Good morning, my name is Mike and I am a single parent of two teens boys. It sounds like the opening introduction to a support group, but the message it is intended to convey is far more interesting. Becoming a single parent was not part of my plan towards life’s goals, and I would venture to say that most single mothers and fathers can relate to that fact, but like I always say, “we all have a story.” In a world in which we mostly promote our successes and our happy selfies on social media, many of my friends, including myself, have faced challenges and yet, persevered in the face of adversity. In my situation, the family court awarded full physical custody to me in October 2011 and as a result, my boys have been in my primary care for the past 7 years (this month) with sadly, little to virtually no contact with their mother.
Admittedly, in the beginning, the challenges of being a single parent were immense. At times, it was downright overwhelming and all-too-consuming. I was midway through completing my doctorate degree and working full time and two part-time jobs to make ends meet since I was not receiving child support on a consistent basis, and when I did receive support, the monthly amount awarded was minimal at best.
For the first few years, I carried with me a tremendous amount of guilt and disappointment, but most pronounced, I was angry and frustrated as to my situation. I felt deceived, manipulated, and blindsided, especially when I learned that my relationship was nothing more than a bunch of lies, a sham, entangled into a scripted story that I was led to believe. The guilt and disappointment, as mentioned, stemmed from a failed marriage in which I clearly missed all the signals and signs that I was in a toxic relationship from day one. They often say that love is blind, and I would have to agree with that statement. I normally consider myself to be a good judge of character and my thoughts tend to be intuitive in nature, but I missed signs (like a huge neon light) that should have been detected early on in the relationship. I have since rid myself of that guilt and disappointment since I do not want to see myself, or have others see me, as a victim, but rather accept what the kids and I experienced, and move on. Carrying those negative emotions around will not change the past and will only destroy the future; therefore, it was necessary to let go of those toxic emotions. I suggest that others do the same. In the words of Buddha, “holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; yet you are the one who gets burned.”
The anger and frustration were not just directed toward my ex-wife and the predicament that we now found ourselves in, which altered our lives considerably, but also to the attorneys that failed in delivering their co-called promises, the antiquated civil (family) court system that overwhelming favors mothers over fathers. Frustration over assembly line-like court proceedings that typically lasted 20 minutes or less in which you had to convince the court that you were fit to be a single parent even though there was no evidence to the contrary that you were unfit in any way. Granted, I realize that there are more deadbeat dads out there than hands-on dads, but judges are to remain impartial and to not cast judgment by projecting the actions of others who have failed as fathers to those standing before them. As individuals, we are unique and therefore, each case should be heard with an open-mind without any preconceived judgement or perceptions of the men that come before the court.
I have always done my best to learn from the past and to walk away from every negative situation or event with a positive lesson-learned. Fast forward to present-day and I am happy, actually, incredibly happy. I successfully graduated with my doctorate degree in June 2016 with a 4.0 GPA despite a barrage of challenges, excelled in my career despite working 7 days a week, and regained financial stability after losing so much of my life’s savings to overpriced, ineffective divorce attorneys. When you embrace a “sink or swim” type of outlook, you tend to excel, so in a weird sort of way, everything I experienced motivated me to be the very best person that I could be. There is no greater feeling than in knowing you pulled yourself out of the darkness and back into the light.
My experience is in no way meant to suggest that all lawyers are ineffective. I cannot base the actions, or rather inactions of a few, on the entire profession. That would be quite ridiculous and unfair to the many friends and family members who I know are outstanding attorneys. I simply hired the wrong attorneys who I naively assumed had my best interests in mind. Towards the end of the 4-year long custody battle, I fired my second attorney and decided to go pro se, a decision that I never regretted. Pro se is a fancy Latin term in legalese language that simply means, representing myself as my own legal counsel. Thankfully, I was able to present a persuasive case representing myself and that of my children. My education and background in criminal justice proved quite helpful and for that, I am thankful.
One of the most noteworthy (and quite recent) moments is when I started dating again, especially now that my boys are older and more independent, and life’s stressors have been significantly reduced. I have learned how to love, care, and trust again. When lost, these emotions are hard to regain. They remain tucked away in the far depths of our psyche because the human mind from an evolutionary perspective is conditioned to protect us – emotionally – from our own thoughts. My problem was that I buried those emotions so far into my psyche that I could not figure out how to retrieve them. Thankfully, I have met someone incredibly special who I deeply admire and respect on so many levels. She, without trying, has found a way to chisel through years of pent-up emotional baggage of sorts to unleash the greatest emotion that humankind has to offer, and that is to love and be loved. This is something that I struggled with over the years, and if I had to psychologically assess myself, I would say that it was my mind’s way of protecting myself and that of my kids from being hurt. I was simply into maintaining the status quo of just getting through life with minimal challenges and disappointments each day. As the saying goes, I accepted life on a “one day at a time” basis.
However, I was genuinely worried that I would not be able to love again. I mean really worried. I created an incredibly thick and tall wall blocking off my emotions that unfortunately, prevented me from getting close to anyone and this included friends and family. I would sabotage relationships when I started to get too close. I judged, somewhat critically, every word, every behavior, and every action, albeit selfishly, because it was a self-coping strategy that I inherently developed, but I admittedly struggled to overcome what I had inadvertently created in the way of an emotional blockade.
I am always looking for ways to improve, to be better than the person I was yesterday. I live by the motto, never stop growing, learning, and improving. Writing, to me, is a form of therapy. It helps me to understand life whether from a personal or professional vantagepoint. It helps me to figure out “me.” One thing that has been missing, but would have been genuinely helpful in the early years, is information on being a single father. How do we, as single fathers, navigate life as a single parent? I believe that I have done “pretty well,” but it would have been nice to follow and embrace the advice and guidance of some of the experts out there.
For example, if you were to Google absent parent, which I did, the majority of articles focus on absent fathers and that is because when you compare men and women, men are more likely to fall into that category of absent parent. That, I understand and accept, but there is truly little in the way of information pertaining to absent mothers and how their absence might influence a child’s development and future outlook on intimate relationships as well as their own parenting style and philosophy that they will eventually embrace as future parents.
As an academic researcher, this is something that interests me. Why is there an abundance of information on single mothers raising children in comparison to single father’s raising children? The question posed is somewhat rhetorical because I know the answer; therefore, my issue is more with researchers and practitioners getting on-board with studying single fathering, so that men, like myself, do not flounder on their own by simply winging it and hoping for the best.
Most of what I have read about single fathers has been negative, but the evidence to support their assertions is limited in scope or simply speculation with no corroborating evidence and the criminal justice professional in me cannot help but emphasize the need for empirical evidence. Most researchers tend to focus on subjects in which we have a vast amount of information already available at our disposal whereas I prefer to focus on those subjects that lack enough information to fully scrutinize the topic. I purposely look to find the “gap” in the literature and to subsequently fill that gap with useful information that will help others.
Another reason as to why we need to learn more about single fathering and its ultimate impact on children and their futures, is that the number of single fathers raising children is increasing – slowly but steadily. As noted, the research is admittedly lacking and decades behind where it should be; however, an interesting 2013 Pew Research Center Study determined that a record 8% of households with minor children in the United States are headed by a single father, up from just over 1% in 1960. Obviously, the increase in single father households is not staggering by any means, but nonetheless, it is statistically significant. Any trend or pattern showing an upward mobility should be studied and assessed, in my opinion.
An excerpt from the study stated, “The role of fathers has evolved, and the public now acknowledges their importance not only as breadwinners, but also as caregivers. Analysis of long-term time use data shows that fathers are narrowing the still sizable gap with mothers in the amount of time they spend with their children.” Additionally, the Pew Research study found that, “the public believes that a father’s greatest role is to provide values to his children, followed by emotional support, discipline and income support. Public opinion ascribes roughly the same hierarchy of roles to mothers.”
I am not alone in my thinking nor my experiences. I know many men who have shared, encountered, and been challenged with similar experiences who I greatly appreciate in my life, and I regard as exceptional fathers. I guess that you could say that we, as single fathers, are in a unique club of sorts. We can call ourselves the “8 percenters” since we only makeup 8% of US single parent households. Sounds notably similar to the name of a street gang, but in all seriousness, in order to sway the court’s steadfast and most often, negative opinion of fathers, we need to step up and prove that while some men are genuinely deadbeat dads and deservedly so due to their own behaviors and actions, there are some who take this role seriously and therefore, they should be held in the same regard as dedicated, committed single mothers. Impartiality is embedded into our nation’s judicial system and symbolized in the statue of Themis, the personification of justice whose blindfold symbolizes that judgments be made based on the facts, the evidence, and not mere gender or any other demographic like race, nationality, ethnicity, and so forth.