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What I Learned From My First Year of Being A Single Dad

It's a messy, messy process. But the storm does end.

Just over a year ago I was rocked with the reality that I would be a single parent and that everything I knew would change. I went through different phases, not sequentially, but more like a hurricane that swirls with different bands hitting you. I survived the outer band, dipped in and out of the eye, and got whacked with the outer band once again months later. It’s a messy, messy process. You’re often grasping for air, frantically searching, and screaming in pillows. For me, there were four phases:

Disorientation — you walk around deranged, you are one now, and rely on your friends and family for food, CPR, and cigarettes.

Anger — the “why” questions begin to flood your mind. Fluctuating guilt and fear produce anger. This is the screaming in pillows part.

Sadness — you’re deep in self-analysis and you reflect on all of the mistakes you made, the reality that you trusted in, and most importantly, the loss that you just suffered is sinking into your bones.

Reconstruction — a new reality emerges and you learn to be OK with it and you learn most importantly to be OK with yourself.

I’m sure everyone’s process is different amidst crisis. This was mine. I circled back to disorientation a couple of times. And I circled back to sadness more times than I can count. It’s not over, but slowly, reconstruction has become my dominant reality. Eventually, I started doing other things and along the way, I received many gifts. The lists below is the best way that I’ve found to express what this past year has been like. Here are the things I’ve learned, the things I stopped, the gifts I received, and the way forward.

dad holding baby in laundry room

Things I’ve learned:

  • I’ve learned what kindness is
  • I’ve learned how to do laundry
  • I’ve learned how to kinda-sorta cook
  • I’ve learned how to be a Dad. A real one.
  • I’ve learned how to be a leader. A better one.
  • I’ve learned how to communicate with a toddler.
  • I’ve learned how to invite my son into the process of growing up, together. We both have growing up to do.
  • I’ve learned how important routine is.
  • I’ve learned how important boundaries are .
  • I’ve learned how to let go of my expectations.
  • I’ve learned what real love feels like… OK, I know this is a foolish statement, but I believe that I have received and have given love over this past year, and perhaps for the first time ever. This is another post in and of itself, but, in short, it’s the kind of love that has no agenda, when someone can’t give you anything, and you’ve let go of your expectations of them. You communicate honestly and directly. The relationship is filled with truth, regardless of how hard that truth may be. You still find a way to be kind and find gratitude in that relationship, no matter how you are treated. The gem on the other side of that truth and kindness — that’s love, whether received or given.
  • I’ve learned how to live from a place of gratitude rather than a place of fear. The fear of failure has been at the center of my operating system since, well… since I can remember. It’s so much better to wake up every day and say “I’m so thankful for what I have” rather than “I have something to prove.”

Things I stopped:

  • I stopped being so obsessed with achieving.
  • I stopped trying to control outcomes. “Because you can’t”.
  • I stopped letting fear control me. Fear will always be there. I’ve learned to put it in it’s rightful place.
  • I stopped neglecting interpersonal issues with people. I started to tackle them head on.
  • I stopped ignoring the things that truly make me happy.

Gifts I received:

  • I received better, deeper, and more fulfilling relationships with almost everyone in my life.
  • I received new relationships — some of the most caring people I’ve ever met have reached out to me, befriended me, and cared for me when I didn’t care for myself. They’re superheroes.
  • I received a huge opportunity to build a team and make an impact in the world at a new start-up.
  • I received the ability to identify my feelings. Elementary, I know. But for me this has always been a major struggle.
  • I received the ability to process those feelings.
  • I received some really, really, really, good cries. I mean it. I’ve had 50 plus soul-cleansing cries this past year and there are few better feelings in the world.
  • I received the joy that comes from realizing that you can’t control life.
  • I received new interests and hobbies. I neglected the gift of play and freedom for far too long.
  • I received a deconstruction of my faith, leaving me with only the essentials — the core, the essence. Reflecting on that essence has given me new life and it has led to reconstruction.
  • I received dance.
  • I received sleep.
  • I received grace.

The way forward:

  • The way forward is to remain open in all areas of life.
  • The way forward is to remain connected — to the people and places that give me life.
  • The way forward is to default to the consensus of community — this may not necessarily be family, and I’ve found that typically it is not, they want to keep you safe and safety is not the way forward. The consensus of those that you’re comfortable receiving the hard truth from is key.
  • The way forward is to remain grateful. “Gratitude is the fuel of life”. I heard that recently and it stuck to my soul.
  • The way forward is to keep learning to love myself.
  • The way forward is to lean into love wherever I find it.

In support of the above lists, I want to highlight one book that best sums up what I’ve chosen to experience. The ideas found in The Way of Suffering: A Geography of Crisis by Jerome Miller have made a major impact on me. I can’t recommend this book enough to those of you who have gone or are going through a crisis.

The ideas presented in this work attempt to tap into our deepest human anxieties. We all have these anxieties. They bubble under the surface. Crisis brings them to the surface and forces you to confront them head on. If you push through and realize that you’ll be ok, you will find incredible strength and freedom. The anxieties will melt away. You may even start loving yourself too.

The quotes below are some of my favorites. They express what is required in order to push through and turn crises into your golden moments — where you learn the most, grow the most, and transform into the you that you’re supposed to be.

“What we work so hard to avoid is the shattering of our lives by horrors we know we will be helpless to control.”

“It is as if life or reality itself has had it in mind all along to unravel the very design I have been trying all along to impose on it.”

“Now, however, open a person manages to be, there is one possibility to which he remains as closed as ever: the possibility that when he uncovers his deepest anxieties he will find hidden inside them certain horrifying truths which his whole effort to control his life has been designed to keep repressed.”

“…this very act of consenting to its loss of control is itself the critical event of all crisis. To give up one’s stature as the director of one’s own existence: this is, for us, the ultimate death, the crisis that undermines our being in the most radical way.”

dad and baby in kitchen

Although I’ve received help from many places — books, friends, family, and even my own self at times. The most important of all the things I learned, stopped, and received, is the gentle whisper of a God abounding with kindness telling me “Everything is going to be ok.”

And my counter to her was “I think it will be even better than ok.”

Lean in.

This article was syndicated from Medium. You can also follow him on Instagram @therealwillbarrett