1 - Introduction
One of the most valuable reflections that’s come out of my experiences as a single dad is: Have a great relationship with your ex. I’d like to say have an outstanding one, a superb one, but I’m a realist and I imagine most people would settle for a great relationship. If you can do that, you’ll make your life less complicated, troubled and stressful.
More importantly, it will enhance your children’s lives because they’re the ones stuck in the middle of your relationship with your ex, and they always will be. It’s your children who suffer when you and your ex tangle in an effort to prove who’s best or right.
So: Have a great relationship with your ex. This is obviously hard in the early days of a separation, especially if the split is acrimonious. But, over time, if you create an environment that allows wounds to heal then you can develop a great relationship. Yes it’s hard, but it’s not impossible.
This isn’t a self-help book. I haven’t been to the mountain where I discovered the answers that will let you, no matter what your personal circumstances, be the world’s best single dad and have a fulfilling relationship with your children. Any book sold on that premise will ultimately prove to be a disappointment. There are many practical and constructive insights in this book which you can try, but I doubt you can learn how to be a great parent from just reading a book or taking a parenting course. They naturally help but I think you become a better parent by putting the lessons into practice and then learning from your own experience. When your children finally leave the nest you’ll have either clocked up twenty years’ parenting experience or one year’s experience twenty times. It’s entirely up to you.
Being able to reflect on and learn from your experiences is, I believe, one of the most important skills you can develop. People who have become great in any area of life didn’t start out that way. No one is born great at anything. For most it’s a slow, often painful, process over many long hours as they learn from their experiences and develop a sense of artistry.
So there’s no book or course on How to become a motor racing driver or Teach Yourself to be a concert pianist. That’s not how the world works, even our accelerated, social-media-driven world in which the concept of delayed gratification seems merely an historical notion. Racing car drivers learn how to race by racing and how not to crash by crashing. Concert pianists learn through striking piano keys millions of times. There’s no magic wand.
While I don’t, and can’t, have all the answers, what I do have is my story, my experiences and my insights, which I’m delighted to share. Unfortunately, or fortunately, they’ve all been learned the hard way through over seven years and counting as a single dad.
I hope my journey will give you a clearer appreciation for how single dads, and dads in general for that matter, see the world. Based on what you read I also hope you may decide to try to change your own world for the better. It could be how you interact with your ex, your current partner or your children. Maybe you’ll simply try some of the ideas and see what happens. Advice and other people’s experience becomes most valuable when you put it into practice.
Therefore this isn’t a ‘how to do it’ book. It’s a ‘how I did it’ book that I hope will help you think about ‘how you’re going to do it’. It’s about how life worked, and at times didn’t work, for my two beautiful, clever, funny, painful, messy, creative, exasperating, weird and lovely children – and, of course, me. Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. In that spirit I tried a lot of things. I kept what worked and abandoned the rest and managed to keep my sanity.
Everyone is different and every situation unique, so what has been successful for me may not be for you. What’s important is that you reflect on what’s happening in your own world and work out what’s working and what isn’t.
Like everyone who suddenly finds themselves in the position of being a single parent, I had no experience to fall back on. In the early days every aspect of my separation felt weird and alien and I often wondered how I’d cope. If I’d cope. I didn’t have many single-dad friends whom I could turn to for advice, which strangely remains the case today.
I found out about life as a single dad as Liv, my daughter, used to say when she was little, ‘all by self’. It’s been through writing this book that I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve learnt far more about parenting and being a dad through being a single dad. I’ve experienced all the different roles you have to play when there’s nobody else around: a parent, a dad, a father, a stand-in mum, a confidant, always a butler or maid, a teacher and, most crucially, a friend.
My hope is that you will find this book entertaining as well as enlightening. I’ve had many ups and downs, but on the whole it has been an epic adventure and nothing at all like an ordeal.