Single Fathers Talk Parenting Dilemma, Loneliness, Loss | #parenting

Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a single father who succeeds to bring himself and his young boy out of homelessness by becoming a successful stockbroker in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness. The film is based on a true story, and we learn early on what motivates Gardner when it comes to his son: he didn’t see his father until he was an adult, and he’s determined that his children will. Gardner insists that “my son stays with me” after his son’s mother announces plans to move away.

In India, where people associate a single parent with a mother figure, many fathers have taken on the role of nurturing their children. These fathers are going beyond the stereotypical gender roles to provide for their children as they all cope with the loss of their spouses and the difficulties of being single parents. Oftentimes, they like any parent, sacrifice their well-being, even mental health.

But they want to be better, even if there is a fight every day. Thence making it imperative to understand how families have grown and will continue to evolve in order to satisfy their requirements and plan policies. Families are influenced by the social and economic circumstances in which they live. SheThePeople spoke with some single fathers about their lives and how they cope with their struggles.

Single Fathers 

The first several months were really challenging for Sumanta, 48. “Having a kid does not automatically make you a father; it is raising one that genuinely transforms you into a parent. My life was suddenly no longer mine, and I had to choose between working and being there for my son. No one tells you how difficult it is to raise a child – I don’t believe there is a work more difficult than this, especially if you’re doing it alone,” he says. 

He even started going to counselling, he said, since he wanted to be entirely equipped to raise his baby, which meant he didn’t have any mental difficulties of his own. “These sessions were important in my recovery. My therapist was my biggest support amongst all of this,” he adds.

According to a 2013 Pew Research study, dads’ roles have changed. Whether they are a single father by choice or need, they are part of a community with their own set of challenges and obligations. They will face challenges, but they will also be able to set the tone for their family, forging strong bonds with their children and relying on good parenting techniques to help them overcome the grief.

“My daughter is now seven years old and has begun to realise the unusual circumstances in our home. She is aware that his parents are divorced,” says a 36-year-old engineer at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Kolkata, on the condition of anonymity, adding, “I’ve never tried to prove myself superior to her mother, nor have I ever tried to convince her that I’m both his mother and father. I want her to understand that I’m just his father and that I’m doing my best to be the greatest parent I can be.”

External forces aren’t the only factor. Some single fathers are also concerned about their own ability to rear and raise children on their own, given that they may lack experience or precedents to draw upon. They may feel overwhelmed by the strain of being totally responsible for their children’s pleasure and well-being, rather than simple daily responsibilities. Former Managing Editor of The Hindu, V. Jayanth’s wife used to take care of their family and raise their children.

“She died about 16 years ago while I was still in service,” he said. One of his sons was studying in the US and his daughter was pursuing MA in Economics in Pune. “It was a difficult time for my wife to leave and for me to take on the responsibility, also I had ageing parents who were living with me,” Jayanth says. It was challenging for him to see if he could do as much as his wife would be doing for it. “I could not fill that void but I tried my best.” With the blessings of Jayanth’s wife, both his children have grown up and are happily married. 

According to a  2017 study, single fathers are more likely than fathers with partners to rank their own health and mental health as poor but are similar to single mothers. Keeping this in mind, it is critical for all single parents to prioritise their mental and physical well-being. An assessment of single fatherhood studies from 2015 raises serious concerns about what has been done so far. Much of the research appears to be focused on which parenting structure delivers the “optimal” outcomes, pitting single dads against single moms and paired parents, with little benefit to single dads.

Everyone, even when all they wanted to do was hide, they had a daily battle with themselves to get on the treadmill of life, the one thing that could always clear their thoughts. 

As a public health issue, one needs to take single fatherhood more seriously. Isolation (actual or imagined) and bereavement issues may be just as harmful to one’s health as standard risk factors. We must ensure that single fathers have adequate communal and social support. Single parents’ social and personal conditions are critical in gaining a more complete picture of their health.

Suggested Reading: Father’s Day 2022: Six Ways Dads Can Share Love And Connection With Their Young Kids

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