With that, I knew there would be problems. Much of this site has been dedicated to answering the challenges of dating single dads. I’ve tried to give women a clearer understanding of how single dads think and feel as they balance girlfriends, kids, divorce, and exes. I’ve attempted to explain why single dads may behave in some of the ways they do. Yet, I’ve also encouraged patience with them, especially with the man who seems resistant to introduce his kids, and I’ve cautioned not to use that, meeting his children, as some litmus test for commitment.
But I’ve also written that eventually, and always, the day must come. If their relationship has any chance of long-term success, and perhaps marriage, his children – or more likely their children- will impact that relationship in good and not-so-good ways. So it’s best to uncover and talk through those pitfalls well in advance of any long-term moves. But there’s something more fundamental about meeting his children that regrettably too many women, including this one it seems, appear not to understand fully.
For a dad who is doing the job right, being a father is a large part, and hopefully one of the largest, of who he is as a person. Helping bring new life in the world does, should, change a man, and in my opinion, change him for the better. Fatherhood should affect how a man sees things around him. The colors of the world are now tinted in shades of ‘daddy.’ Suddenly every woman he meets isn’t a conquest but somebody’s daughter. Golf games eagerly get replaced with dance recitals and baseball practices. Boys’ nights out turn into Disney movie marathons. The future should become less about him and more about another. Once a father, he should no longer live just for himself; his needs take a backseat. Life becomes ‘them before me’ – for the father who is doing it right.
But sadly, that is not always the case, as I know from personal experience. While marriage nearly always makes men better in some ways, it isn’t so with having kids. My own past testifies to this, as does my inbox by the steady stream of pleas from single moms dealing with the consequences of fathers who are not doing that job the way they should.
I’ve written that the way a single dad talks about his children and his ex is a good early indicator of the type of person he might be. But it isn’t foolproof, nothing is. We are unable to see inside the heart of anyone, we can’t look into their eyes and discover what they’re actually thinking, feeling, or learn their real motivation. Most of us, myself included, are far less ‘real’ than we want to believe. We show people only what we want them to see. Is it any wonder some of our worst habits, those things we do that we wish we didn’t, happen without anyone else around?
And while the way a man talks about his children represents one of the better barometers to the quality of the person he could be, that is far different than the real thing. Describing myself as a dad not necessarily align when you see me doing it. Telling you stories of how good a father I am is one thing, watching me in the moment may tell something very different. I once dated a woman who would lead you to believe that she was a mother on top of her game, in control of her children, good at setting boundaries, and a master of appropriate discipline. She could convince anyone she had it all figured out – until you spent more than 30 minutes with her and her children. You’d discover her kids were disrespectful, they ran all over her, and she had control of nothing. The real thing didn’t match up w the brochure.
With this understanding, I responded to the email the way I did. In reality, I told her, she doesn’t know her boyfriend. Yes, she has lived with him for two years, I’m still unclear on where she goes on ‘his weekends,’ but she is only seeing a shade of the real him. She is seeing the parts he wants her to her to see. Because, I’m willing to bet, like that woman I dated, the way he is with those kids is going to be different than the way he is when they are gone. A man who on the surface appears to have moved on from his divorce may be a father who parents out of sheer guilt. He may be the father who gives into his children’s every demand and desire in a vain attempt to ease his own conscience. A woman who believes she is the center of that single father’s world, when it’s just the two of them, may find herself on the backburner when his kids are around. A woman, or a man, can learn really quick where they actually fit into to the other’s life when they are in the midst of that person and his or her children. I’ve been rightly criticized by the Queen for making her sometimes feel she isn’t as important when my own kids are around. My focus gets shifted.
Meeting a man’s children should be about far more than just getting to know them, or seeing if you all ‘gel’, or somehow demonstrating his commitment. To meet a man’s children is to meet the man. Observing him as a father is to start to really know him. The single most important key to dating a single father, ultimately, is to see him being a single father. Does he act differently around his children? Does he treat you differently when they are around? How does he handle discipline and is that different from your style? In what ways does he show them affection and attention? And here’s something else really important to be considered, if you’re a single mother, are going to be accepting of him doing the same with your own children? Are you comfortable with the way he responds to disrespect and misbehavior, or when his own kids screw up? Because what you see in him with his children is going to be close to what you will see from him when it’s your kids doing something wrong.
To meet the children is always sticky, routinely clunky, and never perfect. But it’s necessary because it’s the only way to truly know the man (all of this is of course no less true for dating single mothers). Without seeing that side of him, what I’d argue is the most important side, can you really say you know what you’ve got?