After 20 Years As A Single Dad, This Is What I Know To Be True

There is something about single parenting that is, or at least can be, satisfying beyond what I ever expected.
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Divorce is everything they say it is and more. Stunning. Surreal. Ego-deflating. Values-altering. Life-changing. Financially ruinous. An emotional roller coaster. Disruptive beyond your wildest predictions.

But there is an upside beyond just the clichéd but accurate notion that it allows you to start over. It also -- at least in my case -- permanently changed the way I viewed the world, for the better.

I come at this from the perspective of being divorced for more than 20 years and having had the exceptional privilege of raising my children by myself, so the agony of my divorce -- and it was that -- is a speck in the rear-view mirror, and my years since then have been dominated by looking out for my kids and now, my grandkids.

As Jason Robards says about being a parent in the movie Parenthood, "It never, never ends...You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance." For me, that is a wonderful thing, a blessing.

I was never on a glide path to success, even before divorce. Pieces of the puzzle were there -- good schools, good connections, jobs that looked pretty sweet at least from a distance -- but I hadn't figured out how all the pieces fit. Still haven't. My fault. In a way, that was a saving grace. If things had been smoother professionally, I might have been too distracted to focus so clearly on (what I believed to be) the needs of my kids.

But I did focus, and four years, three states, 50 court appearances, and I don't know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars later (most of which was borrowed), I had sole custody of an 11-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl.

Then what?

I was totally committed to parenting, but that hardly meant I knew what the hell I was doing. But even if I made many, many mistakes -- and I did -- I loved it all.

Six years after getting custody, my ex-wife, the mother of my children (who were then teenagers), died, so whatever high wire act I had been engaged in for the previous six years seemed even more perilous.

I never learned how to braid my daughter's hair. Try as I may have, I could never give her the same kind of advice on some things that a mother could. My son would have benefitted from mother-son conversations that I wasn't able to offer. I was a terrible cook -- I mean God-awful, though I attribute my kids' athletic body types and good eating habits to the fact that they were on their own when it came to food consumption. (By their early teens, whenever I would offer to make dinner, the response was, "Um, that's okay dad, we'll get something.")

But there is something about single parenting that is, or at least can be, satisfying beyond what I ever expected. Knowing that, in their early years, you're the only one they can turn to, or run to, when they are in need can be daunting. And it can be wondrous. Being looked at as having all the answers when you know you have precious few can be a challenge. And it can be rewarding to try to come up with those answers, and euphoric on those rare occasions when you do come up with the right answers (this, as is well known, flips 180 degrees in adolescence when even having the right answers is so, so wrong.)

But divorce is an earthquake, no way around it, and those who say otherwise are either lying, certainly did not have kids, or are so supremely lucky that they should run to buy lottery tickets.

Financially, I still haven't recovered. Emotionally, the first few years were defined by worry, suspicion and fear (I still worry). The kids -- who are the only ones that really matter -- would have to speak for themselves about the emotional impact they experienced.

But what I have learned from divorce more than compensates for whatever scars I bear.

That glide path to success I never really was on? It didn't matter compared to family. The failure of a marriage? Yes, it made me wary of romantic entanglements for awhile until I stopped seeing them as entanglements. Friendships? The worthwhile ones remain, the ones who weren't there to be supportive weren't worthwhile.

Mostly -- and I know how trite this sounds -- I learned about, and from, my children and grandchildren. I learned what smart, complicated, good-hearted people they are. They both are in healthy relationships with good people, something they could very easily have not done given the rancor they witnessed as kids.

I learned that no matter how much I believed I was doing a bang-up job understanding them, I often really didn't. I learned that sometimes the most I can do is tell them what I think, advise them, and then support their decisions no matter how far those decisions are from what I suggested.

You never get to spike the ball and do your touchdown dance. Maybe that's the best thing I learned from my divorce. I couldn't be happier about that.

This blog post is part of HuffPost's When Men Divorce series. For other posts written by men about the divorce experience, head here. If you want to share your story, email

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