Thursday, January 8, 2009

Single Dadhood… Raising the babies

I love watching my daughter do her thing. Whatever she is doing at the time is her thing, because she does it with her Sydney Rae flair. I particularly love watching her perform along with her “The Aristocats” video, or “The best of Elmo”. She is not much for singing, except for the long notes, but she loves to dance. When her brothers watched these videos a decade ago, they weren’t much for dancing, but they would sing every note… no matter how unintelligible the words were. That is part of my enjoyment with the new baby, reliving the past with the old babies. It is interesting now that what was such a painful period in my life has become something more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Definitely, it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

The worst of times:

My wife had left and I was taking care of the kids on my own… at least half the time. She was taking care of them the other half of the time. I was fortunate to get a court order that allowed me to have split residential custody so I could keep on doing my daddy thing, but more about that later. As I never imagined that I would one day be the head of a broken home, the same fate that befell my father, it was the worst of times. I devoted every moment that my boys were with me to them, then when they weren’t around I tried to catch up on issues from work, my community involvement, and other personal issues. It was tough, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Based on the fact that I had to pay child support while still providing for half of my kids direct care, people expected me to last in that situation for about six months before I either burned out, went broke, or had to give up the kids to get a part-time job to meet expenses. But I was determined to make it to my youngest son’s fifth birthday (it was a developmental psychology thing…), so that six month agreement lasted 2 ½ years.

The best of times:

Two and a half years with just me and the X-Men, Xavier and Alexander. King Xavey and Commander Xander. IQ and EQ. Nang and Nugget (their out-the-womb names). Xae-U and Xanmander (their Poke’mon names). During that time, I got to teach them and learn from them in a sterile environment… my home. My rules, my values, my standards, my discipline, my games, my ability to give them as much love as they could handle. I had always been critical of how my father handled my older and younger brothers, probably the two most talented individuals I have ever known (me and the baby brother are good, but those two were freaks). Well, God is a just being, so he gave me two sons who looked like my brothers, and had similar talents. He basically said, “you’ve got so much to say… you do a better job”. So while I didn’t do a perfect job, I did my best. They were clean, well-fed, and generally happy when we left home in the morning. Nite Nite time meant singing two songs if I was lucky… but five songs if they couldn’t decide which ones they wanted. Playdates, trips to Long Island to see the family, playing Hungry Hungry Hippo, going to the park or the science museum, and putting together life-sized Winnie the Poo puzzles made us a tight-knit crew. They admit they don’t remember much from that time, but they remember how they felt: Loved, wanted, and secure. I remember those times vividly though, and how much pride and joy I got from making them feel loved, wanted and secure.

Having raised kids, and been raised, in both two parent and single-parent homes, I have to say that when both are done right the two-parent home would always be best. But when it comes to parenting, you can’t always give a child the best, but you can always give them your best. And believe me, kids know when you’re giving them your best. They may brag when you do, or make excuses for you when you don’t, but they know. Giving them your best is a no brainer if you realize that they are a gift first, and an obligation second. And if one parent is giving their best, and the other is giving them crap, it’s probably a better idea for them to just be with one good parent. Also, the best of what you have to give may change over the years like it did with me, but I love being a father, so whatever I have to give, they’re getting. Eventually, because she got remarried first and I wanted my kids to see a husband and wife running a home, I backed off and let my ex keep the kids. And after they moved away, I began parenting by phone and email, and in-person on monthly visits, holidays and during summers. I explained to them that it was for their best, and based on our relationship, they trusted me. That trust was built by consistency... which is something that kids need as much as love and food. Whether you’re an angel or an idiot... be consistent…... it will allow your kids to learn how to work with you, and/or work without you.

I still can’t believe that God allowed me to be my children’s father. My kids are the bomb. If all I ever have are the four I have now, I did alright for myself. I encourage every parent to give your kid(s) your best. Not the best of what you have left over after you’ve taken care of your own needs/wants/desires… your best off the top. Kids are always gonna give you some kind of headache or heartache, but the type of stress they bring home is always tempered by the type of love and guidance they take out of the house. I would much rather be upset over my kids getting a “C” in a class than over having to bail one of them out of jail. I love them even when they’re being knuckleheads. Most of all, I love the fact that they look at me with pride… with reverence. What I get from them, you can only get from your children. Like most fathers I know, my children have made me, and continue to make me, a better man. If you want to be the best person you can be, raise your children… by any means necessary.


For you folks, particularly you brothers, who want to do your half of the raising but don’t have the privilege of sharing a home with your children’s other parent, here is the way I worked it out in court. I presented a plan to split up the week and the weekends equally. My kids were with their mother every Monday and Tuesday, and with me every Wednesday and Thursday. I made the weekend consist of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That way, I had them for five days one week and two days the next, or seven out of every 14 days. The kids primarily changed hands through daycare/school. Whoever “had them” would pick them up and drop them off. When they came to me on Wednesday, their mother would drop them off in the morning and I would pick them up in the afternoon, and vice-versa when they would go back to her. So for parents who don’t get along, you don’t have to have much contact with each other, just the kids. Because you know which weekends you will be getting your kids months in advance, you can plan activities with them and without them. And hopefully both parents can get along well enough to cover for each other in emergencies and on special occasions. This system worked for us, so I’m sharing it. However you do it though, raise your kids.


Kofi Bofah said...

You bring up a topic that the mainstream media and people in general do not really give enough attention to.

Single Fatherhood.

Dwane T. said...

I know my brother, in the 2000 census there were close to ***300,000*** single-parent households headed by Black men. If it weren't for disrespect, we'd get no respect at all.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice on how to get time and split time. I'm not married but I will pass it on to my boy.

Demon Hunter said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience, Dwane. This is good stuff to know, especially since I'm getting married in March '09 and don't have any kids yet. :-)

Kofi Bofah said...

This is off topic.


I saw your comment on Zack's blog.

The Bills were my team back in the day!

ZACK said...

I need to subscribe to you because I didn't even know you posted until now.

This is a great post. I think that fatherhood is just in you! You have a natural tendency to nurture others, especially young males looking for a role model. And there's no funny business involved. You just have love and compassion for people.

God put you on this Earth to be a father. But I'm not so sure that's why he put me here.

Anyways...good post!

Strongblkwmn said...

God bless you and your children. I know a few men who are single fathers, as well as some who, even though they were great fathers before the break up of their relationship, had to fight like hell to be constant parts of their children's lives.

The double standard is terrible. Most black men want to be a part of their children's lives, but like everything that has to do with black men, the negative is more talked about.

jjbrock said...

Hey! This is a powerful post.

The Benjamins said...

Thanks you for this post - caught you on OHN so I checked your blog. My son turned 2 a couple weeks ago(he's my 1st and only) I'm a single parent and getting along with his mother has its ups and downs.
Your visitation plan shed some light on different ways to do things once he gets a little older(we're following state mandated visitation right now which sucks for me)and I thank you.

Dwane T. said...

Hey Benjamins, I'm glad I had something that was useful for you. That system did work, and as time went by alot of the issues between me and mom did too. You keep morphing how you raise them, but you keep raising them... by any means necessary. Last summer my sons took me to the store and picked out a new cell phone for me. I call it texting for dummies. But that's how they communicate, so that's how I communicate with them.

Bragging Note: Baby boy was recently inducted into the National Honor Society. Not bad for a kid we thought might be learning challenged. Love and guidance can accomplish/overcome anything.