In a day and age when men are gathering in small groups to beat their drums and recapture the lost male warrior-spirit and when outspoken, self-appointed spokespersons for womankind are extolling the virtues of men who are “in-touch” with their feminine side, men are left hanging somewhere in between what is believed to be our natural roles and what society expects.
FOR BETTER, NOT FOR WORSE
I was unceremoniously initiated into the lonesome and yet highly rewarding world of single fatherhood when, late in 1997, my wife packed up and left, deciding to give up on our then five-year-old marriage. We had our own apparel company which we jointly managed. And somewhere underneath the pile of production deadlines, adjustments to the married state, demands of parenthood, and managing our household, love and respect got buried and later made an unobtrusive exit through the backdoor.
LEARNING NEW ROLES FOR BETTER TIMES
From having a routine that was as predictable as a clock and an environment that functioned like a well-oiled machinery, I suddenly found myself on unfamiliar terrain. My role shifted from that of being General Manager to that of being a writer striving desperately to reinvent himself; from a husband to a single-again (yet not quite) individual; from a co-parent to being a single father.
Early morning planning gave way to hurried breakfasts and getting my eldest ready for school while leaving instructions to the house help concerning my then three-year-old son. Weekend sports yielded to frequent medical appointments as the kids came to develop chronic pulmonary problems. Watching my favorite six o’clock news had to be sacrificed in favor of reviewing my daughter for her preliminary exams. And parenting had to make its necessary transition to single fathering.
FATHERING BY CHOICE
“Natay” doesn’t quite cut it for me. Neither do the “un-cool” stereotypes.
The single fathering phenomenon is relatively new. But, yes, our breed does exist. People are more used to hearing about single mothers, those poor souls who have been left behind by noncommittal boyfriends, or worse, by worthless husbands.
But times have changed. In many cases, the father is no longer the sole breadwinner. And more and more wives do not find fulfillment in their homes – they look for it elsewhere.
Well, that’s where they lose out. And that’s where I, and my kind, stand to gain. Because there is fulfillment in raising a family, albeit an “incomplete” one.
My present arrangement with my wife is for us to have joint custody of the kids. Our basic agreement is to have a week-to-week turnover. This is also fine with the kids as they feel this is “fair.”
The highest reward of consultancy work is potentially having the time for everything and everyone that’s important to you.
SETTING PRIORITIES, MAKING TIME
When I was working with an industry association as Advocacy and Research Manager, my mornings would look something like this: 4:30 a.m. coffee, 5:30 a.m. drag race to Manila (normally a 2-hour drive from my residence at rush hour), 6:30 a.m. reading and workout by the bay. By 7:30 a.m., I am at my desk. Meetings and paperwork then somehow managed to screw up my beautifully-crafted schedule until past 8:00 p.m. when I will have taken care of most of these. By the time I enter the bedroom, all I catch of my kids are their angelic, sleeping selves. I would have to wait for a chance to hear their stories, of their day spent blowing bubbles, biking around, of meriendas half-eaten, and water fights at bath time.
Now that I am free to manage my time according to my priorities, I get to be part of the kids’ daytime activities, steal away with them on spur-of-the-moment adventures, and basically just have a lot of “hugtime” while managing to get some work done, of course.
Granted, taking care, firsthand, of one’s kids can be physically tiring work. Still, I do not understand how many could trade off the wonder of seeing one’s offspring develop from milk-sucking machines to real people, of sharing their small victories, of seeing something of yourself come out in your child, or of seeing them repeat to you during unguarded moments a value or a principle that you strove so hard to instill in them. Man, that’s accomplishment! When that happens, you know that you have not poured yourself into this work – this privilege of being able to mold a life – in vain.
In a “complete” family, I could easily deflect my child’s request for attention to my wife, should I be working on “something urgent” at the moment (of course, men have this nasty habit of always having “something urgent” to work on). But as a single father, I realize that my child’s love and needs expressed at a given moment exists only for that moment and might be gone the next, only to resurrect at the next instant of need. I think of this as something similar to our hunger drive. It reminds us of our need to fill our stomach with food. It is a very real need. But if we choose to ignore our hunger drive often enough, our system chooses to adopt coping mechanisms and may even “pretend” it isn’t hungry when it is, in fact, starving.
As I would be busy at my keyboard trying to beat some self-imposed deadline, it used to be such a sacrifice for me to have to suddenly shift gears and respond to Jeri’s questions or John’s request for me to change the CD on his computer. But I have come to find the joy of finding joy in everything I do for my children.
THE JOYS AND PAINS OF SINGLE FATHERHOOD
I would never trade the joy of seeing the smile on my son’s face and hearing him say “I love you, Pa” as I gave him a sponge bath the day he ran a 40-degree fever, or of holding my daughter’s hand when we had her knee CT-scanned and seeing the fear in her eyes dissolve into thankfulness.
Yes, there were times when I had wished somebody was beside me to help me bear the burden. There are the simple everyday tasks that leave me feeling awkward, such as buying groceries with my kids. There are the everyday situations that leave other people feeling awkward, such as when I have to bring my daughter into the men’s restroom. And then there are those painful times that no parent would want to endure alone, such as when my youngest was stricken with dengue fever and I was alone with him for three days in the hospital.
And there are those long and lonely nights….
MORPHING THE MAN
It took some time for me to get used to this new role. I was your regular accomplishment-oriented father and husband who had a tendency to value position, achievement and possessions over people and feelings. But single fathering did something to me.
Right after church service one day, I was counseling another member of my single fathers’ support group at the Greenhills Christian Fellowship. My kids were fooling around and got on the back of my car with their cute, gravel-embellished shoes on. As you could imagine, by the time they were through, my car’s trunk lid ha more lines than a grade-school writing pad. Now I would normally have blown my top in a situation like that and tortured myself with the thought of the cost and inconveniences involved in a repainting job.
I surprised myself when, seeing the joy on their faces, and being greeted by a cheerful “Hi, Papa!” as I came towards them, I didn’t get angry. I actually found myself pleased with the fact that my children enjoyed themselves that afternoon. I wasn’t about to let a few (or so I hoped) scratches on a rolling tin can get in the way of my savoring that moment with them. Perhaps this was God’s way of responding to my prayer when I asked Him to change whatever needed to be changed in me.
PAYING THE PRICE
Of course, to experience the joys of single fathering, you must be willing to pay the price. For me, the price is having to work, over and above my daytime hours, from ten in the evening to two, sometimes, six in the morning. This is so I can grab some quality minutes with my children in the course of the working day. But it’s a price I am willing to pay.
Some single fathers have given up managerial positions so their children can have real-life heroes at home. Others have had to give up tremendous financial opportunities that would have allowed them to multiply their millions. Instead, they had to ask themselves what was really important in their lives. The decision really isn’t too hard to make when you look into your children’s faces.
I find it so unfair for life (or is it really life’s fault?) to dump all of its ugliness on my children as a result of my separation with my wife. One reads, hears and sees the effects this kind of situation has on the children, as one marriage partner goes off to pursue “self-actualization.”
I guess a nagging sense of guilt, being part of that failed union, drives the separated single parent, more than anything, to try to make life better for their children. Some do this by “buying” their children’s affections; some throw discipline to the wind and meekly give in to all their chidren’s wishes, some choose the narrow road and take on the challenging task of single parenting.
I have tried to speak, between the lines, about God’s redemptive grace that is able to work on something broken and still make it beautiful. But let me also say that a healthy marriage and a complete family is still God’s “Plan A.” He should know. He gave away the first bride to the first man.
Just a few days back, my son called me up more than five times in a single day. He’s five, and we didn’t really have a lot of earth-shaking things to discuss. But he wanted to be with me. I feel so privileged to be his friend.
My daughter, after I took her out on a date, made a beautiful card for me and scribbled inside – “Thank You, Papa for having the time to take me to Riverbanks.” She tells me things she wouldn’t share with anybody else.
Without beating any drums, I figure I must be doing something right.
(As published in The Philippine Star, Father’s Day Special by Bobby Caingles, June 2001)