.
I finish the phone call about 11:45 A.M. and I know I need to get moving on my day. I promised myself I would go out to deal with my daughter’s dental insurance. The previous week I was to take care of it, only to find out that it was Labor Day on my day off. Nothing I could do about that. When I get downstairs, after taking a shower, I look at the paperwork as I am about to go off to the Union to take care of this.
Things Need To Get Done
Before I go, however, I want to peruse the packet the union gave me about dental insurance. As I open up the package and read the paperwork before heading to the union, I realize quickly a trip to the union would be fruitless. They inform me in the packet they have no one at the Union to help me work through the paperwork. But I can call them over the phone.
Why am I changing my daughter’s and my dental insurance? Aside from it making major work on my teeth less expensive, my daughter needs braces. I’m told it will cost me $4,000 to pay for. Which given our agreement would only cost me $2,000. But they tell me at the dental office that it will cost me only $1500 for the braces with the new insurance as opposed to $4000 for the other.
Getting Fleeced With A Smile
No brainer, right? Not so fast. They won’t even allow my daughter to do braces for 6 months after I start paying for the new PPO. If braces are a 2-year deal, it means I will have to be getting the extra insurance for 3 years. I’m paying $12 bi-weekly right now for my HMO. I will be paying $33 bi-weekly with the PPO. This means an extra $546 for three years goes to insurance. Which comes in at a total of $1638 dollars. Will my ex be helping with this extra insurance money? Not a chance.
That’s still under the $2,000 I would have been paying. Except for the fun little caveat in the court order. I must pay half of the medical bills that aren’t insurance-related. So, my ex will get me to pay half the $1500. Hence, with the $750 the procedure would cost me plus the $1638 I will be paying extra for the PPO over the 3 years, my medical bill will come in at $2388 and my daughter’s mother will only have to pay $750. How’s that for a racket? I’m paying more and she’s paying less. Much less. I guess I can say I get the expenses deferred over time. Yes, the overall cost comes in at nearly 1000 less, but I bare the brunt of that expense. Thanks.
I call the person at the Union in charge of dental insurance. She helps me figure out what I need to do to get it corrected. I cannot complain. It seems like an easy fix. I just know I need to do major dental work for myself in the next three years. Gotta make it worth it.
Let’s Get The Party Started
Then comes picking up my daughter. But I still must wait for a few hours before I get her. Which means I will be driving in rush hour traffic. I admit that’s not saying a lot right now in the time of COVID-19. But it’s starting to get worse here. And I know someday soon I will be staring at the insane traffic once again. I arrive early so I decide to pick up some drinks at Sonic for my daughter and me. But arriving early and asking now is not like me bugging my ex to get my daughter early from her online school. She has therapy. So, I cannot ask. I get there at 5 to 5 P.M. and give my ex a call letting her know I’m there so she can tell my daughter when she finishes her phone therapy.
I then proceed to have a decent conversation with my ex over the phone as my daughter eventually comes out to the car. With my ex, this is always a pleasant set of circumstances. At the same time, I have given her good news about medical insurance. News which she knows will help my daughter and save her lots of money. I wish I could say I felt she was just generally being nice but part of me knows deep down I’ve paid for the privilege of this pleasant conversation.
My daughter gets in the car. And I’m excited to play a list of songs I know my daughter will like. Most of it is stuff she already listens to. But she wants to play the songs off her phone. I realize that YouTube on her phone isn’t as good as the downloaded songs on my phone. But she’s a teenager and wants control, go figure. Thankfully the traffic isn’t bad and we make it to Downtown Disney in approximately 30 minutes.
Forgotten As The Single Dad
When we get there it’s my birthday and I have my daughter, my parents, and eventually my brother, his wife, and two kids along. My brother’s family is struggling with financial troubles like many during this crisis. They need to sell their home. And my daughter is sitting next to one cousin and across from the other one. I love that my daughter love’s her cousin. But I admit I feel very alone in this setup. I know they don’t mean to make me feel like that. But I do.
After dinner, we head on over to Black Tap to get these insane shakes. They are insane. And usually, I attempt to share one with my daughter. But honestly, she wasn’t interested in sharing one. I wanted to get one of those ridiculous cake shakes they have. It’s my birthday after all. Only they aren’t doing those cake shakes now. Damn COVID! So, I order a strawberry shortcake shake and sit down.
Kid’s Tables And Forgotten Gifts
There isn’t a Table for eight there outside where we are sitting. Only two tables of four where we sit. My parents sit with my brother and his wife. I sit with the kids. As fun as they are, and as much as I want as much time with my daughter as I can get, somehow I feel like I have been left at the kid’s table while time passes by. I’m 47 and I’ve been seated at the kid’s table once again. I didn’t realize it was Thanksgiving.
As far as gifts, my parents pay for dinner and most of the dessert. I get a card with a sweet note inside. And my daughter tells me about the gift she is making me which I cannot wait to hang on my wall. It’s going to be my new Twitter banner when it’s finished, I swear. But I don’t have it yet. I’m 47 and I don’t need some big extravagant gift. I know my parents kept asking me what I wanted for my birthday and I told them I didn’t know. Money worked because I honestly don’t know. But I feel like it’s a lie. Not because I really know what I want, but because I want them to get me something, no matter how small it is, to show they know who I am. After all, I’m their son.
I Feel Cheated In The Single Dad Life
I then have to drive my daughter back to her mother’s house. Not because I want to take her back, or because I feel like I have gotten enough time. But because I know she has school in the morning via Skype. And even if I tried to keep her overnight, we would both be exhausted dragging our butts to get her out there the next day. This means the trip back. So, I pull up to her mother’s home and we get out of the car.
It is then I get my usual hug. It wasn’t particularly awkward. But she didn’t tell me she loved me. I keep telling her I love her. It feels hollow. Not because what I am saying is untrue. But because I fear the feeling is not returned. Even when I know it is. She’s a teenager after all. But she seems to have no problem being affectionate with her mom. She struggles with me. Maybe there is a reason. Or maybe it’s just a deep-seated need to please her mom because she fears the alternative. Whatever it is, I feel cheated.
I ask her if she wants the drink I bought her earlier in the evening. She had barely touched it. At first, she said no. But then she started walking back and told me she did. So, I got it for her. I hoped she would tell me she loved me. Just to hear it, even if it was really quick. But all I get is thanks as she walks back to her mother. I try to distract myself with the Dodger game on the way home only they are getting crushed and I don’t want to listen. All my mistakes in my relationship with my daughter go back through my mind. I feel kind of lost.
Ending My Day
The night ends as I get home just in time to see the Dodgers score one quick run in the ninth and lose. I decide it’s been a long night and I’m ready for bed. Only my brain runs as it does. Alone, once again, with my thoughts. It’s a better kind of alone than I felt in my marriage. But it’s still alone. A friend from England comes online and we have a quick chat. She makes me feel happy with one last birthday wish.
I check my Facebook and see I’ve gotten a bunch more birthday wishes from the ridiculous Shake Post I made. I thank them and go back to chatting with my friend. But I pass out mid-thought because when I wake up in the morning and read what I wrote I wonder whether I succumbed to early-onset dementia. I remember I was tired and probably just passed out while writing the comment. It’s been a full day. Both sweet and sad.
Coda To The Single Dad Life:
I know it’s weird to do a Coda to a day in the life post. But it just seemed to fit with my day. My sister-in-law started texted me the next morning letting me know they forgot to put my gift card in the present. She started sending me pictures of the gift card with the pin unscratched. But I don’t have the number of the card. So, the pictures feel useless. Later that day my parents give me a birthday card filled with money. It’s not a lot of money but it’s appreciated none-the-less. Downtown Disney Birthdays aren’t cheap when they are paying for the whole family. I couldn’t complain.
My daughter, on the other hand, didn’t answer my phone call. She’s a teenager after all. Up until COVID, I would call multiple times till I got a response. My daughter spoke up about it one time, telling me she would call me back. It’s weird knowing your teenager is speaking a half-truth. I know she means she will try, but I’m unlikely to hear from her most nights unless I’m the butt who keeps calling. I don’t know how to feel.
Next, I started reading up and hearing from my friends about how I should handle the calling situation. Some said I should keep calling anyway. Some said to just leave a message. Although starting several weeks ago as she switched phones, leaving a voice message on the new phone was impossible. She hadn’t set it up. Thankfully she set up the new phone. I go with the long message instead of the repeated attempts to hear from her. I miss her. But I feel cheated again.
Deep down, I fear I will have to hear from my ex again about how she doesn’t understand how I could live without my daughter. She could barely part with a second of her time. I ask myself the question of why I was stupid enough to marry this person. How could I marry a person so thoughtless and cruel? But then I think about my daughter. And I ask myself whether I would do it all over again for her. The answer is a resounding yes.
Wrapping Up The Single Dad Life
As you can see, a day in the life of a Single Dad comes with its challenges. And not just the obvious ones. Sure, a dash of insecurity based on bad relationship experience does creep its way into the situation. But most fathers once they fall into the role of single dad do have a dash of insecurity. Something went wrong with the relationship that produced a child. Whether it was that it happened too soon and wasn’t supposed to produce children or it was the collapse of a 20-year marriage that you thought would never end, the “single dad life” produces those types of insecurities.
I know being told that recognition of those feelings and having those feelings actually goes to show how well I am doing as a parent. It’s just when the other parent accuses you of things, it feels like a hollow recognition. Because on some days no matter how well you do, it feels like you accomplish nothing. I realize I should be looking at the long game with my child. But that’s a hard thing when you feel like you fight battles from moment to moment.
At the same time, it’s not like I would go back and change something. No matter how tough the challenges are at times, my daughter is worth it. And as hard as it may be going through these teenage years and not hearing I love you, I wouldn’t go back and undo the past. Thinking about changing it doesn’t help me in the present situation anyway.
What I do hope is that for the single dads out there, they can recognize something in the struggle with this post, and feel like they aren’t alone. And for those who aren’t single dads, to get a little glimpse into what that feels like. Because it’s a struggle every day. Yet one done with love, and a desire to give my daughter her best life possible. And if you are struggling, please reach out to me or someone else who will talk you through it. You are never alone on this journey.
Taking On The Single Dad Life
What were your perceptions of a single dad before this piece? What were your perceptions after? Have they changed at all? What would you say to your father if he could hear you right now? Would you behave differently or change anything?
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, The Single Dad’s Guide to Life