Adam and Anderson play hockey in the kitchen.
Finding out the best way to do that, though, is quite another matter for dads who find themselves newly single in New Brunswick.
“I looked around for help and I pretty much came to a dead end,” Lumsden, 46, of Petitcodiac, says.
It’s a story oft-heard from newly single fathers from one end of the province to the other. There are resources out there for single moms, and newly single women are more inclined to reach out for help when confronted by the realities of raising a child on their own.
Men, typically, want to fix everything themselves, and right now. Not only are there fewer mechanisms out there to help dads find their way along the difficult road to single fatherhood, but many men are hard-wired not to reach out to others when they find themselves in a pickle.
That’s all changing.
Not only do many of today’s single dads insist on playing meaningful roles in their children’s lives, they’re not afraid to reach out for guidance in order to do that.
“My little boy, right now, when I drive over to pick him up, he runs right off the steps, right into my arms,” Alex says.
The baggage that comes with divorce or separation is not gender exclusive. For most, it’s all-consuming. Increasingly though, dads are shrugging off the emotional yoke of custody fights, support payments, personal alienation and the feelings of being utterly alone in their predicament to concentrate on being a fine father.
“I think dads should know, you’re not the only one out there,” says Adam Trider, 32, of Riverview, the single father of four-year-old Anderson.
Adam’s situation is better than most as he has liberal access to Anderson, even if it’s never enough.
One big challenge that dads like Alex, Adam and others cite often is how to be an indelible positive influence on their children despite the fact their children live with mom most of the time, says Nancy MacDonald of Family Services Nova Scotia, who helped form a collaboration of various service providers to gear a program to single dads which is widely viewed as one of the best: a men’s health centre, 10 years in the making.
“For many provinces, this is totally new,” MacDonald says of dad-support services.
The program starts with the realization that getting men to actually walk through their doors is “a huge challenge. You can’t just hang a shingle on the door and start promoting.”
To that end, their services are advertised where men hang out: garages, arenas and the like.
Men typically want to know everything from how to co-parent with their ex, even if they don’t really get along, to child-development tips such as what to do when a 13 year old rebels, or a three year old flips out in the grocery store.
The days are fading fast where newly single dads were satisfied with merely having the kids for four days per month, or worse, that their child’s weekend visitations crimped their newly single lifestyle, MacDonald says. The result is better adjusted children growing into vibrant and productive adults, and much happier and more fulfilled dads.
Men being men, most don’t feel comfortable reaching out for help at being a dad because, according to society, that’s a sign of weakness.
“So how men access services is very different from how women access services,” MacDonald says. “New Brunswick is no different; we as a society need to give men permission to access these services.”
In Metro Moncton, single fathers most often look for guidance from organizations like Family Services Moncton or Support to Single Parents where executive director Nancy Hartling notes her organization is in the midst of a second round of sessions for single dads for which there was no shortage of participants from all age groups, all social strata, all types of child-access situations.
An analysis of the first such initiative gave great insight into the situation of newly single dads in the Moncton area.
“One participant drew a distinction between being just a father and being a ‘dad,’ saying being a dad was an emotional connection with your child, not merely a biological one.”
All the dads felt socially alienated, alone and without support. That’s all changing now, Hartling says, and Alex agrees.
“It helps me cope a lot. I’m all alone because all of my family is up in Miramichi. But my boy comes first. When I take him home, I cry something awful,” the trucker says.
Even at just two weekends per month, Alex says, quality time bonding with his son will have a real and very positive impact on his boy — and on dad as well.
MacDonald agrees that it’s not the extent of visitation with the children that counts the most, as much as it is what dads do with that time.
“If they put their children as their number one priority, men will find a way. Kids aren’t stupid. Kids know the difference between a real relationship and a fake relationship.”
Adam, a teacher, lives by that philosophy.
“Quality is more important than quantity,” he says. “Take every opportunity.”
Alex and Adam are getting a lot out of the support group they’ve joined at Support for Single Parents: a peer group, support, advice and offering a shoulder to other newly single dads who need one, secure in the knowledge that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and trying to impart that message to others walking in their shoes.
“I learn from them and also offer advice, where they’re going through things I’ve already been through,” Adam says.
“I feel good every time I leave there. There really is support for parents out there who are single. Take that first step. You are not the only one out there.”