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The lessons of a single father

How can a child of three know your pain? Why should they? Don't place that burden on their little shoulders.

How can a child of three know your pain? Why should they? Don't place that burden on their little shoulders.

Ah, yes! A public holiday! Liberated from our spreadsheets, SWOT meetings and pale blue office cubicles to remember brave men torn apart in faraway wars.

But yesterday I couldn't help but mourn for what seems like the endless stream of wounded single fathers.

"You might cry and howl in private, but this your child never has to know. You're a man and a man must be brave, no matter how hard his heart beats and flutters." 

Men who walk the streets shell-shocked, unable to believe the woman they once loved is hell bent on their emotional destruction. Women so driven by revenge they make the Taliban seem like a bubbly boy band.

I went through the worst kind of psycho-gal-determined-to-crush-my-world scenario at 23 and it only ended – and I ain't kidding here – one year ago.

So, when I'm hanging on the boardwalk at Bondi, watching my wife and my two small boys playing games on the sand, I ain't so dumb to take it for granted.

I know it's a rarity. I know that for every complete, humming family unit there's a man in a studio apartment staring at the walls, staring at his phone, staring at photos of a kid with that dumb innocent smile that he knows has to be fading as the fights worsen and as the invective ramps up.

I know this because while I'm watching 'em, a single dad swings his arms around the railing, lifts his glasses and says hello. Last time I saw the guy, I got half-an-hour of woe about his gal, about missing his kid. I get it again.

And I feel for him.

It's the worst sort of powerless rage. Playwright Bill Congreve knew it when he wrote: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

A man has two choices. Join in a battle that's as futile as Afghanistan and as mutually destructive as Iraq or disappear into the woods, surfacing when your world is pillaged and your foe is exhausted.

Eventually, you'll survive. The man you become afterwards is up to you.

Here are five things I learned about being a single father.

1. Know her hurt and therefore her capacity to Stalingrad your life
Why do couples split? Infidelity. If it was your twitching desire that tore the unit apart, war is declared and don't expect any kind of mercy. Expect the battles to be brutal and endless. Your gal will take shock and awe to shocking, awesome levels. Why? She's cut to the core. She bore your child and you took off, if only spectacularly briefly. What do you do? Bow to her moral supremacy and take what's coming in as dignified a manner as you can muster.

If it was her scratch, you're lucky. Pat yourself on the back. Yeah, hard to believe, especially when you can't lose the theatre of their sexual union playing on a loop in your head. But, if the guy sticks around and he's a decent human being, this is a good outcome. Sure, he'll be hoisting your kid on his shoulders and, in time, might even become her "second dad" but all that matters in the single dad game is the happiness of the kid.

2. Don't give the fire oxygen
A war needs a back and forthing of bullets. Don't respond to hysterical emails, text messages or Facebook taunts. This'll drive her crazy in the short term, and the missives will become increasingly loon-ball the longer you ignore 'em, but, after a time, every gun runs out of ammunition.

3. You and the lawyers
As reasonable as you might be, get a lawyer and listen to him. Pay what's fair and don't be a delinquent. Money unhinges all of us at times and your future wellbeing depends upon you being fair, but not stupid. How many men do you know in their desperate, hopeless state say, "Just give her what she wants." Life will continue without her and it's extremely likely you'll meet the gal of your dreams one day. Don't be pointlessly destitute when you do.

4. You and custody
Custody arrangements aren't perfect. How could they be? How do you legislate human habitation? If it's one weekend a fortnight, accept it with grace, and treat your kid to a breezy time. Don't get heavy and weepy with someone who is already feeling like a ping-pong ball.

5. Forget your sentimental needs
This is a test of your dignity and, in the most profound way, of your manhood. Don't ever mutter a bad word or insult about your ex in front of your kid and, if you have to unleash, do it only in the company of your closest friend. It wasn't supposed to turn out this way, I know. It has and now you're in damage control. You might cry and howl in private, but this your child never has to know. You're a man and a man must  be brave, no matter how hard his heart beats and flutters. How can a child of three know your pain? Why should they? Don't place that burden on their little shoulders.

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17 comments so far

  • Some men are mauled by the system, but most women end up paying the higher price. In most situations a woman is still the primary care giver and still unable to work, afford childcare and still be an attentative mother. From my experiences I have seen more men walk out the door and out of their families lives, to find another woman and have another child and still complain about that pesky child maintenance thing. I was treated like dirt by a lying man and took great pleasure in destroying him, his career and his dignity. His lesson learnt is that not all of us girls will be treated like toilet paper and meekly accept it. Don't get mad, get even.

    Commenter
    Milk
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 11:12AM
    • Really ? So you delight in destroying his career and then complain about not getting enough money ! What a self-indulgent parasite you are.

      Commenter
      enno
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 10:03PM
  • @ Milk

    Sorry but I'm the opposite. I've seen too many blokes who have been torn apart for no good reason by selfish women.

    The biggest issue is that society and 'the system' still favour the mother often regardless of the situation. One such couple i know are fighting for custody of his child from a drug addict mother on the dole. They have a stable home, income and family unit, so please explain how it can constantly be determined that this child is better off with a mother who spends the grocery money on crack?!

    Commenter
    Ailie
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 11:21AM
    • @Ailie - Perhaps you didn't notice where I wrote 'some men', right at the beginning of my comment. I fully support custody being awarded to the best caregiver, having known men who have virtually bankrupted themselves fighting in the family court. But that being said, it isnt every man who is fighting for their parental rights. Many do still walk away, many still don't pay their child support and many are still irresponsible in their relationships. Of course the family court needs an overhaul and of course many men would be better suited as custodians of their children. But not all men are innocent little lambs who are being persecuted by those evil bitch exes. Many times it does ring true, that where there is smoke there is fire.

      Commenter
      Milk
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 12:49PM
    • Milk, it's pretty clear that you've been hurt, but you also made some pretty outladish claims particularly the one about 'most women' paying the price. It's not only a very broad statement but also quite a subjective and one-sided argument. You've also not done yourself many favours by outwardly proclaming your desire for spiteful revenge. It's really made you look no better than the types of women I described.

      I think you would find, on a greater scale men come of second best when it comes to family arrangements across the board. Men are denied maternity leave, are alienated if they choose to take on the carer role, and generally lose out if it all hits the fan. Is it any wonder so many are afraid of committment or having kids at all?

      Commenter
      Ailie
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 5:04PM
  • @Milk .. it was noted but, that you said 'most women', which is not the case.

    Commenter
    Ace
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 1:17PM
    • "There's no smoke without fire"

      Really, Milk? So let me see. There's an accusation of infidelity. No evidence. But there's no smoke without fire, right? So he's PROBABLY guilty...because there's no smoke without fire!

      Its stupid, isn't it? I was on the receiving end of domestic violence from a woman for years, until I walked out. Her friends said "there's no smoke without fire!" This was a way of blaming ME for the violence. It was MY fault!

      "I... took great pleasure in destroying him, his career and his dignity" Wow! I felt that my wife wanted to continue hurting me after we separated, motivated by exactly this sort of resentment and toxic hatred. Now I'm in a new relationship, and she is consumed by anger and regret. I do not want to take her pleasure in her condition...I don't want to destroy her!

      Derek's article does not apportion blame for the break up, as it is rarely a one sided explanation. But he does highlight the impact on men, while your comment "most women end up paying the higher price" takes us back to a gender politics pissing up the wall competition (if that is not too sexist a metaphor). Yes woman pay a price, but so do men, and it is not always their fault. And some women make sure that price is as high as possible. A rarely heard message

      Commenter
      Nogbad
      Location
      Reality City Arizona
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 3:41PM
  • As a man who is going through this I can understand it completely. The emotional grenades that my ex has thrown at me in the past two years since our separation (almost to the day!) was almost enough to destroy me. She said she would never use the kids against me when she left and I was silly to believe her. With the help of great friends and an understanding workplace I've worked through many issues but still the arguments and accusations continue regularly. From the early email received asking 'Why do you want the kids an extra night a fortnight? Is it to reduce your child support payments?' to one I received last month stating 'Don't you think I deserve a break too? You've only had them 24 days outwith the normal weekends over a roughly 96 week period which is pretty poor'. As a single Dad you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I can't win either way which is why I've stopped trying to please her. I've got to look after myself first so that I can be the best Dad I can for my 5, 3 and 2 yr old for the little time I have them. That means keeping a good job and a roof over my head. I've paid my Child Support from the first week she moved out and will continue to do so as it's for the kids... My ex seems to fail to understand (or just plain doesn't want too) that if I don't work I don't get paid but she continues to get the same money regardless...

    Commenter
    3GorgeousKids
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    April 26, 2012, 3:15PM
    • Same here, my ex would bounce between - "you're never seeing them again," and " you should have them half the time at least". It played havoc with my job and having her ringing my boss repeatedly because she would change the care with child support and expect the payment to change in a matter of days and when it didn't she accused me of abusing my position in the company to tell payroll not to pay the right amount. She hounded me out of that job then complained when I got behind in my payments and she drove a wedge through the family. I ended up with two kids and she got two because she made it an all or nothing decision for them with constant sledging and emotional blackmail. I've got all the emails, text messages, everything but the courts don't want to see them. It seems there is no crime in slagging off a father to his kids and playing havoc with everyone's lives. Good luck to you mate. I hope it works out ok for you. Good advice to look after yourself, it's important.

      And before anyone gets stuck in, I'm not saying that is always the case, this is one area where it's definately equal opportunity and I've seen both sides play the game to win regardless of the damage it causes.

      Commenter
      Getoffyoursoapbox
      Location
      Looking up at the high moral ground.
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 5:46PM
    • I'm no saint but I did try my hardest for it all to work out ok. We had 'grown apart' I guess, both of us stopped trying, 3 young kids with two who didn't sleep, me working 9 hour days plus 1.5 to 2 hrs commute, buying our first house at the wrong time and then racking up other debt to change cars when bub no. 3 arrived, all became too much for us. BUT while we were still living together things were ok. I thought we'd always remain friends and deep down I still loved her but I guess I wasn't 'in love' with her. Corny yes, naive YES, but that was the sort of guy I was.... She'll be right mate. But after this experience I'm somewhat jaded. I helped move her out of the house because she didn't have any friends to help. Two days later she told me she had met someone else and suddenly that was the catalyst for nearly 8 years together to turn into the last two yrs of pain and torment. I took on all of our debt (stupidly I might add) in the hope that it would help 'keep the peace'. On the rare occasions i challenged something or said no I got the 'we'll sort it out in court' speech. In the end I took her to court to get it all documented as to when I can have access to the kids and then copped all the abuse under the sun.... I kept a record of everything but the Magistrate wasn't interested and I was lucky to get them for 3 nights a fortnight. But I still have them at least, thats all that matters....

      Commenter
      3GorgeousKids
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      April 26, 2012, 7:23PM

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