Read About This Single Dad's Challenges And Victories

Single dad and writer Eric S. Elkins shares the victories and challenges of parenting his young daughter while trying to get back in the dating scene after divorce.
Eric S Elkins

Single dad and writer Eric S. Elkins shares the victories and challenges of parenting his young daughter while trying to get back in the dating scene after divorce.
The single life
When my marriage started to head south last fall, I could only focus on two things -- how my two-year-old daughter would fare in the aftermath, and how I'd get along myself, back in the world of dating.

In fact, at my lowest moments of self-pity, my worries were intertwined into worst-case scenarios that made the rest of my life look bleak. The way I saw it, there were two possible outcomes. The first would be that, after awhile, I'd find a woman who'd relieve me of my fear of remarriage, or at least be so incredibly perfect that any fear I had would be surmountable in favor of the potential long-term effects. The problem would be that Simone would become a step-child to this woman.

It was bad enough imagining that my soon-to-be-ex-wife would find another male role model to help to raise my sweet daughter, but to imagine Simone forced to straddle two families, two bedrooms and two sets of step-sibs was almost more than I could take. Would she feel affiliated with either family? Would she feel like either place was home, or that she was merely a guest?

The other scenario was that, being a single dad, now gun-shy of the idea of a forever commitment, I'd end up 68 years old and still alone, that sad guy who shows up to family and near-family gatherings, reluctantly invited, who drinks too much, tells boring stories, and smells of beef jerky and Bengay.

I remember telling my best friend of my two possible impending futures. We were riding in the car after a Colorado Mammoth game. At the end of my depressed monologue, he glanced over at me, opened his mouth, closed it again, looked back at the road, looked at me, shook his head, and gave me the middle finger. It was nothing less than I deserved.

Separate ways
A short time later, papers signed, my wife found a two-bedroom apartment not far from our south suburban home. Over the course of a weekend, while I took our daughter on a short road trip to my father's house, she and her mother moved half of our worldly possessions to the new place.

We'd read picture books with Simone, and had prepared her for this day, so she was more excited than upset to walk into the empty family room after our six-hour drive from Albuquerque. Her mom showed up a short time later, to take her to her new bedroom for the night.

But it was a tough moment for me. I'd spent the weekend, including two 500-mile drives, with my bundle of joy, and suddenly her laughter was gone. Silence in my big empty house. I was no longer a full-time daddy.

Also gone were the leather couches, the big-ass TV, the queen bed (the full guest bed had been moved to the now bereft master bedroom), and sundry other items I wouldn't notice missing until I needed them days or weeks later. We'd agreed, mostly, on the separation of stuff, but it wasn't real until that moment, when I could see the ghostly imprints of the furniture in the carpet.

I opened a Guinness and wandered around the house for a few hours, not really sure what to do next.

And though Simone seems to be adjusting well to her new living arrangement, I'm still learning the rules and conventions of the life of a single dad. The last 10 months since we signed our papers have been fraught with comedy and embarrassment, near-misses, loneliness, unexpected joys and a few satisfying close encounters.

But the stories. Most are much more fun in the retelling than they were in the experience.

The other woman
There's the first time I invited a woman home to a Friday night dinner with Simone and me. It was sixth months after our marriage had ended, and my daughter had yet to meet someone I was dating. As far as she knew (if she thought about it at all), when she was with her mom, I was at home or work, spending too much time on the computer, or not cleaning, or going to film screenings.

But I'd been out a few times with the new girl, and dinner would be our only chance to hang out together that weekend. So, I invited her over.

Andrea and Simone seemed to hit it off right away, so they colored together at the dining room table while I prepared dinner. My daughter did get a little silly at times, throwing a crayon or pretending to bite it, but all was relatively quiet. The two went off to play in another room, so I set the table, finished cooking, and called to them to wash their hands while I put food on the table. Simone didn't want to stop what she was doing, and that's where the fun began.

Have you ever been to a meal with a strange family and the kids started to act out? You sat quietly, uncomfortable, averting your eyes until it was resolved. Suddenly, I was having a rare verbal tussle with my daughter in front of company. I felt self-conscious reasoning with a histrionic three-year-old.

What would this woman think? Would she ever want to hang out with the two of us again? When I finally got Simone's hands washed, it was another struggle to convince her to sit down at the table. And that's when she thought it would be fun to knock her silverware on the floor.

After taking a deep breath and internally counting to five, I gently picked my daughter up in my arms, and took her to her bedroom for a time-out. She screamed, she cried, she made me think I'd never be able to bring a woman home again. I told Simone to call me when she was ready to be polite at the dinner table, closed her door, and went downstairs to apologize to Andrea. She didn't seem too troubled by it, but I could almost see the pot roast I'd cooked getting cold, could almost smell the fresh asparagus turning from spring emerald to steamed green. Simone was calling, so I headed back upstairs. She was ready to come down.

Tossing.. . cookies?
To lighten things up a bit, I tossed my little girl over my shoulder, and brought her downstairs upside-down (if you're a parent, you already know what comes next). We were both laughing together by the time I got her to her chair. She stood on the cushion, getting ready to sit down, when she threw up all over herself, the dining room chair, the table. The more fluid parts began to make their viscous way down to the carpet.

Here's what went through my mind in the first milliseconds:

1. Oh, my poor baby, better get her to the bathroom!
2. It had to happen tonight. I can't wait to tell this story.
3. I'm never going to have a girlfriend.

I conveyed Simone to her upstairs bathroom, and held her hair back as she vomited another time into the toilet, then removed her soiled clothes, brilliantly pulling her shirt over her head and getting chunks stuck in her hair. I stripped off my shirt, picked up my tiny, naked, whimpering daughter, and ran downstairs.

"I'm sorry," I said to Andrea, "I need to take Simone in the shower." I waited for this new girl to say something like, "Well, you have your hands full, I'd better go." But she just nodded, so I turned toward the staircase.

A beautiful mess
Then: "Hey, do you have any upholstery cleaner for the chair? I already took care of the carpet."

I may have cried later, but I didn't at that moment. It was one of those times of pure magic -- I'd expected this younger woman to make a quick escape, but instead she was cleaning my daughter's gastric exhalations out of the crevices of the dining room table. I'd been through half a year without backup, making discoveries about the easiest or best way of maintaining a house and being a parent by default (or miscalculation).

I'd fully expected Andrea to leave me to deal with the mess, the sick baby, the lonely house in the suburbs, my doubts. She'd asked a simple question, but, for me, it caused a momentary shift in my sense of the world, in the possibilities for a happy future.

I held Simone's warm body close to mine in the shower, calming her, and carefully untangled her hair. I made her laugh by gargling the hot water, and helped her rinse out her mouth. I looked at her open, trusting face, and felt horrible for the evening's events. I'm still pretty good at beating myself up.

Once she was toasty in her fleece pajamas, sitting on the family room floor with a big plastic bowl in front of her and "A Bug's Life" on the TV, I went back to the dining room to find Andrea.

"I'm sorry," I said. "What a disaster. Simone's parked downstairs, and I need to stay with her. So, if you want to go, I'll understand. I'm just going to put my dinner on a plate and eat it downstairs." I gave a wan smile, and braced myself for the answer.

She said, "Would it be okay if I stayed with you guys?"

Andrea no longer lives in Colorado -- she moved to the East Coast for law school last summer. But I'll be forever grateful for the way she treated me that evening. It was only my first foray into the emotional juggling act of the single dad's social life, but the lessons I learned and the optimism it bred have stuck with me.

That's only one story. Let me tell you about the time I was on the receiving end of a "Cyrano"-like e-mail deception.


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