Single Dads And Dating - What To Know

Guys, how do you find the delicate balance between taking care of your children’s needs and your own?

By Jane Ganahl

hen my daughter was little, dating was like tiptoeing through a minefield without a flak jacket. Because I was still in my 20s when I divorced, the men I dated were young, childless and carefree — and completely uninterested in becoming a stepdad. When my daughter cried, used scissors inappropriately, refused to sleep or otherwise behaved like, well, a kid, I was mortified. And then I met someone with a child of his own — someone her age.
I get all mushy when I see an unmarried father tending his kids.

The clouds parted and the angels sang.

While the girls watched videos or played outside, we would simultaneously make dinner and surreptitiously make out. Neither of us looked askance when the other’s daughter woke up at night crying out for a glass of water. And he was in heaven as well; he said he had a hard time getting dates because of his fatherly status. I found that hard to believe: Dating single dads rocked! Even though that relationship didn’t work out, we remained friends. And to this day I get all mushy when I see an unmarried father tending his kids.

Like dating when you’re a single mom, life for single dads is also complicated — and men have hurdles of their own to overcome. The good news is, they are no longer a tiny minority: One in every 45 fathers now heads a household by himself, a number that is up by an astonishing 62 percent in the last 10 years. And just as the bookstore shelves are stocked with treatises offering help to single moms, written advice is now also available to support single dads in their romantic forays.

The bible for romantically inclined fathers is Dating for Dads: The Single Father’s Guide to Dating Well without Parenting Poorly by relationship expert Ellie Slott Fisher, who interviewed dozens of dads and put their stories in print. Plainspoken, alternately poignant and funny, she addresses pretty much every concern that an unmarried papa might have — from where to meet like-minded women to how to handle the PDA.

One of the first questions single dads wrestle with is when to start dating again after divorce — or becoming a widower. Fisher says there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question — it depends on your
Tell them you are dating someone and ask them if they’d like to meet her.
circumstances and your own headspace. “If you’re single, your self-esteem is strong, and you’ve had honest conversations with your kids, then the timing is yours to decide,” she says. “Clearly, if you’re still grieving the loss of your wife or your marriage, you probably shouldn’t be dating. But don’t let friends, family or the parents on your son’s soccer team tell you when you’ve waited long enough. If they haven’t walked in your shoes, they just don’t get it.”

In other words, don’t be pressured into dating. On the flip side, Fisher warns that one of the most common mistakes she’s seen among newly single fathers is to get serious too soon. “Single dads who struggle with being alone sometimes rush into serious relationships, resolutely ignoring red flags the way a Super Bowl quarterback disregards his injury and plays through the pain,” she writes, adding that men who are suddenly without a partner may mistake lust for love. Her advice: Take it s-l-o-w-l-y. If not for yourself, then for your kids.

Assuming you feel like enough time has passed since you became single and you’re ready to date, where should you get started? Online is a good place to stick a toe into the dating pool; it’s easy enough to look for partners with kids. But Fisher says don’t overlook the opportunities right under your nose. “How about at soccer practice and at the orthodontist’s office?” she smiles. “I interviewed one man who is now engaged to the nurse he met taking his daughter to the orthodontist, and I know a woman who married her son’s soccer coach. Single women are everywhere! Starbucks, the grocery store, the park (go walk your dog, or if you don’t own one, walk your friend’s dog). Men just need to be open to meeting someone.”

Once you do meet someone, and you like her enough to date her on an ongoing basis, when is it a good time to introduce her to your kids? According to Fisher, to say men are reluctant to make introductions is an understatement. “Most men think they should wait on introductions until things are serious,” she says. “But what happens too often is that their kids have no idea Dad is even dating, and then they are shocked to discover he’s about to get married. Never do that to your kids. It’s better to tell them you are dating someone and ask them if they’d like to meet her. If they say no, honor their request but tell them that if you ever decide to date someone exclusively then you will insist they meet her. Most kids will say OK to this because they don’t necessarily expect it to happen.”

Once you do have a girlfriend, how do you find the delicate balance between taking care of your children’s needs — and your own? In other words, how do you give your romantic partner attention without neglecting your kids? The solution, Fisher says, is to fine-tune your scheduling skills.

“You have to plan specific time with each,” she insists. “If you have plans to take a date to a nice dinner, you tell your kids your cell phone will be off for a few hours, but in an emergency here’s the number for the restaurant.”

And, she says, it’s important to also be up front with your new sweetie about the can’t-miss activities a dad must attend. “If your child has a game or a concert, something you should be going to, you explain this to your girlfriend,” says Fisher, who adds: “If she doesn’t understand, then she’s not really interested in dating a dad.”

True, that. It’s important to note the caveats of dating a dad. Never try to talk him out of his paternal duties.

Last but not least, once you’ve made introductions and are now incorporating someone new into your life, how much should you share? “Kids want to know details about the woman — does she have kids? What does she do for a living? Where does she live? Is she pretty? And a father should give honest answers,” says Fisher. “But don’t ever share your sexual exploits, even with your teenaged son. Your kids should see some affection between you and a girlfriend; holding hands, putting your arm around her while sitting on the sofa — but they don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable by seeing you two kissing.”

Granted, that’s some of the fun of dating. But the rewards for dating a single dad — someone with a big enough heart to include many people in his care — will outweigh the minor inconvenience. Hopefully he’ll make up for it when you are alone, after teeth are brushed, bedtime stories are read and doors are closed.

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.
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