It was a Friday morning as I walked towards the twins' bedroom door, and I caught the dreaded whiff. The unmistakable smell of fecal funk. My heart sank — I knew exactly what awaited me on the other side. As I cracked the door open, my assumptions were immediately confirmed. Our resident two-year-old "scat princess", a.k.a. Maren, had pried off her poopy diaper and painted her bedroom walls and doors in her own excrement for the third time in as many weeks. I couldn't decide if I wanted to scream or cry. Fortunately my dad superpowers immediately took over and I did neither. I simply gritted my teeth, smiled, threw open the door and uttered "good morning, girls!" I spent the next hour giving the toddlers, the walls and the doors a Silkwood scrub-down. Again.
Fast-forward twelve hours later. The kids were safely with their mom for the weekend, and I was out on a date with a handsome guy I met on Tinder. The trauma from earlier in the day a mere, faint memory. This was the strange dichotomy of my life as a single gay dad. Balancing dating in the midst of coming out later in life, never mind the whole parenting thing, is a struggle. And, one that nobody really talks about.
It's a challenge for any single dad in their 40s to venture back into the world of dating. The delicate balance of having a dating life and being a good parent to your children isn't easy, if you're doing it right. Throw in the whole coming out process, and you have a true recipe for a shit-show of the variety so often performed by my daughter, Maren.
When I first came out of the closet, and thought about dating, my instinct was to start looking for my future husband. I had spent so much time in a marriage, I was afraid I wouldn't know how to function as a single person. I immediately started seeing Sam shortly after I came out. He had helped me through the coming out process and was a lovely, kind, handsome, successful man in my age range — by all accounts, a perfect match. Then, I got asked out on a date by a hot guy that I desperately wanted to go on. I ended the relationship with Sam as soon as I realized that I wanted, I needed, to try dating. I was 40 years old and had never really gone on a true first date.
Though painful and awkward, I'm thankful that I had that experience after first coming out. I needed to reset my expectations — the odds were that I wasn't going to find my next husband on the first date or two, and I needed to spend some time exploring my new, authentic self. Spread my gay wings, so-to-speak. And that I did.
As I went on more dates, I learned several things about myself. If I was going on a serious date, one with any sort of potential at all, he had to not only want, but love, children. If not, why waste my time? Though that decision narrowed down my already slim dating pool, it was the only way to proceed. I knew I'd rather be single than try to manage a relationship with someone who really didn't want children. This didn't mean I didn't go on a date for fun — I had those, too. There were just different expectations.
If I was going to commit to someone for the rest of my life, and he met all of my husband material criteria, my bar was this: my children's life should be better with said person in it. And, I had to be able to co-parent with this person. If I couldn't find that, I came to the conclusion that I just might have to be single for the next 18-ish years.
After more first dates than I care to remember, and a handful of second dates, I felt like this may be an impossible task. There were days I felt completely sad and alone. Like, I was never going to find the right fit. It's a lot to ask of someone -- maybe my life was just too complicated to bring another person into it?
In the midst of sulking one day my good friend, Jeff, gave me the following advice, "Trust me, he'll come along when you least expect it." At the time, I gave it the 'ol mental eye-roll. But, spoiler alert. Jeff was right.
To be continued…