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Jun 1, 2024

One Man, One Mission: The Journey of Single Dads and Their Kids

Sheila Tucker

Photography By

Spotting my dad in the crowd was more than just a visual recognition. It was a warm embrace, a surge of love and support that enveloped me. His presence was a beacon of reassurance that I was not alone. 

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It was a sticky and humid fall night. It felt like I’d taken a shower fully clothed and left the house without changing into something dry. Everything was sticking to me, even the hair from my ponytail on the back of my neck. Thankfully, there was an occasional cool breeze. It sent shivers through my body and blew loose strands of hair into my face. Just what I needed, something else sticking to my body. 

Friday night football in Georgia. The stands were packed. I looked out into the crowd, recognizing some familiar faces – occasionally waving if I caught someone’s eye. But mostly, I was adjusting and readjusting my ill-fitting uniform. A hand-me-down from a girl close enough to my size – or so they say. And wiping my hair out of my face.

Staring at the stands again, a different movement caught my eye. There he was, cross-legged in the stands, waving at me as I adjusted my skirt again while trying to figure out the moves for the next cheer. 

It was my senior year of high school, and I was cheering in the first game of the season. My dad surprised me by traveling round trip from Charlotte to Augusta to watch me tumble and get tossed around in stunts. I’d say he was also watching the game and listening to the band. But, honestly, our team needed help connecting footballs to hands and rarely took a step in the end zone. Meanwhile, our band did the musical version of lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks. Go team!

My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. Like so many children of divorce, we spent weekends with my dad. For us, this meant traveling the highway, stopping at McDonald’s for fries and a vanilla milkshake, and making our case for front-seat privileges. 

It’s challenging for a child to not have full access to a parent, spending weekends on the road like a trucker, and splitting time between houses – usually forgetting something at the other house. 

My dad continued to make that drive every single home game. He always sat in about the same spot, waving, and then spent a few moments with me after the game before heading home. 

This was just the start of his magical appearances. My dad has always been quick to show up for functions, experiences, and emergencies, no matter how small or large. 

Spotting my dad in the crowd was more than just a visual recognition. It was a warm embrace, a surge of love and support that enveloped me. His presence was a beacon of reassurance that I was not alone. 

It’s like one of the videos that keep popping up on my social media feeds. The one where the little kid is up on the stage with their classmates. Their eyes are wide with apprehension. They play with their fingers to give them something to do – a distraction to calm their nerves. All the while, you can see their eyes feverishly scanning the audience. 

You can tell the instant they recognize their parents by the look on their faces. It’s as though the whole of them lights up. Their body noticeably relaxes. They begin to smile and are more present and engaged with the actions on the stage. It’s as though they’re thinking, “Whew, they showed up. I’m not alone.”

Even as a high school senior, I felt that, too. I looked forward to Friday nights with my dad. Honestly, so did the other girls on my squad. They, too, were invested in “Where’s Waldo,” trying to be the first to locate my dad in the stands, then hanging around to chat with him after the game. He was our own personal mascot, always there to cheer us on and offer his support. 

These are the moments that create the heartfelt and impactful experiences that are forever etched in my memory. 

Historically, moms are pegged as the primary caregivers. At the same time, dads are thought of as playmates or providers who are seen for a few moments around dinner time. However, during break-ups, divorces, or deaths, many dads are catapulted to a more active role, caring for their children solo for a weekend or a week. My dad faced these challenges head-on, making sure to be present and involved in our lives despite the distance. 

If you are in one of these situations (like my dad), here are a few tips to build a better connection with your child. 

(Side note: This information comes from my unique experiences and perspectives as a child of divorce, working with men navigating co-parenting, and help from my “friends,” the Gottmans, renowned relationship experts. You’ll find their resource at the end of this article.)

Create experiences. One way my dad creates experiences is by showing up for us. He will drive anywhere, anytime for us, wholly unprompted. This could mean attending school events, taking us on special outings, or spending quality time with us. The key is to be present and actively engage with your child. It’s these small moments that nurture oh-so-much togetherness. 

Provide structure. Structure is like a roadmap. It creates familiarity, which leads to routines. Routines help children understand the expectations of your home. This will be helpful during transitions like moving from one home to the next, and protocols for meals or bedtime. For instance, you can establish a regular bedtime routine, a schedule for meals and homework, or a system for chores and responsibilities.

Consistency. If you keep the same routines or structure, children will know what to expect. Think about how much you appreciate being in the know – even if you don’t like it. Yes, there is a sense of safety and security in the known.

Anyone with a child in sports or theatre knows that schedules change. When this happens, consistently explaining to your children what will happen (before it does) will help minimize upset for everyone. 

Dads, you provide a different but equally valuable experience for your children. You are influential in your child’s life. What you do, how you show up, what you say – it all matters. But most importantly, the effort you put into your relationship with your children matters. Despite the distance, my dad’s consistent presence and active involvement in my life made a significant impact on me. 

These shared experiences, these moments of connection, are not fleeting. They are the threads that weave the fabric of your memories, the stories you will tell and retell for years to come. They are the “remember when …” stories that will echo through the generations.

Wishing all of you dads a very Happy Father’s Day.  

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