Single Dad… Not Singled Out: How to Maintain Your Relevance with Your Kids Even If You Don’t See Them Every Week
In February of 2014, I presented at the 15th annual Fathers and Family Coalition of America conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. My presentation focused on how fathering practitioners can use their life experience as a springboard to reach and teach fathers about the importance of their role as fathers. During my presentation, one of the young fathers asked a very courageous question. Like many single fathers, he gets his son every other weekend and he questioned the significance of his time with his son. He stated that when he picks up his son on Fridays, before you know it, the weekend is over and now he has to wait 12 days to see him again. He wanted to know what he could do to maintain his relevance. The first thing that I did was reassure him of his importance by fast-forwarding to my K-1 to College Informational Chart. This chart works as a reinforcement tool to help fathers see some of the things that their involvement can prevent. So, before fully addressing his question of maintaining his relevance, I made sure that he knew that his involvement was crucial. My older sons, David and Jamarl, were products of a single-parent household and, in the early stages, during biweekly visits, I too questioned the relevance of my new role as a single father. However, when I look at them now, and all that they have accomplished, there is no doubt in my mind that my presence has a lot to do with who they are today. My input made and continues to make a substantial impact on their lives.
To answer the young father’s question, I came up with 10 things that I did to maintain my relevance while dealing with a biweekly court-ordered visitation schedule.
1. Get to know your child’s teachers. Attend open school night meetings. Fathers are rarely seen in schools so the fathers who do show up are welcomed. This will show your child that you care, that you have taken the time out of your schedule to find out what they are doing, and whom they are doing it with.
2. Attend Special Events. i.e. football, recitals, etc. Both of my oldest sons were in the bell choir. Today, twenty years later, we can laugh at how horrible the bell choir was. But they remember that, each time, I was there front and center. There is nothing like seeing your father in the stands or audience cheering you on. Nothing!
3. Work harder at developing a working relationship with the mother of your child. This could open the doors to more time with your child while providing you with the help and support that you will need to raise your child.
4. Technology is a wonderful addition to frequent communication. Social media, emails, and texting are great tools for communicating. However, a simple letter (snail mail) works wonders with kids. The feeling of receiving a letter from someone never goes stale. Close your eyes and picture your child receiving mail from you 2-3 times a week. Picture the smiles on their faces when they see a letter confirming your love, or when they see pictures that display your time together. This is priceless!
5. Time is more important than being a bank for your child. Giving your child money is great. But taking your child to the park to throw a ball back and forth, or to the library to get their first library card, or opening up their first bank account are the things that your children will remember.
6. Saying goodbye. When dropping your child off to their mother’s house on Sunday, hug them like it’s the last time that you are going to see them.
7. Say the words, “I Love You!” Stop assuming that they know that you love them. With everything that is going on in their lives, they need to hear this from you. They need and deserve your assurance.
8. Personalized notes are priceless. After your biweekly visit is over, place some personalized post-it notes in their sneakers or in their book bag. It’s okay to be vulnerable. Share your love, your feelings about your weekend with them. These little notes will become a special little thing that’s between you and your child. This is something that they will never forget.
9. See the big picture. Three years after losing my custody case, my sons decided that they wanted to live with me. This wonderful reality is something that you must be ready for. It’s one thing to say that you want more time, and another thing to actually get it.
10. Digital photos are great. All of your technology (i.e. computer screen savers, computer backgrounds, and your mobile devices) should have pictures of you and your children.
These are just a few behind-the scene-things that I did that help to solidify my relationship with my children. I was working for my boys during the time that I was not with them. I was constantly thinking about what I can do for them and with them during the off week, and I have to admit that it helped to fill the time that I did not have them. In addition, it proved to me, my sons, and to the world that I could be a loving, caring, and involved single dad, and not be singled out!