The Myth of the Single Father

The concept of a single father is not unlike someone discovering a unicorn. After the initial awe and excitement, one quickly realizes that, actually, there’s not much one can do with a unicorn. Then it slowly sinks in that a unicorn is really just a horse with a horn on its head. Sure, its cool as hell to show it off at a dinner party;

“You know, Thabo is a unicorn!”
“Really? Wow! You know Thabo, you must be very proud; there aren’t a lot of unicorns around these days. I bet you are the best unicorn ever. If you don’t mind me asking, what do unicorns eat?”

I am what society calls a single father. But that title, along with most things that society tries to put in a box, is not entirely true. The ‘traditional’ definition of a single parent usually suggests that there is one dead beat parent (the father) who have abandoned their responsibilities and has left one parent (the mother) to suffer the raising of the child alone. Also, the notion presupposes a messy breakup and beefing exes. My situation fits none of the above. The decision for me to stay with my son was based on logistics – she travelled a lot, I was more stable. Also, we are not together but we are still good friends and, despite a failed relationship, parenting is still something we are both good at as a team.

Now, why do I say the single father thing is a myth? Let me tell how this usually plays out in public. Very few people have met a guy who is a willing single parent. You get very strange reactions, especially from women. The most common is, “oh, really? That very good of you”. Although this seems like an innocent compliment, it’s not. This is because, after that statement, the topic draws to a very quick end. Had you been a single mother, you would have been asked about your day to day, the challenges you face, all asked with a sympathetically tilted head. There’s an unspoken assumption that since you are a guy, then your circumstances can’t be that hard. You will not be asked about how you cope with the school run, cooking of dinner, making of school lunches and of course, laundry. In fact, these points are met with a certain level of, “yeah right”. Essentially, you’re seen as a fluke and you’re little stunt does not carry the same gravitas as the condition of being a mother.

But, there are definite benefits to single fatherdom. The ladies will have a nice and moist soft spot for your bones. You and the kid playing in parks with moms around, you definitely score those lingering glances and hidden smiles. You walk into the gym and the ladies at reception greet “the boys” with twinkles. I suppose it’s the sense of security they reckon you exude. “He can’t possibly be a jerk” Heck, drop that little fact in a mid convo when you’ve left your mack-game at home, “well, why didn’t you say that before, shiii…here’s my number and my twitter. Slide into my DM’s any time neh?”

Many women will be more than willing to “accept” your ‘situation’. That is until the actual mechanics of being a single parent comes into play. If you’re like me, you don’t even have a nanny, then you can forget about having a social life. There’ll rarely be ‘drinks with the boys’. To maintain a full-time romantic relationship with a couple of hours of hook up every two weeks or so, the “but I’m a single parent” excuse wears out pretty thin. You are always turning down invites and eventually they stop coming. So the actual practice of being a single father stops being as romantic as most would think. You will have no time for much. You’re constantly tired. You’re always in a rush. Oh, and your crib will always be dirty fam, always. There are toys everywhere and socks on top of half eaten sandwiches. So if you’re OCD about cleanliness, your nerves will not survive. You spend more time with your child than anyone else and you are always playing catch up with the rest of society. You will rely on your support system with a lot more than you’d like to and you always feel bummed out.

Now, real talk. Although it is perceived to be almost heroic, to be a single father is not the noble fucking thing to do. There is a reason why it takes two human beings to create a baby. This reason goes beyond biology. It is a deeply emotional, physiological and spiritual reason. If humans were meant for single parenting then women would be having babies like trees have fruit. I don’t mean this in a biblical ‘no kids out of wedlock’ way. I mean it in the holistic development of a personal way. There are qualities that men and women have that work to complement each other.

Fellas, let me tell you something, if you find yourself as a single parent, understand this; you are not the child’s mother. The mom could be some ratchet junky you nutted in the club toilet while you were drunk, it doesn’t matter. You are not his mother. She could have passed away during birth, it doesn’t matter. You are not her mother. Know this; your child will never recover from not having their mother around. Ever. A mother can comfort a child in a way that a father never could. There is a bond that a mother and child share that you cannot even begin to fathom and, there’s nothing you can do about it.

My point, if you do decide to ditch the dead beat dad stereotype after a break-up, your biggest challenge will not just be to raise the child, but also, the relationship with the child’s mother. A child needs a mother. I know many women are nodding with agreement. Yo’ll can fall back. The challenge of being a father is something most women will never understand. Also, there are many men who are ten times better parents than some mothers are. It’s not a competition.

There is nothing miraculous about being a single father. The hype is not warranted. It’s a long slog. As a parent, your highest priority is your child, right? Wrong. Your parenting is your highest priority. This includes YOU too. This is where it gets hard. In the midst of being a father, you also have to be you. We are not our parents, we know there’s no point in sacrificing everything you are for the sake of your child.

Ultimately, as men, we know the society that we live in. We witness the atrocities inflicted by broken men who lacked the guidance of their fathers. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why some choose to be single fathers. It’s simple really. Do you love your child? Are you willing to do ANYTHING for them? If yes, then being a father doesn’t seem like a stretch.

Writer: Vus Ngxande     Photographer: Jeff Rikhotso