I’m proud I was raised by a single dad
Single dads might be rare but I wouldn’t change my family for the world
by Emma Healey
Having divorced parents is far from uncommon now – however having your dad as your main parent still is.
My parents divorced when I was five and, due to my dad’s job being closer to home and more flexible, it made sense for my sister and I to primarily live with him. My mum is an incredible woman and I still see her all the time – but for much of my childhood and teenage years, my dad was the one who looked after us day-to-day.
This always seemed like a hard concept for people to understand, and it’s not uncommon for people to say “wow, that’s rare” when I tell them that I grew up with my Dad.
The belief that mums must be primary carers is everywhere in our society, and this means that dads are often underestimated – whether this is the assumption in school that mum will sign the form, prepare food for a school fayre, or make costumes for world book day; the idea that dads don’t know how to cook or clean; and, related to that, the belief that men who are primary carers for their children are somehow superhuman.
Now, my Dad is the best man I know – and he is incredible and kind and loving. However, this is because of who he is as a person, not by virtue of being a single father. I am sick to death of the same people who demonise single mothers holding single fathers up as shining examples just for being decent parents. It’s a sexist double-standard, and one that undermines men by assuming that they are incapable of love, caring, and running a house.
It is rare for men to be single parents, and without a doubt there are many fathers who need to step up to the mark – but what my dad does for me and my sister doesn’t make him superhuman or ‘brave’, especially not more so than single mothers, it just makes him a really good parent and one I am very proud of.
However, growing up with a single dad has definitely given me some unique insights into society and prepared me really well for life.
Firstly, gender roles are bullshit.
Every day my dad disproves the codes of ‘masculinity’ by being an incredible cook, rarely dying all our washing pink, knowing how to style girls’ hair, and keeping the house on the right side of the tidy-messy spectrum. While these are traditionally feminine jobs, doing them doesn’t undermine his masculinity or make him less of a man, especially combined with his job as a pest control and his hobbies are mountain biking and rugby.
My single dad, inadvertently, taught me that gender roles mean nothing and are entirely socially constructed – and that we shouldn’t let our gender stop us doing anything. It might not be seen as masculine to make dresses and accessories from scratch for your daughters to wear for fancy dress parties – whether this is a Britney Spears costume complete with microphone headset or Arwen from Lord of the Rings with a blue velvet dress, cape, and bow and arrow – but that shouldn’t stop us doing anything. My dad taught me that the only limits we face are the ones we let other people enforce.
I would not be anywhere near as feminist as I am if it wasn’t for my dad defying gender roles every day.
It’s also shown me the way in which caring responsibilities are simultaneously undervalued and overvalued in our society depending on who is performing them. Single mothers are demonised and devalued, they are frequently portrayed as scourges on the welfare state or accused of being bad mothers when they return to work. It is assumed that mums will cook and clean and be the main carers of children – which really is shown in the disparity between maternity and paternity leave.
A side effect of this is that when dads do act as primary carers or perform traditionally feminine tasks, it is seen as something abnormal and exceptional. I won’t deny that it is great that dads are doing this – but it is great that parents generally are taking care of their children, it’s not more remarkable that men are doing it.
Something that is potentially true of children of single parents more broadly is that we tend to be more independent. When you grow up with only one parent, who normally has to work, there is inevitably less time for everything to get done. Whether this means cooking your own dinner, not being able to always rely on lifts, and getting used to being at home alone from an earlier age. However, not only am I more independent due to the circumstances I grew up in, but I am also more independent because that is the example my dad has set for me.
Single dads are a rarity, which means that there are less support networks available which is often combined with the belief that men aren’t allowed to be openly emotional. We are very lucky in that my dad lives close to his family who have always been eager to help out – but there have still been many occasions where he has got by on his own, especially having a daughter with anorexia. This is a difficult thing for anyone to deal with – but the fact that my dad is dealing with this, by and large, independently is amazing and inspiring. If I can see my dad getting through this by himself, I know I can pretty much do anything and that I don’t need a romantic relationship to make me and my life worthwhile.
It might be rare, and it’s far from an ideal situation – but I am so proud of my dad and my family. Obviously, no one wants for their parents to get divorced, however for my family it was definitely a decision for the best – we have grown up in a far healthier environment than if my parents had stayed together, and I am very lucky I have two such great parents.
I don’t know what kind of person I would be had I grown up with both my parents, or a single mum, or if my dad had remarried – but I am very proud of the person that growing up with a single dad has made me.