In response to my recent requests to talk with single fathers about their parenting experiences, I met Addam. Addam just turned 27 and is the father of two little girls, ages 2 (three in June) and 5 ½. He actually replied to my search for single parents attending or planning on attending college. Addam was active-duty military and was a full-time college student who recently applied for transfer of admissions to a state university in the fall to pursue a degree in biology. When we began talking, he was going through the process of being discharged from the Navy because he chose his daughters over the demands of an assignment. In April, he was discharged from the Navy, and, aside from college, is also seeking enlistment in to the National Guard. He goal is to complete his degree and attend medical school, after which he would like to receive a commission as a medical officer. Life has been hectic for him, yet he holds on to his responsibilities of being a good father to his two daughters as if those responsibilities are his life line. In some instances, I get the impression that they are.
The bitterness in Addam’s voice is sometimes impossible to ignore. He is young and the wounds are deep; I can understand his pain and anger. In his won words, he “should likely never have married [her] in the first place,” but young people are often encouraged to marry when pregnancy is an issue, whether they are ready for marriage or not. Addam does insist that he does “love the idea of marriage” and believes himself “well-suited” for marriage. This was just not the right woman for him.
While stationed overseas, his young wife began making friends of which she did not want her husband to be acquainted. She began an affair with one of these men, and eventually filed claims of spousal abuse (unfounded) with the military against her husband. Three days prior, Addam voluntarily moved from the home because his wife felt it might help their relationship; however, in his absence, she used her new freedom to further associate with her new boyfriend. After several other incidents, the military sent her back to the states. Addam then filed a case with the state Department of Social Services, asking them to locate his children because he was unaware of their living arrangements and worried they were in danger of neglect. Indeed, DSS found them in a neighbor’s basement (the neighbor being a long-time friend) in an obvious state of neglect and abandonment and at that moment the state took custody of Addam’s children.
While still overseas, Addam received a Red Cross message from the state court system alerting him to the condition of his children and that there would be a court hearing in 72 hours to determine their custody. He made the court schedule (from overseas) and his wife did not; thus, custody was given to Addam. With the court’s blessing, Addam left his daughters in the care of his father and stepmother while he completed his overseas assignment (6 additional months). Upon returning to the state, he completed his divorce and received permanent custody of his daughters. Both issues were granted without his former wife’s presence in court. Though his wife’s location is now known, she does not pay the court-ordered child support and when Addam tried to contact her military superiors (yes, she is in the military now) he was told that it was a civil matter and he should take it up in civil court. This despite the fact that he was required to pay for his children’s support via the military while she was living in an adulterous affair.
So how does a young man with a military career and a passion for learning support and care for two young girls on his own? Sometimes I am amazed at what Addam accomplishes, but the fact is that he takes fatherhood very seriously and his daughter’s are his number one priority. When I asked him how he handled discipline, he told me that on the proactive side he insists on “no rap [music], no scary movies, no blood and gore – its Noggin and Nickelodeon 24/7.” On the reactive side, he relies upon time-out, sending them to bed, and TV and/or play restrictions.
I asked him what he did when his daughters ask about their mother. His reply: “My kids don’t ask about her. They used to, but I don’t mention her even in passing conversation.” I know that he disagrees with me (we have discussed it), but I believe that they don’t ask because they know that he doesn’t want to talk. Children are very intelligent and while they are also very resilient, they understand pain. When they sense what causes us pain, they attempt to avoid it, if at all possible. In this case, the talk of their mother causes Addam pain and his darling girls don’t want to hurt their daddy. However, as most of you know, I believe it is necessary not to avoid these conversations. When children ask, it is because they know that someone (whether a specific person or a particular role) is missing from their lives. They need to understand that gap. It is important for custodial parents to face this issue head-on with their children. Daddy/Mommy has problems that require them to be away right now; They love you, but they need to work out some problems in their life right now. Children do not need to feel as if the absence of a parent is their fault. Nor do they need to think that a parent left because of them. Addams’ solution is simply not to discuss it, but as I said to him, eventually those little girls are going to hit that “independent” stage where they are going to demand information. I hope that he will be better healed by that time so that he can answer them without anger, fear or dread.
Addam tells me that all he ever wanted was “a good wife, a traditional home, family outings, church on Sunday.” He admits that his anger sometimes verges on rage when he considers his ex-wife and the things she has done to him. He has pointers for single women – all women – who are looking for the “right man.” According to Addam, “good men are not found in clubs or bars or even in church. You will never know who you have until you have them and can find out [by spending time with them].” He does suggest that we avoid “bad boys” and those with lots of money. Money will not buy you happiness. He suggests that we “keep standards high” and don’t be “attracted to possessions.” He is a very descriptive writer and I have to tell you that I truly appreciated his description of what happens to a woman who falls for a man with money. “[You] climb in the passenger side of a BMW M3 Convertible with a guy in an Armani suit, who you think is smiling because you’re going with him, when he’s really amused that you do not smell the perfume of the woman he just dropped off before he met you.” Cynical? Yes. Accurate? Sometimes. Addam is one of the “good guys” who got taken advantage of and is wondering if his heart will ever heal. He is “tired of not being seen for the guy I am.”
Time is the best cure of heartbreak. Time and love…those two little girls of his will love him unconditionally for a long, long time to come as long as he is that father they so desperately need. I have no doubt that Addam will succeed in that department.
What did I learn from Addam? I learned that single fathers are really no different from single mothers. We may possess a different level – or a different range – of emotions, but otherwise we have the same goals in mind when it comes to the care of our children. I have a lot of respect for Addam and I know that, while young and at the beginning of a difficult journey, he will succeed as a single father. I hope that his parents are proud of him, because they should be. I hope to learn much more from Addam in the future, as we continue our conversations. And as I do, I promise to share with my readers life from the perspective of a single father, as best as I can share it.
Thank you, Addam.