A better dad: One year on

A year ago, I experienced what it was like to be a single parent for nine days, looking after Isaac and Toby on my own while Heather flew out to Australia (with Kara) for a family funeral. At the time I wrote about how “it has given me a huge shot of confidence in my own ability as a father”, as well as strengthening my relationships with both boys but in particular Toby, who had been a complete mummy’s boy up to that point.

One year on, how much of that change has proven permanent? Actually, most of it.

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as Dad-life

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a long way from being the perfect father – or even being halfway as good a parent as Heather. But the confidence arising from the knowledge that I have previously coped on my own for an extended period hasn’t disappeared. It’s now no big deal for her to leave me with two or three children to manage for the day while she goes off shopping or on a spa day with friends.

In a few weeks’ time she’s down in Dorset for a school reunion, leaving me with all three kids overnight. Neither of us has really batted an eyelid at the prospect. It’s not just that I’m confident enough to deal with the situation now. Heather is also confident that I won’t make a total cock-up of things (not totally, anyway) which is, if anything, even more important. She can go and enjoy her night out without worrying in the back of her mind if everything’s okay. I can muddle through well enough on my own. Confidence is a two-way street.

Negotiating middle child syndrome

Toby being separated from his mummy for nine days enabled me to achieve a significant breakthrough with him and, although he still has a preference for Heather, the bridges we built a year ago are still there.

While he’s never going to be emotionally expressive in the way his siblings are, there are flashes of genuine affection in between the long spells of studied indifference. There are certain activities that are very much ‘daddy things’ that we do together – laughing at the antics on Top Gear, doing fast starts in my car (he’s a serious thrill-seeker) and, indeed, most things to do with cars. (Yes, I know it’s a gender stereotype. I’ll take whatever I can.)

I was away for three nights with work this week, and when he found me in bed the morning after I got back his overt happiness at my return was as genuine as it is rare. Although it’s possible the fact I gave him a bag of chocolate coins may have boosted his mood too.

The bottom line is that I didn’t really ‘get’ Toby – and he didn’t get me – before that extended mummy-less time. Whatever clicked between us during that period, it has remained since. And while he, as the placid introvert, still struggles to get airtime in between the demands of Isaac and Kara, he’s now just as happy to get attention from me as he is from Heather. As a result, I now feel I have a strong bond with all three of my children, not just two.

Every dad should learn to be a single parent

12 months on, the lessons I learned last year have stood me in good stead.

Removing the safety net of mummy being nearby and learning to deal with things on your own has huge benefits. You have to walk a mile in your other half’s shoes. It forces you to develop your own coping mechanisms, some of which may even be an improvement over the established routines. And what seemed daunting before seems far less scary after the event.

All dads should try the single parent experience, at least for a weekend. You’ll learn a lot from it and will probably enjoy it much more than you think. Plus you’ll end up with a partner who feels much more liberated, and therefore happier, as a result. A real win-win.

I’ll never be a perfect dad – but I’m much better than I would have been without the experience of being a single dad.
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