The Other Glass Ceiling – For Single Dads

Single fathers are a fairly rare beast. Some may think it’s because men shy from the role, but another possibility is that they have been driven away.

We are two single fathers; one of us for nearly 10 years, and the other for four years, but he is now remarried. In both cases, the children spend roughly half their time in their father’s home.

Raising children alone is exceedingly tough, and as a father it has its special challenges. Our experience showed us that, at best, social stereotypes often cast men as incompetent parents. In the worst case scenario, fathers are cast as potentially dangerous. Below are a few of our more awkward experiences.

Man Shopping for Girl’s Underwear
Shopping for clothes is not generally considered the man’s ‘thing’, and the idea of him shopping for women’s clothes is almost laughable, until it turns ugly.

One Monday afternoon I was in a department store shopping for girl’s underwear, for my daughter.

Within seconds a security guard said. “Excuse me, but what are you doing?”

“I’m buying clothes for my daughter”.

“Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be?” he asked.

The security guard simply could not imagine a father shopping for his child’s clothes. He saw a pervert. If it had been a single mum, I seriously doubt there would have been any intervention at all.

Au Pair Wanted
My son liked to tell me about the au pairs at his mum’s house, and I applied for one too.

I was on the books with the agency for some years. They admitted that it was “difficult” to place an au pair with a single father. I heard phrases like “young women”, “living with a single man”, “concerned families back in Europe”, etc., etc. If a single mum wants help, that is supported; if a single dad, ah well, that’s another story.

Then one day, the agency called: “We have an au pair!”

The au pair looked impressive, with experience, good references and good English. Oh, and one particularly interesting point, the applicant was male! I was now confronted by my own prejudice. Would I accept a male au pair? What male chooses that? Out came my biases!

Seat Reserved for Potential Pervert
Many airlines have a policy that unaccompanied minors cannot be seated next to a man.

One time they swapped me with a young woman, wearing goth-style clothing, who had body piercings and tattoos. She might have been a lovely young lady, but my confidence was challenged when I saw the young unaccompanied minor leaning across to watch the R-rated flick she was watching on her iPad.

The policy does not even consider whether the man is a father himself! The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was asked to switch seats on a British Airways flight, even though he was sitting with his own children! One of his kids had to switch seats with him to occupy a seat next to an unaccompanied minor.

Furthering Fathering
Single fathers live in a world that fails to acknowledge the value of this vital family role. To resolve this, fathers need to take on more of the domestic workload, especially in relation to childcare. And ignore the detractors, the challengers, the nay-sayers.

And others need to support men in doing this. We need to be mindful of our own prejudices, of the ways we so easily doubt the capacities of men to be fathers, to do what they are so capable of doing. The most important ‘other’ is the mother, and our experience suggests that it can be all too easy for the mother to undermine, even if unconsciously, the man’s effort to be a father. Yes, he probably parents in a different way: “vive la différence.”

Creating better fathers requires effort from both genders: for fathers to step up, and mothers to let go.
* The Other Glass Ceiling (