The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.
Several years ago when my first-born daughter, Ella, was a baby, we were at my mom’s house. Ella was in my arms. I noticed she needed a diaper change so I called across the room to let my ex know. I handed Ella over to her. “She needs a diaper change,” I said and then turned the other direction to walk away. As I recall, that may have been the norm. Reflecting on it, I cringe now. It was “bad form.”
Why didn’t I just change the diaper? Because for years, I was consumed with making money and making amends with a sore spot that tainted the tread of my soul. The result? I failed at making that “big money” and the sore spot continued to sag like a heavy load. I also wasn’t present to the beauty right in front of me. Diaper changing included.
So what changed? I broke up with my partner. It may not have been as one-sided as I am depicting. But what’s for sure is that the break up forced me to take stock of who I was. I had to get clear on the type of man I wanted to be, and the type of parent I wanted to be. I had to ask myself, ‘What does successful parenting look like for me?’
Here are a few ways that the breakup, and being a single dad, changed me for the better as a parent, a father, and a man:
I morphed into a multi-tasker, taking on chores previously done by my ex.
Here’s a good example: It’s breakfast time, and I’ve just cracked the eggs onto the griddle. The water for the coffee is boiling. In the other room, my 2-year-old son has peed on the linoleum floor so I have to run upstairs for a towel and diapers. As I’m sopping up pee, my 4-year-old daughter nudges me, insisting that I put the dress on the dolly. Back to the eggs on the griddle. I need to get them off ASAP, but I have to wash a dish to make that happen.
This is what I mean by multi-tasking, and before the breakup, I had no clue. I wasn’t “in the game” to this depth before. Some days go smoothly, some don’t, but I’ve learned to be an effective multi-tasker by not wasting steps.
Once away from the stress of a failed relationship, I became more relaxed, more reflective, more present, and as a result, I enjoyed being fully immersed with my life raising children.
After the breakup, I moved into a duplex in the less desirable area of town. It needed love in order to make it a “home.” I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t have anything on the walls. There wasn’t much furniture. The first thing I did was buy a diffuser with essential oils. After my kids got home from school, I’d turn it on and read them books on the couch. At bedtime, we’d cuddle together with the calming smell of lavender. It was a ritual to warm our space. It brought us closer. The kids loved it. This was my way of getting small into the moment, of letting go of my wandering mind and learning how to “just be” with my kids. And, I had to face a new reality. I had no other choice but to own it.
I developed my own parenting style.
I always knew that I could be a “Mr. Mom” kind of dad, but it wasn’t ever going to happen if mom lived under the same roof; not under the old paradigm of our relationship and my mindset. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I developed my own parenting style as a result of stepping up to the plate. I had an expectation for myself to be a good dad. The single most valuable investment I made in myself during that transitional period of time was to hire a life coach. My coach helped me to find my north star, helped me determine the kind of person I wanted to be in the world. This is how I found myself and the way I wanted to parent.
With 50 percent of my time allotted to parenting, I no longer took anything for granted. I developed a more single-minded focus with my kids, and with my off time too.
I see a lot of fathers outsource their parenting. They continue their golf league, going out on the weekends, etc. I gave that stuff up during my parenting time. I didn’t outsource the parenting to the grandparents or childcare. Every moment counts. I sought to build a strong relationship with my kids so I put my time on the court. I planned activities and day-long adventures, and vice versa during stretches without the kids. I focused on getting work done, enjoying my free time as a single man, and slowly got prepared for the next stretch with the kids. I learned to make plans around this schedule.
I became much closer to my children. Like so many nuclear families, mom was the center of everything and dad was a supporting player. I became the center of everything when they were with me.
My way of tucking the kids in for bed and reading bedtime stories. My antics in the morning as we’re getting ready for the day. My inside jokes. My rules. My special weekend adventures. The kids got to know me, and I got to know them in a way that I wasn’t aware was possible when my ex and I co-parented under one roof. Now, me and kids have our own language and way of knowing each other’s idiosyncrasies.
I got focused on repairing damaged relationships from an old version of myself. This improved my self-esteem and the surrounding support system I needed to raise children.
The best way to repair damaged relationships is consistency: Don’t miss a child-support payment. Don’t be late. Follow through on your word. I am a responsible parent through and through. It’s clear and obvious that I am a good dad. I make this effort front and center. I’m cordial, friendly, and communicative with my co-parent during our kid exchanges. These are all deposits, which add up over the years. I have earned respect and that respect, over time, can burn black holes in the darkest memories of “before.” Now, I can call my co-parent a friend. We have turned the corner to have a life-long relationship because at the end of the day, I know that she is the only one in the world that loves our children as much as I do. I want her on my side. That has to be earned.
Eric Walker collects the bits of life, adds thoughts and responses, and then declares it precious. His pursuit is meaning, money, and love. He is a father of four ⏤ ages 13, 9, 7 and 4.