Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hey Single Dad, You're Doing Fine

He stuck out like a sore thumb. In a sea of moms in their activewear, sitting on the sidelines interjecting instructions to their preschoolers here and there, he wandered behind a curly-headed toddler, unsure of how close to follow. Occasionally, she'd look back at him and grin- usually just before doing something dangerous, as all toddlers do. And each time she took a tumble or dissolved in a fit, he'd look around apologetically and smile sheepishly.

At one point, as they waddled past me in their daddy-daughter parade, I commented on her beautiful hair.
"Oh, thanks..." he said, "it's a little wild today. Her momma usually does that..." and again smiled his apology and hurried off after the curly head, and caught up with her just in time to catch her after she tripped over the slide. He cradled her gently as her face reddened,
"Moooommmaaaa! I want Momma!" she cried and pushed him away.
"Sorry baby. Momma will be here soon," he assured her.

Not long after, a couple arrived, and Curly Hair flung herself into the woman's arms.
"Give Daddy a bye bye kiss," said the woman, and Curly placed her small hands on his face and kissed his lips.
"Your hair is a MESS!" the woman exclaimed to the giggly girl, as her dad stood with his hands in his pockets and watched them walk toward the parking lot. He let out a heavy sigh- a sigh that I knew all too well.

My heart panged... this parenting gig is tough, guys. I usually speak to mothers as that's what I know best, but I also know this: if you think for a second that dads have it any easier than us, you've got it wrong.  Even in the best of days, a dad is every bit as worn out from loving his family as we are.  And sometimes, they're on their own.

Sometimes a dad is thrown into single-parenthood with little warning, and nothing can prepare him for it. All of a sudden he's staring down little expectant faces in the wee hours of the morning asking him for breakfast and to braid dolly's hair and he's just wondering how he's going to entertain these little creatures until bedtime. He finds himself struggling through discipline and tough conversations. He spends nights sick with worry over his children's future, and he fights for every single second he can get with them. He navigates the tricky waters of co-parenting and tries to be respectful of the new normal, but sometimes he just can't understand how it turned out this way... and sometimes, in the darkest moments, he wonders if the kids would just be better off with their mom.

But listen, if you're a single dad out there just trying to make it through the weekend without losing it, if you're doing your best to make the PB&J "just like Mom does" or remember all the words to the bedtime song every night, or kissing booboos, or fumbling through styling a bun for dance class, you're doing fine. You might feel completely inadequate some days, but you want to know a secret? All the best parents do... if we stop having those moments, we've probably stopped trying.

So just keep going. Your kids don't need crust-free sandwiches, neatly pressed clothes, all the toys in the world, and perfect ponytails. They need you. They need your strong hands picking them up when they fall and your follow-through on promises to provide for them and keep them safe. They need to see your face in the stands at their games and hear your encouragement after they lose. They need a man in their life reminding them to respect their mother, and do their homework, and mind their curfew. They need their dad.

And you're doing just fine...

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