Let’s begin with a story. There’s a little girl we’re going to call Brittany. Now Brittany is in the fourth grade at a school she’s been attending since kindergarten. She’s outgoing and cute, dresses odd at times, can be very funny, is a tad bookwormish, and is most definitively a Taylor Swift fan.
Brittany meets and becomes fast friends with girl in her class named Mallory. They both like the TV show Good Luck Charlie and play Tap Pet Shop on their iTouches, not to mention Mallory loves Taylor Swift also. They quickly become inseparable pals eating lunch together every day, playing during recess, and drawing pictures of one another under rainbow and butterfly filled skies. One afternoon Mallory comes running home from school asking her mom and dad if she can have a sleepover at Brittany’s house this weekend. It seems Brittany recently got Just Dance 3 for the Wii and they plan on having a dance party late into the night.
The usual next step entails Brittany and Mallory’s moms talking on the phone or maybe meeting up for a quick ‘get-to-know’ and it’s party on. But if it ended there, it wouldn’t be much of a post. Well it isn’t all because there’s one small detail I left out. In this story you’re Mallory’s mom or dad and the sleepover she wants with Brittany, well, it’s going to be at my home – her divorced, unmarried, and single father.
Now let me ask you this question. What is the very first thought going through your mind after realizing the place where your daughter is going to spend the night is a single dad’s house? You don’t have to answer that because I already know. It’s something like this… Not a chance in hell! And here’s a secret, I would probably say the same thing.
Next month marks seven years since my divorce, which is longer than I was married and neither of my kids have known any different. That’s seven years of co-parenting on my own. That’s 2,555 days full of diaper changes, potty training episodes, nursing nosebleeds, performing tuck-ins, and reciting bedtime stories. I’ve doctored diaper rashes, attended parent/teacher conferences, and sat through a dozen God-awful elementary school musicals. I’ve read to classrooms, been a teacher’s helper, and ate $2.30 school lunches with a table of seven year olds.
There are only two feats I’ve yet to check-off from the parenting to-do list – breast feeding and giving birth. If you’re going to judge a parent based upon his or her aptitude and performance, go ahead and induct me into the Mommy and Daddy Hall of Fame, right now. So why is it when Mallory asked if she could have a sleepover at my house you looked at your spouse and thought “how are we going to get out of this?”
It’s one of the harshest realities I’ve ever faced as an man, and a father – the perception that since I don’t live with a woman I’m less of a parent. In the court of public opinion I’m a dad who’s guilty until proven innocent and even if I am acquitted I still need an ankle bracelet and must check in with my parole officer once a month. Because I failed at a marriage it seems, as a man, I’m no less inclined to fail as a parent. Why, and this question is directed at me as much as anyone else, do I feel way more uneasy if my kids are in a home where the responsible parent isn’t a woman? Why do I believe it isn’t a good idea, since there isn’t going to be a mother around, and therefore I make up some lame lie excuse about why my kid can’t spend the night with her friend?
Why do feel I need to ask around, run a complete background check, and ask for blood and urine samples because the dad isn’t married? And why would all of this anxiety disappear if happened at a divorced mom’s house? The fact isn’t lost on me that my daughter has tons of sleepovers but none of them are at my home. In the last seven years she has only had one friend spend the night and it was a neighbor who lived 200 yards away and her parents had me on speed dial. Sure, my daughter wants friends over but it never seems to materialize, as if by magic the other kids are always busy…until the next weekend she’s at her moms.
Why are single dads looked upon more critically than any another parent? While single moms are virtually sanctified to the level of Mother Theresa for their seemingly endless supply of self-sacrifice; why are single dads expected to be self-centered, negligent, and unreliable – especially as a parent? It’s undeniable that a single father is first and foremost regarded as single. Because I’m not with a woman, why is it assumed I must have the parenting skills of a green sea turtle? That I will invariably let your kid watch too much television, drink gallons of soda, and run with knives.
But let’s be completely honest. The true reason why you don’t let Mallory spend the night, whether you want to admit it or not, is that doing so fills your mind with dreadful images better left unsaid.
I could tell you that I, like most dads, just want the best for my kids and for them to have happy and joyful childhoods. I could also tell you that as a divorced dad I guarantee I work harder towards achieving that than any married dad ever will. I could mention how it offends me that you think your child would be any less safe and secure with me just because a woman isn’t under my roof. And I could bring up that if you actually got to know me you’d quickly realize I, and many other single dads like me, aren’t anything like the deadbeats you hear about in the media.
But chances are it wouldn’t do any good, so instead I’ll just leave you with a harsh remainder until your kid’s next sleepover – I’m a single dad not a child molester.