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Family Matters

What It's Like to Be Single Dad on Father's Day

A single dad of three shares the ups and downs

Almost nine years ago, when I first found out I was going to be a dad, it never crossed my mind for even a moment that one day I might have three kids, and not just one. And I never thought there could come a day when I wasn't with my kids all the time. Divorce simply isn't something most married couples envision when they're welcoming their first baby.

But here I am: 45 and three years divorced from the mother of my three young kids ages 8, 6, and 3. In some ways Father's Day probably means more to me than it does to a lot of dads who are married, still seeing their kids every night of the week, every week of the year. There are days when I only catch glimpses of my kids catching the school bus or playing in their mom's yard down the street. And there are more nights than I care to admit when Violet and Henry and Charlie are living their lives completely out of my sight.

It's a chest punch even now when I will wake up on Father's Day morning and remember that this is the way we live. Together and apart.

It's a struggle I will never conquer, I suppose. By the time I was 11 my own dad was gone, into the ether for the next twenty-some odd years. He missed so much. I missed so much. A dad's role is every day, every minute, and it never goes away. So when I knew I was going to become a father myself, well, I was determined to never ever miss a thing. Changing diapers, waking up in the night to the sound of crying, holding sick babies, holding happy hands, I wanted it all. And I got it. My kids became the center of my world. That's how it goes with any good parent. You learn a new orbit.  

Father's Day rolls in and I feel proud of the man I have become in the Dad department, and yet at the same time, there is a guilt, a dark shadow that chases me down time and time again when I try to wrestle perspective out of this beautiful mess I call my life.

How did this happen, I ask myself. How did I lose all of these days and nights with them? How am I missing so much when I swore I wouldn't miss a freaking thing?

The answers, of course, are vapor. I can't catch even one of them no matter how hard I try. Love, adult love, the kind that marriages are built on can fade over time. Maintaining togetherness can be a lost art. 

For the guy who lies in bed early on that certain Sunday in June and stares at the ceiling, the kisses and the homemade cards mean everything. They're the reminder of the work that goes into being a dad. To doing it right.

But they're also the reminder that your time together will come: You'll hold them in your arms today, that much is true. They will come roaring back through the summer kitchen one more time and I will get to pick up where I keep leaving off, over and over, like a long strange dream.