Divorce sucks. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.
When mine was finalized in 2014, I suddenly became a statistic. According to the 2010 United States Census, I joined a club of about two million other single fathers in the country with about 880,000 of those as the result of a divorce.
My parents also divorced, so I have now seen this issue from a couple of different angles. So, as awful as the process of my divorce was, I made a decision that mine was not going to define me in a negative way. It was going to be a jumping off point for my rebirth.
I will admit that my jumping off point was much better than most. My ex-wife was and continues to be very cordial. Neither of us went for the other’s throat. We both kept the big picture in mind. The big picture involved our son. As educators, we’ve seen the worst of the worst when it comes to parents putting their desires to destroy their ex-spouses over the best interests of their kids. We have seen how that negatively impacts children first hand in school. Neither of us wanted that, so whatever differences we had, we buried and moved on.
With that, I could now focus on the future, instead of the past. Instead of a divorced dad, I graduated to becoming a single father. My ex-wife and I co-parent very well, but there are some things about parenting and other things that I flat out had to learn once I was on my own.
So, as I’m writing this on Father’s Day, I started to think about everything I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a single dad.
Former president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), Roland Warren once said, “Good fathers do three things—they provide, they nurture, and they guide.” That sounds like a pretty good summary to me.
When I was married, we would occasionally trade off being responsible for getting the bills paid every month, but I would fully admit that my ex-wife knew substantially more about money than I did. I don’t recall my parents ever sitting me down to talk about how student loans, mortgages, and taxes all worked. She had been exposed to many of those things previously, so she was the expert. She would keep the budget. She would do the research and initiate the process of consolidating loans or refinancing mortgages. I had no clue about money.
After my divorce, I was suddenly forced with figuring these things out in order to make sure I was making ends meet. So, I started reading up. I created my own budget. I started tracking my spending on a spreadsheet to see exactly where every dollar was going. When I saw trends, I made adjustments. My knowledge about the basics didn’t come overnight, but I just kept plugging away until I knew enough to become dangerous.
Then, with knowledge comes action. I now knew how much I could afford on things like bills, groceries and gas, among other basics. I tried to shave off a few bucks here and there by figuring out where to get coupons and shopping at dollar stores instead of commercial grocery stores. It took a lot of work, but it ended up being worth it.
Then I was able to start working things like entertainment and restaurants back into the budget in order to do it responsibly. Just because I was on my own and in control of my own budget didn’t mean I could go crazy and go out every night, buy Starbucks every morning, or spend money at will. I had to be responsible since I had another mouth to feed. I had to teach myself to be more disciplined and sensible regarding my finances and provide for myself and my son.
After several years, I haven’t mastered my money, but I’m a lot better at it than I once was. I now have multiple spreadsheets with category breakdowns, projections on future spending, savings, and investments. I figured out how to refinance my student loans at a lower rate. I’ve also gotten pretty good at something called travel hacking, where I use credit card points and miles and translate those into what amounts to be free airfare for some of the trips I take for work and for vacations with my son.
So, providing financially for my family, was something that I wasn’t initially very versed in, but after becoming a single father, I became educated about it very rapidly.
This one was pretty easy for me, not because I already knew what to do, but because I knew what not to do. My father wasn’t the role model father. He wasn’t abusive, but, not to get into it deeply (because it really doesn’t matter at this point in my life), for instance, he wouldn’t come to my sporting events, but be the first one to complain about the coach if I didn’t get much playing time. It made me feel my father was disconnected from my world.
So, I knew that I never wanted my son to feel the same way I did growing up. So, I’ve been there. For everything–his games, concerts, activities, practices, and events. I scheduled my life, as best I could, around his schedule. Fortunately, I have a job, as a teacher, where my colleagues and superiors are understanding if I need to go attend a school assembly during the day, for instance. In the evenings, as a referee, I can schedule my games on different nights from his events.
But, here’s what I learned about being nurturing. In order for me to be able to nurture my son, I had to figure out how to nurture myself first. One of the reasons behind my divorce was that I was unable to balance work life and home life. My focus on my job overtook my focus on my marriage. So, this time, as a single parent, I was determined not to let that happen again.
So, between the actions of my dad and the actions of my married self, I had a pretty good handle on how I should proceed.
In order to be a good dad, not only did I need to back off the intensity I put into my work, but I also needed to take care of myself. That meant to find activities that I enjoyed by myself that would clear my head, reduce my stress, and make me a better father. Embracing travel ended up being that vehicle. I already traveled to a number of different places as part of my volleyball officiating and announcing, but I wanted to go places for recreation as well. So, I started doing that, and it’s been fantastic.
Some may say it’s being selfish, but I believe that I’m a better dad by doing some things for me. If I don’t take care of myself first, then I’m no good to others. Then, when my son needs me, I can be better equipped to be there for him and better able to be nurturing because I’ve been better able to create balance in my life.
This may have been the most difficult lesson I’ve learned so far. It’s not about the guidance itself. I believe that I already have a good set of morals and values. Being an educator, I believe that I have the ability to teach my son about those good morals and values. Plus, as I previously mentioned, my ex-wife and I co-parent very well. So, between the two of us, those positive ethics and principles are being constantly hammered home no matter whose home our son sleeps in any given night.
But I think that’s the lesson I had to learn here. It’s not possible to do it alone. Most single fathers are not able to incorporate their ex-wives in their parenting process as well as me. Some may get along with them, but not share the same philosophies, or even worse, not get along at all. So, no matter the situation, it takes other people to help and guide you in order to guide your child.
Asking for help is something that is not natural for me. Another way that I failed in my marriage was by thinking as the man or head of the household, the buck stopped with me, and I had to do everything myself. As a single father, that forced me out of that thought process.
I had to ask other parents to give my son a ride home from practice when I was busy, and my ex-wife was not available. When I was going to be out of town, I relied on my neighbors or other family members to help care for my two dogs while I was gone. I love mowing my own lawn, but I had to begin to ask my son to share the load for the good of both of us—for me to learn to delegate and for him to learn lawn care.
Plus, with all those people helping me out with my to do list, I was also building a network of people to guide me mentally as well. Some of the parents, colleagues, relatives, neighbors (and even my son himself) lent me their expertise in various areas of parenting and other areas of life in order to be a better person and father.
With all the lessons I’ve learned from others and from what I’ve taught myself, I feel much better equipped to guide my son to help him navigate through the complexities of life.
So, what does this all mean? Being a single father is by far, the most difficult, yet the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. By providing, nurturing, and guiding, I hope that I have given my son a road map on how to behave as a man and, someday, as a father. I’m certainly not perfect, and he has seen my less than ideal moments, but I hope to pass on that each experience one has provides a lesson of some sort.
Becoming a statistic was not part of the life I had planned for myself. However, if you don’t use what dealing with adversity teaches you to your advantage, then you have wasted an opportunity for improvement. If that ends up being the legacy I leave for my son, then I believe I’ve done my part in helping shape the next generation.