Life as a single dad – Garry’s story

Posted 4 October 2017

Writer Garry Johnson discusses his experiences of separation and being a single dad to his sons, Sam and Adam.

Single parent GarryI live in Basildon in Essex with my two sons in their twenties who both work. It’s a happy and lively home – they know that they’re always welcome to have friends over and I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting their girlfriends’ families.

I’ve been a single dad since 2005 when my wife left with a new partner. We had been happily married and had two boys aged 9 and 10, but when money troubles started to cause me a lot of stress, my partner and I grew apart.

Having lived in children’s centres when I was young, I was determined that my sons knew I was there for them, and wanted to care for them. I fought for custody and was successful. My ex-wife gained custody of our daughter, and now the two families don’t have any contact. Sam and Adam aren’t interested in contact with their mum – they were very hurt by her affair. However, I make sure I don’t speak badly of her, and I’ve ensured they have still grown up with respect for women.

At first, I was quite anxious

When I first became a single dad, it was tough. I was quite stressed and I think this was the start of my heart problems, further exacerbated by my arteries narrowing. My money worries weren’t an issue any more, and child tax credits were a huge help. But I had other worries which I now had to deal with on my own.

I was more protective of my boys, especially when they got to the age when they wanted to go out to play with their friends. I felt really anxious about that. Luckily, I had support from various people from my GP surgery, and I eventually made friends with other parents which was a big help.

Confidence helped

Initially, I think the other parents at the school gate were a little wary and awkward, and maybe not completely comfortable with their kids (my boys’ friends) coming over for sleepovers and things like that. But helping on school trips and at football tournaments really helped me get to know the other parents, and strong friendships have grown out of it. Luckily for me, I’m quite confident, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a shy person.

It’s certainly been a steep learning curve, and a lot of things I had to learn from scratch. I guess we were a bit old fashioned as I didn’t know how to cook or iron, but I’ve definitely improved! I got a lot of help from the community too, other mums who have been really helpful to me and the boys.

We’re now a really solid family unit, and I made the decision to put my love life on hold as I wanted to focus on my kids and not put them in a difficult situation if they didn’t like someone I was dating. I never felt down about being a single parent. I’d always really respected and looked out for single parents, and it didn’t feel like something to be ashamed of.

My advice to other dads – see the glass as half-full

My advice to other single dads out there would be to get as much help as you can and don’t isolate yourself, make friends and if they include female role models all the better! And always put your kids first, don’t bad mouth your ex, no matter what happened, and try not to dwell on the past too much as it can be upsetting for the children.

And remember – never lie to your kids! It will come back to bite you I promise.

Finally, try and be a ‘glass half full’ person, and focus on the positive, it’s not all bad after all.

Garry has published a number of screenplays, fiction books and memoirs including his latest work, Love Marriage Divorce (New Haven Publishing). His work reflects on life as a single dad, the bonds he has forged with the wider parenting community, and the challenges he has overcome in raising his sons for over 13 years.