The memoir of a part time father

Their things are packed in a forest of plastic grocery bags and hand-me-down purses strewn at the top of the stairs. Organization is a quality we regularly work on. I’ve always maintained a penchant for being on time whether I am the guest or the host and I’m slowly teaching my children the same skill.

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I’m a single dad, not a child molester

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.

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Child Visitation is a four-letter word

With all the bitterness and resentment that occurs in a divorce such as alimony, co-parenting, every other weekends, and the train wreck it makes of lives in general, this notion of parental/child visitation is head and shoulders the most insulting.

The mere fact that I, as their father, am reduced to ‘visits’ with my children is enough to make me strap TNT to my chest and walk into the nearest family court room. It’s the only piece of my divorce that I have yet to come to complete grips with.

When the Jap and I divorced in ’05 our children were 10 and 18 months old. I moved, and still live, exactly 7.2 miles from the home she and the Trainer live in today. Being unaware of their impending co-habitation and ultimate marriage, I agreed to provide the necessary financial resources for her to stay home full time until my son was two years old. She believed, and I agreed, that their extremely young age warranted greater stability and going back and forth sleeping at dad’s one night and their mom’s the next would be a bit much. I wasn’t overly pleased with the situation but my ego and wallet took a back seat to their well-being.

Seeing a chance to move the docket forward with relative ease the court eagerly agreed with our contract as do most family courts in Georgia. At no point ever in the proceedings was it assumed or suggested that I would have equal parenting time, so instead of automatically offering joint physical custody to both of us I was relegated to a non-custodial ‘loser’ parent with set visitation that  had to be approved  by their mother and the judge. I was informed that if I had any intent on changing that arrangement not only must I go to court I would have to prove that I’m capable of doing the job. And I don’t need to mention the financial incentive one gains with sole custody.

All of this meant my time with the kids would consist of a few hours two afternoons during the week after which I was to bring them back to her house before bedtime and then every other weekend where I would pick them up on Friday afternoon and dropping them off on Sunday evening. Arguably an odd arrangement, but there was absolutely no way I was going to be one of those dads who has his kids every other weekend –  or about four days per month. Regardless of my resistance, at that stage of the game, our arrangement worked for everyone  – especially me. I traveled for business occasionally and continued to battle my way through the mental and emotional fog that comes with any divorce. And unlike her I had no network of SAHM’s who could help babysit or have play dates – she got the dining room set and the friends in the breakup.

But even with my agreement to our co-parenting plan the feeling that I was just visiting my kids remained a bitter pill. You visit the dentist or your Aunt Sue in Hoboken, that phrase shouldn’t apply to your toddler children. To me ‘child visitation’ reeks of prejudice and says: 

“Yes we know they have your DNA and look just like you, we know you were in the delivery room and have changed countless diapers; but while we appreciate that you support them financially and love them unconditionally the best your going to get is a visit that will be put in writing and can’t be deviated from without an a judge saying so. Now be a good little daddy and shut up, stay out of the way, and keep sending the checks!”

As the non-custodial parent I have virtually no rights in the decision making process for my kids. The ex, if she chose, could move to another country and I would have to sue to stop it. On the other hand, if I took the kids there would be an APB out on me for child-kidnapping before I got across the county line. The custodial parent has the right to choose schools, activities, even religion, while the non-custodial has no say unless it’s been authorized. As far as I’m concerned that’s not parenting – it’s settling.[pullquote]You visit the dentist or your Aunt Sue in Hoboken, that shouldn’t apply to your toddler children[/pullquote]

I will say that while I’ve been spared the majority of challenges  many non-custodial parents suffer it’s still that infernal term ‘visitation’ that continues to haunt me. It’s as if somebody has thrown me a parental bone and I should be happy with what I’ve got. But that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m just not one of those absent fathers who take to the road as soon as the judge signs the papers and is never seen or heard form again.

Why is it routinely that if a man wants to have equal time with his children he must fight for it? Why is it necessary that of the two parents it’s always that father that must prove he’s adequate to the task? Are the cards stacked against me because I didn’t do the pushing, is it because mothers are viewed as more vital, or maybe all the loser dads before me blew it and now I’m paying for their sins? Which ever way, at least give me the option to turn down equal parenting time – then I alone am to blame for feeling like scum.

Seven years later and I’m still the non-custodial parent who gets visitation with his kids. Many people will say that “it’s really no big deal”. “You’re still their father and you’re part of their life, it’s only a legal term”. To which I respond lets trade places and then tell me if it’s still no big deal? It’s an absolute big deal and an abuse of legit single dads everywhere.

My repeated requests for joint custody have fallen on deaf ears as she gives me the same rational from way back then. So for the time being I use my lot as motivation, a competition of sorts. Being a non-custodial parent makes me feel as if I’ve got something to prove even though I don’t. Because my parenting time is court mandated I find I’m far more involved than I otherwise might be and surely more so than the major lot of dads who have their kids all the time. But as of now the truth remains, much like that lowly bill sitting on Capital Hill, I’m just a non-custodial parent whose wounds have yet to completely heal.

The first commandment for parent bloggers.

rule for parent bloggers

A year ago this month ChopperPapa was birthed from my literary womb; in the months leading up I had toyed with another blog called Project Fatherhood, which served as my ‘toe in the pool’. With its minuscule success I felt it was time to move into snazzier digs more in line my personality  – and not a copyright infringement of a non-profit in Los Angeles.

I have never been considered nor am I currently a writer. I consistently struggle with word choice and wish I had the snarky wit of a true wordsmith. But my shortcomings come honest; my disdain for English and reading in general was legendary in school. I’d have much rather spent my time dissecting Economic theories or sitting atop the roof of our fraternity house knocking back a cold one – or twelve. As I trudged through those highbrow courses I could never have imagined one day baring my soul to strangers through the written word.

The inspiration behind this blog was and remains simply to share ‘high octane’ observations about the world around me through the eyes of a divorced-single-father treading the waters of the modern family. Because I went through the divorce process alone and came out only missing a few limbs I’ve always been the go-to person for other divorcees who keep saying I need to write a book – you’ll have to settle for this blog instead.

If I were to put myself in a category it would be ‘parenting’ and specifically a ‘single dad’ blog. Assuming that I would be the only single dad blogger in existence I fully expected my phone to ring within days of my first post with requests for interviews and my own reality TV show – I was wrong on all points. Soon enough I learned that not only were their parent blogs, there were countless numbers of them. Some appeared widely successful, others had a smattering of attention, while many more looked as if the only readers were the blogger, their family, and me.

1991ish – bakin’ and drinkin’, check out those guns.

In the last twelve months I’ve learned a great deal about blogging and particularly the parent blog niche. I’ve come across some parent blogs with massive followings that candidly defy explanation – as they rarely talk about parenting or anything similar. Then there are parent bloggers who have such rich content I’m surprised they don’t have a book contract – yet they get no attention. I finally decided there is absolutely zero rhyme or reason to why some blogs go big while others languish in obscurity.

One has to assume that if the word mom, dad, parent or similar reference is in the URL it’s a blog about parenting or, at least, the blogger is a parent. Yet some of the most followed ‘parent’ blogs on the web are hardly distinguishable from a random pop culture, fashion, sports, or worse celebrity blogs. Their content brings nothing to the parenting table other than to discredit spouses, whine about kids, or droning on and on about potty training debacles. But being an uber- competitive person and seeing the way these ‘big’ bloggers did it led me to question my own strategy – should I be doing more of what they do? This forced me to look at changing the way I write my posts in an effort to match theirs and maybe gaining more readers. I decided to start writing based on what I thought the reader might want.

It’s when I began trying to grow readership that I headed down a path I didn’t want to go. No sooner had I started writing posts to appease the audience than I was confronted by a great friend who asked “dude, what are you doing?” He pointed out how my content suddenly went against everything I was or wanted to be. Through his critique I toned down my ambition and remembered once again why I started this in the first place. And finally it occurred to me if being successful meant forgoing principles and my faith that’s not the way to win. If I was going to misrepresent myself for the sake of readers – then I should just close the laptop now. A bit disappointed by my actions I forged some blogger guardrails to make certain I never got outside the lines again.

While I could go into monotonous detail regarding my do’s and don’ts for blogging, much like the The Dark Lord Sauron’s One Ring this guideline rules them all.

Write as if your kids will read it.

 I’ve read plenty of parent bloggers who clearly haven’t grasped this fact. Whether it’s overly colorful language, taboo topics, lewd images, or self-aggrandizement in revealing fashion I’m convinced these bloggers are writing for the pure shock value and the hopes of attracting a few eyeballs. While far from  being a Mother Theresa if it embarrasses a 41 year old man imagine what a kid might think. I’d like to believe that my children see their father as an admirable and respectable man worthy of emulating. How distressing it would be for them to learn, through reading my own words, that I’m actually a resentful, disrespectful, and obnixious jerk.

Every post I write is then first sifted through the filter of a question.

Would I be embarrassed if my kids read this?

The way I look at it, I can’t have certain expectations of them while acting differently  – last I checked that’s hypocrisy or maybe a personality disorder.  What kind of father would I be to live one way in front of them and another way when they aren’t looking –  just to win a virtual popularity contest. Should they choose to do so, I hope they can look back on these pages and get different glimpse into the mind of their father. And after doing so still be proud to have me as their dad.

Besides shouldn’t that be our desire anyway? Parent blogger or not?

A manifesto on absent fathers

Parenting isn’t easy. Anyone saying otherwise has never been one  – or at least a good one. When I became divorced in ’05 my children were 10 and 22 months old –that’s young by any standard. And I can still remember the trepidation that initial weekend alone with them. Would I be able to do this on my own?

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A grandson’s tribute to his grandmother

 

Taken in 6/2006

The men were getting up to leave as I walked out the screen door. Their bellies, filled with some of the best home cooking this side of the Mason Dixon line, were bulging under their dirty t-shirts and overalls while dessert littered the ground, smoldering from their failed attempts to completely stomp them out. Working for Dewey was a bitter sweet affair, on the one hand you’d surely work like never before but on the other you may never eat so well again in your life. For most, it was a price gladly paid.

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Congratulations! Your daughter looks like a stripper.

I have a sister three years younger than I am and we couldn’t be more different. She loves small towns and I’m a big city person, she is the outgoing social butterfly and I’m more of the reserved observer, she prefers to stay at home and I like to paint the town red. But for all of the many differences, there are a few similarities and one of the most notable is our trigger happy impulse to passionately argue a point.

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