One of the many unfortunate outgrowths of the unequal way in which divorce goes down, is that you don’t meet a lot of divorced dads. Since mothers more often than not gain primary custody, the daily interactions one has with the parents of ones children’s friends are frequently devoid of single dads. Morning drop-off, for instance, is only a rosy if inaccurate portrait of happy marriages and cheery division of labor. But, have kids for long enough, and divorced dads begin to appear. They come to birthday parties on the weekends they have custody; you see them doing parents as learning partners; hell, you might even become one. And, because both death and taxonomy are inescapable, there are different types of divorced dads you’ll meet. Here they are.
The Mess Dad
Leaving a trail of school papers and lunches made exclusively from pre-packaged snacks, The Mess is often a newly divorced father, just getting the hang of this kid stuff. Generally speaking, divorce galvanizes fathers one of two ways. Either they give up or, in an attempt to feel better, they work hella hard to increase their market value. They join a gym, do Headspace, etc. The Mess is a giver-upper. He’s reverted to his graphic tees, pulled his ugly shoes from the exile into which his ex-wife cast them, and donned a pair of baggy jeans. Thankfully for The Mess, this isn’t so much a type as a phase some gentlemen go through on their way to Better Dad.
The Better Dad
As previously stated, divorce drives some men to surrender to gravity and grief. It motivates others to reclaim, as best they can, their better angels. The Better Dad is the guy at drop off whose jeans get noticeably more tapered, whose sneakers give way to boots and whose dadbod gradually melts away to reveal a middle-aged man who knows he must once again fling himself before the hearts of women in the hopes of finding a buyer for his As-Is life. The Better Dad isn’t, I hasten to add, simply a better Man. He’s also a Better Dad, having used his singlehood to really take ownership of raising his daughters. I don’t know why but the Better Dad always has daughters.
The Shadow Dad
The Shadow Dad is marked by his phantom-like presence at various school and social events. Often keeping to the corners and walls, The Shadow Dad has the mien of a pariah. Though he may or may not be the aggrieved party in the divorce, he has definitely lost the battle for social standing. He is the one scurrying home after pick-up, too overcome by sorrow or shame, to make small talk. Here is a man in whose eyes divorce is a failure and for whom failure is all that others see. The Shadow Dad keeps to the shadows but, sadly, he often fades into them at last. Soon enough, you shan’t see his likes on the schoolyard. For better or worse, his ex-wife is likely to reassert her dominant role. Right or wrong, no matter, the playground resumes its normal harmony.
The Cool Guy Dad
Oh, hello ponytail and goatee and always looking at your phone at my son’s birthday party. You must be the Cool Guy, the less fortunate side of the Better Dad. Cool Guy D takes divorce not simply as a chance to reinvent himself but to reinvent himself without his kids. I’ve met a few Cool Guy D’s in my life. My father was one. He traded in his Pontiac for a Corvette; his white dress shirts for garish Rayon; and my mother for the next year’s model. After the divorce, he grew a mustache. This was before cellphones but all that meant was that, after his beeper summoned him, he’d disappear from our table at TGIFridays, to speak with some unknown person, on the payphone near the men’s room.The Cool Guy D is the worst.
The Still Friends Dad
Not all divorces are dark and not all divorcés bitter. Sometimes a marriage just isn’t right. Both sides know it. Both feel sad. Neither are bitter. And sometimes it takes months to even realize a family has gone from nuclear to fall out. The Still Friends Dad is almost just like Still Married Dad you always knew and loved. His intercourse with his ex is marked by harmoniousness and equanimity. Their pick-ups, drop-offs and switches unroll with ease. Sadly the Still Friends Dad is as rare as a snow leopard but, take heart, his later incarnation, The Now We’re Friends Dad, who finds common ground after a few rocky post-divorce years, is much more commonly found.