Feb 1, 2011

Double down - 1, an icy lake

3, beating the odds

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven - Matthew 5:3 

I'll share a three part on the gritty fall and rise of single parenthood.  This one dips low, but it's unfiltered honesty.  Telling it allows me to release a little steam pressure.  Nobody likes to talk about this, but I will.  

I write this not to stir up a pity party, but to speak up for those going through a similar situation.  Each person traverses this trail for a different reason, maybe as the result of death, divorce or separation.  If you know a friend going through hardship, I hope this will help you better understand their new life.  Send this on to them.  

We'll squirm together, here goes...

"You can have her."

These were the exit words from my wife of seven years when Pigtails was a year old.

So began the morph from married man to single dad.  It was not a gentle transition, but a precipitous fall into an icy lake. 

My spouse was a stay-at-home mom, tending to baby and contributing to a calm household.  The next day, she left. 

A storm stirred, I hustled to find daycare for my diapered, smiling daughter while absorbing new tasks my wife tended to in the past.  Clear thinking and important, swift decisions needed to be riffled off with precision.  I found it best to ignore the sore thoughts of abandonment.  

I didn't have time to grieve, I'd do that later. 

oblivious of the storm

I went to work with a smile on my face while my heart thickened to stone and stomach balled up with fear.  Outside was cheerfulness as anguish etched away inside like acid.  

My heart goes out to you, single mom. 

Single dad, I understand what it’s like to work a full day, then come home and mow the lawn with your toddler strapped to the stroller, wailing from the porch.  With the smell of gasoline on your hands, you scoop her up, calm her down and kiss her red cheek.  Then you scurry inside to bake dinner and bathe her.

There’s no one around to help, you do it all. 

I know what it’s like to shop for dresses for your little girl and the salesperson smiles and says, “Oh, how cute, no mommy tonight, good luck with that.”  Not sure what got into me, but great restraint was required to not flick her nostril when she said that.

There's the public bathroom quandary.  What do you do when your curious tot is too old to tag along with you to the urine-soaked men’s room, yet too young to explore the ladies' loo alone?  I'd scan for a friendly looking mother with gentle eyes that didn't give off the essence of hating children, then casually beg her to take Pigtails in and pray for the best.    
Note: The family restrooms that have surfaced in recent years are excellent.  Now a family of four can all awkwardly partake in synchronized peeing and washing of hands.
I struggled to play the outfit matching game for my girly tike.  How can different shades of pink not match?  Stripes and polka dots jive, right?  What the, they don't?!  Perhaps one day I'll get it...

I understand the isolation of dining in a restaurant with a happy couple all but spooning and sharing a meal in the booth next to you, and a content family on the other side.  You nibble in silence or play peek-a-boo and idly chat with your toddler who’s not yet old enough to respond, but is old enough to catapult a partially chewed chicken and dumplings bomb on the crotch area of your pants.

I know what it’s like to attempt to make Pigtails look presentable at school, hair ponied and dress pressed, tasks I’m not the best at.

I know what it’s like to receive nothing for Father’s Day.    

I remember flipping my pillow one night to find a dry spot from the tears.  With little rest, I'd bolt up the next morning, dress Pigtails and drone to work with the molted smile stapled on.

It was a black time in my life.  

I was poor in spirit.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. This brings back so many memories. My son was 3 when his father and I divorced. For so many years 'other' things seemed more important to him than his son.

    I, of course, had the opposite situation a mother and a son...learning to throw a ball, trying to learn to build bird houses for Cub Scouts, and of course the bathroom issue. I remember the sleepless nights from tears of being lonely and from comforting a sick child...then having to get up a start the day again. Some how I always found the energy...somedays I didn't do things exactly right...sometimes I had to apologize for not handling a situation the best way. But my son kept me going...his smile, his laughter, and his never ending love.

    He is now 16 and a junior in high school...we are starting to look for colleges and I am beginning to prepare for the quiet that will follow.

    As a note...about a year ago his dad realized he lost out and has made an effort to spend more time with our son. They see each other regularly; however, when things happen (like a blizzard) home with me is where our son wants to be.

    I hope at some point your ex realizes what a gift a child is and takes the time to get to know Pigtails. But I promise your daughter will become a strong, wonderful woman...she will always know love, be grateful and will always know who will be there when she needs someone. While research may show children are raised best with both parents I know the most important part is the child is loved...and I think you are on the right path.

  2. I've read this post at least a dozen times but have yet to make it through without welling up with tears. I have been through similar situations with some of my dearest friends but never truly understood the impact a child makes until I became a parent myself.

    The relationship between a father and a daughter is such a beautiful and complex bond. Many children raised with one, two, or multiple parents will never experience the incredible and sacred love you give Pigtails.

    Thank you for sharing such a private and bittersweet story. It made me stop and think many times today.

    P.S. Here's to brighter times ahead!

  3. Rachael2/04/2011

    I love your blog in general but especially when you write about that amazing little girl of yours. Thank you for being brave enough to share your most private experiences and feelings. I don't have any kids but still I marvel at what you've accomplished. You and Pigtails should be proud of yourselves and equally proud of each other.

  4. Anonymous2/09/2011

    My sister recommended your blog. I am in awe of how you write, what you share, and how you cope. You are an inspiration to single parents. You and Pigtails are going to have an amazing bond, as I'm sure you already do.

  5. "Single dad, I understand what it’s like to work a full day, then come home and mow the lawn with your toddler strapped to the stroller, wailing from the porch. With the smell of gasoline on your hands, you scoop her up, calm her down and kiss her red cheek. Then you scurry inside to bake dinner and bathe her."

    I can tell you, as a single mother that was my life too. Without the wonderful support of my parents who looked after my daughter while I worked I would not have been able to hold down a job. I think a lot of single mothers work too (not just dads), and then come home to mow lawns, do housework, cook meals, and learn how to unblock drains and do minor repairs around the home. It was always what I missed most - the sharing of the load round the house.

    On a brighter note, there was just my girl and me too, and despite all the usual highs and lows we have become the closest friends we possibly could be. She is an adult now at 22 years old, and she still tells me (and everyone else) that I am and always will be her closest friend because of it always having been just the two of us.

  6. I recently ran across your blog (by way of YHL) and just wanted to let you know how much I'm enjoying reading it. I was raised by a single dad, and looking back, I wouldn't want it any other way. As I've grown older, I now realize all of the sacrifices my father made to raise me (though he never once has talked about them as sacrifices)... the dates he never went on; the hours spent working after he cooked dinner, played with me, and put me to bed; the sleepless nights when I would get pneumonia every fall; the financial sacrifices he made to help put me through school. While some have commented that it must have been hard to grow up without my mother really in the picture, I've never thought of it that way. I've only known how lucky I am to have been raised by a father who loved me unconditionally and instilled values that have led me to be a successful, well-rounded adult (at least that's how I see myself on a good day). My dad taught me to care for others, to strive to learn every single day, and to take care of myself physically and emotionally. Using the lessons from my father, I have grown into a happily married, 30-year-old woman who holds a Ph.D. in child psychology. I truly believe my dad can take credit for much of what I've achieved... and I'd bet Pigtails will feel that way some day too :)

  7. I like your blog most of the time, but I think it was selfish of you to post the "You can have her" comment on your blog. Things don't disappear from the internet easily and someday Pigtails may read that- how hurtful of a statement for Pigtails to read about her mother. Better to vent that to friends privately so that it can't get back to and hurt your daughter.


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!