Friday, June 8, 2012

Kid Rock's 'Single Father' & Grief

We’ve all experienced it: a song that is so moving in lyrics, tempo, and mood, that it puts the listener in the singer’s shoes. It’s not easy to write about how it feels to be a divorced or widower single father, but David Allan Coe did just that for Romeo, Michigan’s favorite son, Robert James Ritchie, aka “Kid Rock,” who recorded Coe’s Single Father.

Like a lot of great country music, Single Father is a great “story” song. As the tale begins, the narrator laments the loss of his former life as a husband and as a part of an intact family. He grieves the pain his son experiences as a result of the mistakes he'd made. In the second, Kid Rock communicates a parent’s refrain that he’ll only one time have this time with his son - this one chance to be a good father, who will eventually grow up. Sometimes, the narrator admits, he deflects rather than answers his son’s questions. Rather, he takes his son to buy a Happy Meal or a toy to avoid the conversation. In the last chapter, the single dad regrets he neither the answers for his son nor for himself. After each heart-wrenchingly delivered thought, the chorus repeats:

Single father, part-time mother.
When I’m not one, then, I’m the other.
You used to be my full-time lover,
Now, I’m a single father, and a part-time mother.

In The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball (Arundel Publishing, September 1, 2012), I broach the subject of “unclear loss vs. clear loss” with some help from Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kim Sumner-Mayer. In my discussion with Kim, she explained that a man and his children will grieve the loss of a relationship or a way of life, as in the case of divorce, not dissimilar to that grief experienced after a death. The difference between grief resulting from divorce and that from death is unclear loss compared to clear loss.

Both a single father and his children will not only experience grief when a marriage ends, but they will repeatedly be reminded of the loss when the children are exchanged in shared custody arrangements or even when a child talks to the other parent on the telephone. In such cases, the loss is undefined; both parents are still alive, but the family unit no longer exists. Children may even maintain a fantasy of reconciliation and a return to that earlier life. In contrast, when a spouse/mother has died, the widower father surviving and his children are, in most cases, crystal clear about the circumstances. There is no doubt that the family’s life has changed and, unless a time-machine suddenly becomes available, a return to the past is not possible.

I make no value judgments regarding which incarnation of single fatherhood is more or less preferable. Frankly, being a single father is often a challenge regardless of the circumstances. To create for his children a safe environment in which to process grief, however, the single dad must first understand and address his own feelings.

For more information about understanding grief in the context of a divorce or the death of a spouse, feel free to contact a professional grief counselor, clergy at your local church or synagogue, or local support groups. Some other resources include:

Lisa Crank, Heartland Hospice –,  618-632-0304.
Karen Loschiavo, Psy.D – 845-346-5150.
Kandy Magnotti, Life Through Loss –, 941-807-7431.

In the meantime, take stock in the fact that you’re a single father, but you’re not alone. Heck, Kid Rock is singing about it!

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