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From One Father to Another: 5 Tips for Single Dads

From one father to another, I want to share some thoughts with any single dads who are getting ready to start dating again. Balancing work, family, and time for oneself is always a challenge. Here are some ideas I have for making the most of it all.

1. Don’t lose sight of yourself

We all have responsibilities that demand our time and attention. Things that will not get done if we don’t make them happen. However, in the middle of this unalterable fact of life, there is another truism. You won’t be very good at these important roles if you don’t take care of yourself. I’ve talked about trying to cut wood with a dull saw. Keeping your saw sharp is the best strategy for being effective.

But there’s another reason to make room for your needs. You’ve got little eyes watching you. My 8-year-old recently asked, “Daddy, is it fun to be an adult?” I’m sure there are many days when I don’t make adulthood look like much fun. That’s not good for her, or me.

Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen, and make a list of the 5 things that define who you are outside of your job. If you’re a busy person with kids, I would be prepared to lose the bottom three things on that list, for a while. But the top two? You’ve got to fight for them. You’ve got to insist upon them. Because you don’t want your children getting to know a pale imitation of who you really are. They should know you — the real man.

If you are a person who loves to play music, for example, it would be sad to find yourself talking to your 10-year-old kid, saying, ‘You never saw me do it, but I used to play a lot of music. I loved it, but when you were born I just gave it up.’ Don’t cheat them of that experience. Don’t cheat yourself.

2. It’s great for kids to have caretakers — besides you!

Don’t feel guilty about getting help from different support systems, whether it’s relatives, neighbors, or hired help. Your kids will accept and incorporate these people into the circle of adults they love. There is some fiction out there that years ago the only people who raised children were their parents. In centuries past, the adults went to the fields to work and groups of older kids or senior people cared for the children in groups. Your kids will benefit from the diversity of culture, opinion, love-styles, and insights they get from your “village.” The point is to seek help and take the heat off yourself without guilt.

3. Be prepared to answer, “Do you see yourself having more kids?”

Whether you’re dating someone new or you’ve been seeing the same person for a while, any potential partners are going to be wondering if you are open to having more kids, and with them specifically. Whatever your answer may be, it’s very important to be upfront about what you want and where this relationship will really be going. And if you don’t know if you want any more children, its ok to be honest about that!

It is also fine to say, “I don’t know. Having children is a big deal obviously and it’s more about finding a person that I think would be a great parent with me, and partner for me. If I did find that person I would consider it.” The truth is that falling in love and believing the other person is the right partner are absolute prerequisites for having kids. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

4. Instill the moral compass in your children early

The only time you can talk to a 15-year-old is when she is 5. You’ve got to get in there early and teach that moral compass with an understanding of what is important. I can remember doing many “terrible” things as a kid — egging cars, TPing houses, blowing up mailboxes, and many other typical teen and pre-teen behavior. My parents punished us for these things, but the nuclear punishments came for lying and cheating. They would tell me, “You are going to make mistakes and we accept that, but we don’t tolerate lying or cheating.”

And of course, they lived those values. My dad owned a small pharmacy and was a successful business person. He used to tell me, “Anybody can be successful if they lie and cheat. The real accomplishment is to get what you want without resorting to that.” I never saw him break that rule.

They understood that instilling the foundation moral rules would guide our actions long after we stopped egging cars.

5. What I learned from my own father…

I have a great dad. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many successful people in my life, but my dad is the most successful man I know. He built a flourishing business. He is a beloved pillar in his community. He has a great marriage and two sons that look up to him. He showed us love in so many ways. He never hesitated to say, “I love you”, which is no small feat for men of his generation. But for my dad “love” is a verb. He built us an unbelievable treehouse, a stilt home, actually. He made stages for my rock bands. Constructed ramps so we could jump our bicycles. He had a lot going on but made the time to do fun projects with us that helped make fantastic memories.

My dad was big on persistence. On our refrigerator where I grew up we had a quote from Calvin Coolidge that begins, “Nothing is more important than persistence.” It’s famous, and the gist is “persistent people overcome obstacles.” I have tried to live this every day, and whatever success I have is based on this principle. He also told me once, “Grant, you may not be the fastest, or the smartest, or the biggest, but you can be the toughest. You just have to decide to do it.” That’s a restatement of the persistence principle, and something I hope to instill in my children.