Challenging perceptions of single dads

Posted 4 October 2017

Steve is 56 and a single dad to his two children, aged four and seven. He lives in South Wales and is self-employed. He describes the difficulties of picking his family back up after his wife left, society’s perceptions of men and trying to make a living.

Memories and reality

Single parent SteveI was married for 29 years and have been a single parent for one. My wife believed angels spoke urging her to leave. She has no contact with her children but emails her daughter now and then. Her son, being the youngest, has no such contact and she missed his birthday this year, though insists a card was sent.

My feelings on becoming a single parent were very much akin to bereavement followed by worry, panic, anxiety and bouts of severe melancholy. I feared not earning enough to feed us all and pay the bills and I blamed myself. I realised that change was the only route out of my collapsed world. After all, I began to muse, why live on nice memories when the reality was different?

All for one and one for all

So I decorated the lounge and bedroom, moving furniture, paintings and mirrors to new positions. I installed a new fire in the lounge and new oven in the kitchen. The lounge carpet is next on my hit list. Anything remotely angelic was given to charity. All this took away vital savings but helped me and the children to adjust to our new life. We three drew closer together and were seldom out of each other’s arms. We wept and talked together. All for one and one for all.

An early panic attack meant I found the Gingerbread website with its relevant info and helpful little forum. I’ve found the information useful and enjoyed getting involved. Outside support came from my brother-in-law who rushed down from London and has phoned fairly regularly ever since. At school my daughter was tearful but thanks to the class ‘feelings box’ she could jot down her upset and the teacher talked to her privately rather than sharing in circle time. This was immensely helpful. My son, being three at the time, reasoned that his mother had, ‘gone off to Venus’. Fine.

Supposed to be strong

I have the impression that women talk and share, touch and empathise. Men? Well, unless it is in the pub, they don’t reveal their emotion, feelings of deep pain. For some, tears are accepted but only for so long. Sobbing away every day or night for months and plunging into a dark chasm of despair, as I did, simply isn’t on. I was supposed be ‘strong’, to ‘let go’. After monumental efforts over a year, I have.

Initially there were comments made like, ‘Well, I think you are coping well, for a man.’ Or ‘So you are just babysitting?’ People expected the mother to have full responsibility for the kids in due course. The majority these days manage to accept my status without sneer nor comment, welcome me into the fold of single and struggling parents and have been supportive in their friendliness. The media are less kind and tend to blindly follow the scapegoat mentality of the government. Being a single parent, it seems, is to them just another excuse for not working all hours. A standing joke in the playground is that the government is going to bring back the Workhouse.

Barriers

I had to carry on working of course, but rising material costs and dwindling customer base spell disaster. I needed to look for more regular income from employers who really do not exist where we are in any number. I soon realised that I had no references to offer, no years of experience in any employable field, no up-to-date training. Then there was the fact that employed work would have to fit certain hours (including travel) and a final blow…a lot of employers require weekend working.

I did not find childcare available on weekends. Well, there was one childminder who worked Saturdays and charged £9.00 for the first child and £5.00 for the second. I recall that the bill for a full day would have cost me some £130. What Saturday work covers that?

And then there’s the question of what employer would be sympathetic to the sudden time off for emergencies, trips where a parent should ideally accompany the child, or sickness beyond the usual light cough and cold? Or the school ring and say, ‘Your child has a high temperature and is feeling unwell, can you come and collect him…’ Will an employer be understanding or sack me? In other words, my anxiety is do I neglect my child to put work first? So I continue to put effort into my self-employment whilst being registered with every job-site on the web, in the hope of a miracle before disaster hits.

Time of change

The personal upside to my single parenthood is a big loss of weight. I’m down a trouser size in six months. The downside, quite apart from the perpetual income worry, is loneliness after putting the children to bed. No conversation. No hand to hold in bed. Sometimes I look less like 56 and more like 66.

What I am most proud of is the maturity of both children in handling what must be as devastating for them as it has been for me. I have come to know and respect two amazing children and I hope that I don’t let them down. This is my niggling anxiety.

My words of advice? Each situation is different and carries its own problems. However my two pennies worth is this: go the park or woods and talk to the trees, it’s strangely calming! Also, see this horrible time as one of change rather than utter disaster, new opportunities and adventure rather than darkness. Impossible? Maybe. But for the sake of the children you have to force yourself to see another dimension to the experience.

For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, read our guide to separation.