Let me first say that being a single dad isn't hard, it's awesome!
But I must admit that it's much more challenging to get it all done when you don't have a spouse to help out, especially in tough situations like when your child is sick and you have to go to work, or when you're sick and you have to suck it up.
When I started my "new" life as a single dad in December 2012, I was ready for a change. The writing had been on the wall for a long time, and we had mutually decided that it was best to separate.
No tears. No breakdowns. No second guessing. Just time to move on.
The hardest thing, by far, was leaving my family knowing that I wouldn't get to see my daughters (aged four and seven at the time) every day, and it broke my heart. It was a feeling that only a parent can know, and it's brutally painful; but I knew we were doing the right thing for the girls, and I never wavered in my decision to move out.
In the three years since my separation, these are the things that have challenged me the most:
My daughter asking me about our divorce.
This one kills me. When we first split, I explained as easily as I could that mom and dad just didn't get along as well as they should and it was best for all of us if we lived in separate houses.
To a seven- and four-year-old, that was sufficient. But now, when my 10-year-old asks me those same questions, she really wants to understand what happened and why. Of course, she can't fully comprehend the depth of a marriage or a divorce, but I try my best to keep things honest and positive and never talk badly about her mother. She still struggles with it sometimes, and I guess that's normal. She's a sensitive girl to begin with and just wants everyone to be happy.
What makes it so hard is that my parents divorced when I was six, and it was a nasty and bitter split. I know how angry I was with my mother, and resented her for years because I believed she took us away from our dad. I never want my girls to experience those types of feelings toward either one of us, and do my best to ensure that doesn't happen.
Feeling powerless against our legal system.
Because I was so worried that the legal system would somehow fail me and I'd wind up getting my rights taken away, I chose to play it safe and gave in to some demands that—looking back—were bad calls on my part.
I've seen too many things go wrong and have heard from too many dads who were chewed up by the system and lost custody of their kids, been ordered to pay ridiculous amounts of money, or both. Up to this point, I've avoided getting into any legal battles, although we've come close a few times. In each instance, I honestly felt like I had a winnable case, but I just don't trust the courts to make the right call.
I'm sure that the day will come when I have to find out, and I'm not looking forward to it. Having my custody rights hanging on the discretion of a judge, who may be overly sympathetic to mothers—or is just having a bad day—scares the sh*t out of me.
Allowing them to get close to another woman.
This one was really hard for me. The last thing I wanted was to have my girls introduced to a new woman, get close, and then break up. So I played it safe. I dated a few women and let them meet my girls in public settings a few times, but never too close.
After a year or so, I started dating a woman (my current girlfriend), and I still took it very slow. A meeting at a park once in a while or a short visit was about it. But after several months, they started to hit it off very well, and I slowly brought her around more. Today, we all live together, and her relationship with the girls is amazing. I honestly couldn't ask for anything better. I believe that if I had rushed things, or forced her down their throats, it wouldn't have turned out this way.
As Dan Pearce once said, "The most difficult thing about dating as a single parent is deciding how much risk your own child's heart is worth." I agree wholeheartedly.
When we first separated, I lost myself in work and other stuff to keep my mind from wandering back to my girls. After nine months, I left my job of 11 years to pursue a full-time job managing a gym. Unfortunately, the pay sucked and barely covered my expenses and obligations, and I was still on the hook for my full child support and alimony payment.
This meant that I had to hustle before and after my full-time job, which kept me moving from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every weekday. And on the weekends, I had my girls. I was exhausted, but refused to sit them in front of the TV so I could rest. We went out, did fun things, and were pretty active.
Fortunately, things have changed, and I'm in a slightly better financial position, but it's still a struggle some months to cover everything.
No control over bad decisions.
When I was married, my ex and I made the decisions for the girls together. Some were bad (like catering to our firstborn daughter's every need and creating a very difficult child), and others were good.
When I first moved out, our intention was to try to co-parent as much as possible and be on the same page about the decisions for the girls. And it worked. For a short time.
The problem soon became that she didn't agree with some of the things I was doing with the girls, and I didn't agree with what she was doing. So now, we are at an impasse and agree to disagree.
I could list dozens of more struggles and I know many of you have the same issues, but I love being a single dad and wouldn’t trade any of it. And I’m willing to bet neither are you.