Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Widower Single Dads Keep Promises

Sometimes, I think that I unfairly or, perhaps, irrationally avoid addressing a small, but significant segment of the single father universe: widowers. As I’ve previously written both here on my blog and in The Single Father’s Guide to Life, Cooking, and Baseball, the number of single fathers exceed two million in the U.S. and Canada alone. While the vast majority of single dads are divorced or separated, one in twenty single fathers is a widower.

I’m one in twenty.
I think some widowers are reluctant to discuss the details of their single father situation (SFS) for fear of wearing their emotions on their sleeves. I suppose I feel that way, too. While I've communicated my own SFS in order to explain my opinion about one parenting issue or another, I’ve tried not to wave it like a banner or wear it like a scarlet letter. I am who I am, for better or worse, but I don’t want any single experience to define who I am.
That said, I became a single father eight years ago this week. After becoming a single dad to two daughters, seven years old and four years old at the time, and a seven month old son, I think I have some profound thoughts about being a widower single father. For the members of this unfortunately exclusive club, these are especially for you:

Do what you have to do to be you again. Yeah, this encompasses a couple of my other “Single Father Golden Rules,” but includes the widower taking care of himself first and grieving his loss if he has to. A lot of a widower’s family and friends empathize with the emotional aspect of loss. Some may even have lost someone close to them. One thing folks who haven’t lost a spouse don’t understand is the fact that, although a widower is physically whole, he still has two arms, two legs, etc., an important and practical piece of him is gone. A single father whose partner is not just out of the house, but is also no longer in this world, is both his children's emotional support and the disciplinarian. He is the breadwinner and the homemaker. He is the homework helper and the story reader. Often, he has no backstop. For these reasons and more, brother, you have to have your stuff together. So, do what you have to do to be you.
Keep it “real” with your children. There’s no shame in the tragedy that a widower single father and his children have regrettably been forced to endure. Don’t treat it like there is. In other words, when children ask about their mother, talk to them about her. Recount the true stories about her and tell them how much she loved them. In my experience, sharing those experiences help kids connect with their mother, understand the loss, and put it in the proper context. There’s a fine line between keeping it real and dwelling on it in an unhealthy way. If a the single dad perpetually broaches the topic, he may be unwittingly teaching through his example how not to not to put the loss in context and to move forward with life.
Maintain routines and family traditions. Being consistent with bed times, wake up times, and meal times are incredibly underrated ways not only to uphold habits that are healthy for the body, but also to create an emotional comfort zone that facilitates constructive grieving. This is true not just for children, but for the single dad himself. By continuing to have family movie night on Fridays or go to soccer practice on Tuesdays after school or attend family Taekwondo classes on Saturday morning, familiar experiences will continue and provide the space and ability for the newly configured family group to evolve toward new, but productive lifestyle and lives.
Image Credit: ESL Resources (henry4school.fr)

Allow yourself feel the way you feel. When our ancestors lived in caves and huts and a hungry bear started chasing one of us, we responded with fear ran as fast as our legs would carry us. When a rival tribe infringed on our hunting territory, we became angry and defended our homes and families. We, men, developed emotions and feelings as evolutionary survival tools and, well, here we are. Somehow, that's changed for modern man and showing emotion is frequently not considered masculine. I'm here to say that's wrong. Widower single dads will experience a range of emotions including happiness, sadness, envy, regret, love, jealousy, confidence, anger, satisfaction, resentment, and about a million more. My advice? Allow yourself to feel the way you feel and, then, move on. As a result, you may just survive this yourself.

Sure, all of this sounds pretty easy when we read it, but it’s not. Dealing with a disrespectful and emotional teenage daughter or a maniacal toddler can sometimes make a guy wish he was anywhere else, doing anything else, being anyone else than who he is: a widower single father.
Single dad, you know, though, you can’t be. You've kept one promise. You’ll keep another.
My children's mother, taken by her daughter who was then six years old.