They’re raising several kids, solo. And whatever the stress, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Parenthood is a juggling act. And the more balls in the air, the more often it feels like it may all come tumbling down.
Especially when you’re doing it alone.
Fatherhood is never easy (though the challenge, of course, is part of the reward), but for gay dads who are both single and raising multiple children, the challenges can be compounded. How do you balance life, work, and kids without the benefit of another (co-)parent? And if you’re looking to change that single status, how do you find the time to work a normal dating life into the equation?
We found three gay dads in that situation to talk about their experiences as single parents with more than one child, and to share helpful lessons that they’ve learned. Each comes from a different perspective: Tom had his kids during a former marriage to a woman, Doug became a dad with a partner from whom he’s since split, and Alan made the decision to go the single-dad route from the outset. Though their backgrounds may be varied, they share many similar views on the joys and stresses of parenthood.
And somewhat expectedly, every conversation inevitably turns to the subject of dating: Whether it’s worth it or not. The consensus? Sure, it’s nice to not be alone. But at the end of the day, it’s the love for your children that is all you’ll ever need.
Lesson 1: Learn to trust yourself
Doug wakes up around 6 a.m. He makes breakfast for his daughter, 8, and son, 6. He makes sure their homework is done, their teeth brushed, their hair combed. By 8:20 he’s driving them to school; after their school day is done, he might bring them to work until his day is finished. Then it’s home, dinner, bedtime stories, bill paying — and, if Doug is lucky, a glass of wine and “two seconds” of online dating before bed.
Tomorrow the cycle will start again.
“In many ways,” says Doug, “I’ve become solely defined as being a single dad.”
That’s a sentiment to which many single dads can relate. And, for the most part, it’s a definition that Doug welcomes. After all, “I worked really hard to become a dad,” says Doug, who grew up in a “small redneck town” but now lives in Victoria, British Columbia. “I had to decide to become a dad. I had to pay for it. I had to go through the adoption process. I had to forge a path where I live.”
And in fact, Doug even wonders whether his single status may lead to a fringe benefit that emerges down the line: Children who know their father not just as a parent, but also as a person. “Sometimes I wonder if, as a single parent, my kids are going to learn more about me than they otherwise would,” says Doug. “They’re only going to see me, and the things that I do and like, rather than those things that I choose to share with someone else. I wonder if my kids may wind up getting to know me better as a result.”
Still, it’s not easy to go it alone. Doug actually adopted his kids (who are biological siblings) with his now ex. The men were fairly young – Doug was 30 when his daughter was born – and life took them in different directions. Today the exes share custody of their kids, but Doug says that doesn’t make it any easier during the times when he’s the only dad on deck. After all, every day as a parent is a learning process, and when each decision has a profound effect on the most precious thing in your life – your children – the stress of doing it solo can be overwhelming.
“It can weigh on me. Sometimes you have to do something that the kids don’t love, or you make a decision and then it doesn't sit right with you. When you’re by yourself, that’s hard to do. You don’t have anyone to talk to about those things,” says Doug, his voice catching.
But Doug also understands that, right now anyway, integrating a romantic partner into his life is almost impractical. Like most single dads, he puts his time, money, and emotional resources foremost into his children — and even if he could find a boyfriend who was interested in dating a single dad, it would be “a big struggle to balance having a new partner.” So for now, he’s focused on teaching himself how to be his own best advocate in parenting.
“I think what I’m really learning is how to love myself,” says Doug, offering his biggest piece of advice to gay single dads: “Take the time to look in the mirror and say, ‘You did the best that you could today.’”
Lesson 2: Maintain a support system
Many single parents bemoan how difficult it is to find a partner who is willing to date someone with kids. But then there’s the opposite issue: Sorting out those who are interested in you from those who are simply interested in having a family.
“It seems like it can go two ways. Either the person becomes completely removed once they find out I’m a parent, or they are more interested in the children than they are in me,” says Tom, a gay dad from California. “I once went on a date with a man who just kept talking about how much he wanted kids. Eventually I got to the point where I asked him: 'Are you interested in dating me or the kids?'”
Tom had his 7-year-old son Logan and 9-year-old daughter Samantha during a 10-year marriage to a woman — one that began with a bit of now-amusing irony. “We met going to an *NSYNC concert. She said, ‘Oh my god, I thought you were gay!’” chuckles Tom. And she may not have been the only one: “When I was in the process of getting married, my mother sat me down and asked me, ‘Do you know you want to do this?’” recalls Tom. Tom’s mom may have been opening the door to a conversation, but his family was prominent in their community — and he wasn’t willing to walk through it then.
But after a decade of marriage, it became clear that he needed to come out. The big question, of course, was how this could affect his life as a parent. “It was a rocky beginning,” he says of coming out to his ex-wife. “She thought she could change me, and she was uncomfortable about how it would be with the kids.”
Now Tom and his ex share custody of the kids in a supportive 50/50 arrangement. The initial discomfort faded, and they’re great friends who are able to support each other in parenting. In fact, Tom says that one of his initial challenges as a single gay dad had to do with feeling okay about the changes taking place in his own life: “It’s not that I was putting the kids’ needs behind mine, but it was a challenge to remind myself that I needed to have my own personal life in order.”
It’s very much in order now — and Tom is lucky to have a strong support system as a single dad. (Besides his responsible ex, his mom lives close by and can help “at the drop of a hat.”) But like many single dads, dating tops the list as one of the big challenges.
“After all,” says the dad, “I’m a package deal.”
Lesson 3: Focus your energies.
Emotional energy does not always run in endless abundance. So as important as it is to maintain a strong support system, it’s also important for gay single dads to reserve their limited time and precious headspace for the issues — and people — who truly matter.
Sometimes that means closing certain doors, says Alan, a Minneapolis gay dad of three. Alan grew up with parents he deems “limousine liberals”: privileged folks who espouse progressive values but don’t necessarily embody them. They weren’t supportive when he came out, even threatening to cut off financial support for his schooling — and their relationship remained strained for years. But perhaps the most profoundly hurtful moment came in 2001, when Alan’s first son — conceived through surrogacy with an egg donor — passed away. He remembers his mother “descending” on his home, then in Nashville, for the services — where, in what Alan saw as an unseemly grab for attention, she glad-handed guests and profusely thanked guests for coming to the wake of a child she’d never truly gotten to know.
“What I eventually realized was that my parents didn’t bring out the best in me, and trying to work on our relationship did much more harm to me than good,” says Alan. Regrettably but necessarily, he decided that his parents could no longer be part of his life. And they weren’t the only people he trimmed from his space: a dysfunctional boyfriend and a “malignant” boss followed. What Alan realized was that, amid the stress of raising kids on his own, there is tremendous value in paring down the emotional distractions.
And in fact, Alan is among those gay dads who don’t see singlehood as a detriment, but in many ways, an asset. “There’s no need to negotiate parenting styles, no splitting of roles into ‘good dad, bad dad,’” says Alan, who made the decision to become a father entirely on his own to start.
“Most people have a normal mid-life crisis where they get a fast car and a young boyfriend,” he laughs. “I decided to become a parent.”
Although his first-born passed away, Alan is today the father of three boys: one 10-year old and twin 5-year-olds. They’re the center of his universe, and he doesn’t fight but rather embraces his singlehood. It allows him to pour his fullest energy into his kids. “I tried dating for a while, and I’ll tell you, I just decided that right now I’m not even going to do it,” says Alan. “It’s not worth it. It’s not worth the energy or the effort. It’s not that I think other people are the problem; I am the problem, and I mean that sincerely.”
“I don’t want to make the sacrifices I need to with my children in order to date. Unless you’re Madonna with three nannies running around, you’re not going to be able to date like everyone else,” he laughs. “And right now, if I have any extra time, I would rather spend it all with my children.”
And with them, after all, you’re never really living single.