As I sit here today wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to those in my life that matter to me, I am struck by conversations I have both overheard, and been a part of. I see so many times women that are raising children on their own, and the praise they are given for being able to do this; for the strength, courage, and fortitude it takes to go through each day. I admit, it takes a lot to raise children in a one parent household. I do not, will not, and cannot take that away from the mothers that are doing this. It is even harder when the father is rarely there, or absent altogether.
What bothers me is that this same praise is rarely passed on to the fathers that are raising children on their own. I am one of those. I have two teenage boys that I am doing my best to raise into good men, and it isn’t easy. However, I have overheard, and been told, that it is easier for me. That I don’t have to face the same things a single mother does. That, by being a man, society makes it much easier for me to successfully raise these two young men into productive members of society.
My being a man does not make it any easier. In fact, there are times when it is much harder. You see, in much of society, it is expected, almost demanded, that a mother raise her children. I have heard the saying, “A child’s place is with their mother.” I have been told that I am a horrible person for taking the children away from their mother. But what do you do when the mother is almost vacant from their lives? What do you do when these two bright, beautiful, artistic young men actually made a decision and chose to live with me rather than their mother? What do I do when I wish nothing more for their mother to WANT to spend time with them but seems to have a reason not to. What do I say when I am asked, “Did mom make it?” after the soccer game besides “No”. I know it hurts, but why am I the bad person.
I. Am. A. Horrible. Person.
I hear this…again…and again…and again. From people I hardly know to people I thought once were my friends.
I did not want any of this. I did not want them to have to make a choice in their lives like this. I wanted the wife and mother I thought I was going to be with the rest of my days to be at least the mother I thought she was, but she has checked out for the most part. Today, one of my sons spent time with her, but mostly because he feels it is wrong not to. He is the one that wants a better relationship with his mother. The other one couldn’t be bothered to speak to her. There is a deep-seated anger in him towards her for basically abandoning her family for her own selfish needs. Maybe one day, he will forgive her and they will have a good relationship; maybe he won’t. I can’t make him, and if I force the issue, it won’t make our tenuous relationship any better.
I am NOT a single parent. I am a father. A father that is doing his best to hold his shit together and get these two teenage boys through the next few years of their life, and more. I struggle each day just like any other single parent would. I hope to keep the bills paid. I hope that, when I have to leave work early for appointments or sick children when their mother is unavailable, that my boss doesn’t finally give up one day and tell me I am sacked for being unreliable. I hope that they know I love them more than anything in the world and that I am trying my best. More than anything else, I hope they can look back at all of this and see what I have done to try to make their lives better, and use this as a lesson to raise their own children by.
All of this to say, if you know someone like me, or get the chance to meet me, do not praise me for the strength it takes to do this. I seek not that nor sympathy. Just don’t treat me differently than any other parent that is struggling to do this by themselves. Being a parent is not easy. Going the trip alone is even harder. But never, NEVER, assume that because I am a man, this path is easier for me to tread. I trip and fall just like anybody else.
Because of the way I, and other men like me, have been treated, I shudder with fear that I am not doing this right. I wonder if I should have surrendered custody and been the “part time Dad.” I cry at night wishing that I was better. I cry anytime I wonder if they feel like I took something from them when their mother isn’t around. I am scared that they will go out in the world one day and never look back for me; that their shadows will never darken my doorway and I will be left wondering what I have done wrong.