Prior to gaining primary custody of my three sons in 1992, I led the single life of a divorced man and enjoyed a rewarding career. I traveled about 70% of the time, lived alone in a nice apartment, and accepted my role as a visiting parent. But when my ex-wife asked, "How would you feel about the boys coming to live with you?" I immediately, without thinking, said, "Yes!"
The day I arrived home with my children was a Sunday, halfway through a two-week school break. My kids were out of school, and I had to work in less than 12 hours! What about my job? My career was in full bloom, and I was on my way up. What was I to do? I had business trips starting in a week. Who was going to watch my children? Luckily, I had a friend who would help for a few days while I enrolled them in school and found a permanent day-care for my three-year-old. But how was I going to arrange my new life in that short of time?
We unpacked and tried to settle in by watching TV and making several trips to an empty refrigerator. At times, we sat in awkward silence. We tried to ignore it, but I could tell everyone was nervous about our new situation. That night, as I drifted into a restless sleep, I thought, "What the hell am I going to do now?" Fortunately I found this prayer. I keep it nearby and read it when fears are about to overtake me.
A SINGLE PARENT'S PRAYER
Lord grant me:
Strength enough to be bread baker
Hands soft enough to hug and to hold,
Heart enough to share and to care,
Ask men what it means to be a father and most reply, "It means spending time with your child." Well, that helps a lot, but showing up is only part of it. Imagine being in a relationship with a woman and just showing up for sex, not contributing anything. Not a great return on that. The same holds true with being a father. The best rewards are from the efforts put forth.
In addition to playtime, the time spent with a child should be used teaching right from wrong, instilling basic values of self-respect and pride, and living by the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
In return, the rewards are immeasurable. There's no replacement for the words, "Dad, I love you!" or the memory of "Look Dad, I caught it!" In addition, the accomplishment of raising good children is considered a noble act (especially in a woman's eyes) and adds an overwhelming boost to a father's self-esteem. But the real winners in a father/child relationship are the children, for without a father children face overwhelming odds against living a productive life. Imagine your child as part of these recent Census Bureau statistics. Fatherless homes account for:
Surprised? I was, especially when the role of a father has been traditionally limited to disciplinarian and/or banker. Common phrases from my childhood were, "Wait till your father gets home," and "Dad, I need some money."
Even today, many believe a father is incapable of nurturing a child. After all, how could a father understand what maternal instincts are? We don't carry the child for nine months.
But a man doesn't have to bear children to have the ability to nurture. The truth is that there is nothing a mother can do that a father can't. Okay, there is one thing, but that is why they sell formula at the grocery store.
The new challenges and adjustments that we face as bachelor parents can make us feel overwhelmed. Some bachelor parents encounter radical changes in their own personal behavior before finally adjusting to their new life. These may include depression, eating problems, sleep disorders, smoking, and drug or alcohol abuse. Some fathers will even develop stress such as back pains, head aches, angina, common colds, and impotence. The best advice for dealing with these issues is: "If you need help, get it. A father is absolutely no good to anyone if he is sick."
Mike, a custodial father of three, shares another common problem fathers face with divorce. "When my wife deserted us she made more money then I did. Our dual income supported two new cars, a home and special care for my handicapped daughter. Now, without my ex's income and the reduced hours I am able to work, I have lost my home, my car, and my savings."
These types of losses can certainly make adjusting to a single parent role more difficult. But it's not the end of the world. Mike has some sound advice for those in this situation: "Take a step back, regroup and start over. Many successful people hit rock bottom before reaching their goals. And there is nothing, except children, that can't be replaced. (This includes the ex-wife.)"
Realizing that no two situations are the same, we are all at one time or another bed-fellows to loneliness, boredom, depression, anxiety, isolation, guilt, low self-esteem and anger. When this happens, it's important to overcome these negative feelings so you can live life to the fullest. There are no secrets and no short-cuts to doing this. It takes time, energy, and a positive attitude every day -- starting today! Trust me, each day then gets easier and more enjoyable.
Create a Positive Outlook
The reality is that some fathers will have an easier time coping than others. Paul, a father who wanted his divorce and custody of his children says, "The start of my custody ended a volatile relationship and court battle. My first day of custody was a chance to start over and live peacefully with my kids." Fathers like Paul, who perceive the end of their relationship as a positive experience, will experience increased self-esteem, blooming maturity and enhanced growth in personal relationships.
However, fathers who didn't want a divorce or custody may see their children as obstacles to a new sexual relationship. That's too bad, because these fathers will miss a lot of the rewards that go along with fatherhood, and adjustment to their new situation will be difficult.
The first step to a positive outlook is cutting the strings from the ex-wife and accepting that the relationship is over. For many, letting go is difficult. Some men hold onto unrealistic expectations and at times act stupid. No doubt, breaking up is hard to do, but when ending a relationship is inevitable, make it as easy as possible for yourself by following these rules:
Let Go of the Past
My father once said, "There's a fine line between love and hate, and in order to hate someone you must first love them." My advice is don't hate her. If a father is angry and consumed with the actions of his ex-wife, he'll be unable to see the positive things in his life. Not only will he be unhappy, but it will be impossible to keep the best interests of his children in mind. Letting go of the hate is just as important as letting go of the love and memories. For fathers struggling to let go, try some of the following:
Co-Existing with your Co-Parent
Co-exist with my ex-wife? Share responsibility of the children's well-being? Develop a dialogue for discussing the children? Respect the rights and privacy of each other? Come on, the last time I looked, there was no "X" in cooperate.
When I used to think of my ex-wife, my emotions boiled. I was constantly reminded of the anger and frustrations she caused me. The first thought that came to mind was, "Why should I get along with her? I hate her." I now know that this is the wrong attitude for a father to have.
This is a tough pill for some to swallow, but children with two parents have fewer problems growing up. The sooner parents begin to cooperate, the sooner the children will become stable. And children aren't the only ones who benefit when parents cooperate. Dad is also a big winner. When a father can say, "I get along with my ex-wife," he has discovered confidence, maturity, and what it means to be an honorable man. In addition, having a mother involved helps lessen the load in the following situations:
So what can a father do when there is so much anger and hate that neither parent can get along? I wish I could develop a master plan for everyone to co-exist with his ex-wife, but that would be like my prescribing a universal sexual position for mankind. The important thing to remember is not to stop trying.
I do have a suggestion for fathers who have difficulty finding a way to start a successful co-parenting arrangement. Try sending the letter (right) to your ex-wife. Assuming that both parents are adults who love their children enough to do what is right for them, this letter is a peace treaty in the form of a contract and is designed to provide the first step toward a peaceful relationship between hostile parents.
Some people think living in harmony with an ex-wife is just a dream, especially if blinded by hurt and anger from a divorce. A very smart man once said, "If you think harmony can be achieved, it can. If you think peace will never happen, you're right again!" That man? Oh, that was me.
This article has been edited and excerpted from Bachelor Parents and Their Functional Families (Hoerner Publishing) by Thomas Hoerner. Written by a single father for single fathers, this book provides answers and support for men trying to balance work, a social life, and raising happy, healthy kids on their own. The Executive Liaison of Fathers for Equal Rights, Hoerner blends advice about topics ranging from co-parenting to sex to household chores with a dash of humor -- which makes for an informative and entertaining read.