Essays & Confessions

A Single Dad On His Biggest Fears, Dating While Parenting & The Mother Who “Ghosted” Their Son

By Thursday, June 17, 2021

“I got my girlfriend-who-never-wanted-to-be-a-mom, pregnant. That was her choice.
I’m just happy she went through with having my son. She didn’t have to, but she did…”

Ask any parent and the majority will tell you — even with help, it’s not easy raising a kid. Ask any single parent and they’ll tell you it’s even harder. In light of Father’s Day, we recently spoke to one single father, Michael, who has been single-parenting for over a decade. At 32, Mike still struggles to raise his son, Michael Jr., who is now a teenager. While he’s overcome the most-talked-about hurdles  that come with being a young parent (e.g. money), nothing prepared him for the emotional toll of what comes next when you’re a dad, with a growing son, who may someday ask, “So, who’s my mom?”

Check out Mike’s story below.

So tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been a parent?

My name’s Mike but everyone calls me Big Mike or Mac. My son’s name is MJ. He’s 13.

On His Biggest Pet Peeve Being A Single Dad

I think what bothers me most about being a male parent with primary custody is the pity party. Like, just stop. You’d never pity a single mother the way you do dads and yet, we’re both just doing our job. When we see [single] moms, we praise them for their strength and ‘give them their flowers’ for holding it down by themselves. But we still think: That’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s what she’s supposed to do. 

A father’s love is just as valid as a mother’s. Same goes for obligations. Praise me for being an only parent if you want to but don’t pity me for being a single dad. I’m a dad who just so happens to be single (laughs). I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do and I don’t see it any other way, honestly.

On How He Became A Primary Parent & Single Dad

My son’s mother and I met in high school. We dated for about a year and a half and kind of split up before college. We still linked up here and there at the top of her freshman year and she was pregnant towards the end of her first semester. I’m a year older than her and we went to different colleges not too far apart and we both lived in Chicago so it was easy to stay in touch and stay close. I played basketball at the time for my school.

“Praise me for being an only parent if you want to but don’t pity me for being a single dad.”

I remember it was a little before my 19th birthday when she told me she was pregnant. I wasn’t too surprised or scared; it is what it is. But at the time, she told me she didn’t want to be a mom then and, to be honest, never had any interest in being one ever. I never knew that about her but truthfully, we never discussed those things when we dated since we were both pretty young. 

When she said that, I thought she would mention, you know, ‘termination’ and ask for money or moral support. I personally don’t condone those in situations like ours, where we were two consensual people doing what we were doing. But I knew, ultimately, that it was her decision to make. 

But it was never brought up. She kind of comes from a religious and strict background but I don’t know if that was entirely why abortion wasn’t brought up. My son’s mother isn’t ‘mother of the year,’ but she was always smart and ambitious. Like, she’s responsible in the sense of, ‘I got myself into this so it’s my job to get myself out it.’ She did make it clear from the beginning that she wasn’t ready to be a mom and this wasn’t part of her plan, yadda yadda.

So I offered up my support and my family’s help. My brother already had a kid before me. In my family, we don’t see pregnancies or kids as a surprise or an inconvenience at all. My parents got married young and had kids young. They’re still together to this day and they both come from big families. So yea, it is what it is.

Anyway, I told [her] that my parents would help us since I’d seen them do it before. I knew they would lend their support and as a man, I knew I would step up. And that’s exactly what happened. 

On Dealing With An Absentee Co-Parent

I never thought she wouldn’t be here. Like, at all. I did know she wanted to finish school and do the whole college experience and career thing. But I thought she’d check-in gradually and then come around later, eventually. But that wasn’t the case.

Listen, I don’t want anyone dragging her for not being present as a mom. It’s not even out of respect for her since we really don’t talk at all and I don’t owe her anything. But it goes back to that pity mindset for men that I hate. Personally, I don’t get what it’s like to not want to be there for your kids and I don’t think I ever will. But I don’t think it’s for me to get. Again, people expect women to step up to the plate in these situations and they expect us [men and fathers] to do the least and give us a pat on the back when we do. But nah, it goes both ways. 

If anything, I see it as I got a my girlfriend-at-the-time pregnant and she never wanted to be a mom. That’s her choice. I’m just happy she came through and had my son. I’m happy she went through with it. She didn’t have to, but she did.

“I got my girlfriend who never wanted to be a mom, pregnant. That was her choice. I’m just happy she went through with having my son. She didn’t have to, but she did.”

Even though it’s not official or on paper, I look at my son’s situation as an adoption. He was adopted by his dad if that makes sense. When other young moms make a selfless decision to give up their kids for adoption so that they might have a better life, as a society, we accept it. So I accept that my child’s mother did something similar. I didn’t get it when we were younger but I get it now. Or accept it now, since I guess I didn’t have much of a choice. Plus, I don’t want anyone around MJ who doesn’t want to be around him.

On The Stigma Of Being A Single Dad That He Hates The Most

That’s a tough one because there are so many. 

People think my child’s mother is dead.

They think I’m a widower or some sh*t. They naturally assume since I’m doing pretty well for myself and have a great son that naturally a woman would want to be in that equation. So his mom must be dead, right? (laughs) Nope. She’s very much alive and honestly, doing well for herself. I used to check-in here and there on social media since we had mutual friends but I stopped doing that years ago. It wasn’t healthy for me. But I do hear about her from time to time. I guess she just lives like any other single, successful woman who does well for themself.

Or, people assume that maybe she is mentally ill or on drugs or some wild child. Wrong again.

I guess the stereotype I hate the most is that, because I have a son, it’s easier for him to deal with him being motherless. People feel like, ‘Yea, at least he’s a dad raising a man.’ But boys need their mothers, too. I actually feel like it’s harder in some ways, truthfully. If I had a daughter, I think she’d learn to appreciate me and my sacrifices and not have those daddy issues because daddy was always there and dads are usually a girl’s first love. And as far as a mother figure, my daughter would have her grandma and aunt to go to.

But like, people say that boys are ‘Mama’s boys’ and that they are for their moms and whatnot. I hate that my son doesn’t have that, you know? He has my mom but as he gets older, I’m sure he’ll feel the difference between her and his actual mother if he hasn’t already (pauses and sighs).

I don’t want MJ’s relationship with his mom to poison his perception of women. Or taint it. I’m not raising a son to hate women or have those types of trust issues. I don’t want his first thoughts when it comes to women, or just people who are ‘supposed to love you’ overall, to be that you can’t trust them or that they always leave you.

You’ve got to understand that, Mother’s Day happens during the school year. Father’s Day happens in the summer. So him not having a mom around is a constant reminder. I hate that for him, for real. 

“I don’t want MJ’s relationship with his mom to poison his perception of women. I’m not raising a son to hate women or have those types of trust issues. I don’t want his first thoughts when it comes to women to be that you can’t trust them or that they always leave you.”

On The Cost Of Being A Single Dad

I’m the baby – the youngest – in the family out of four — two brothers and a sister. So you can say I was a little spoiled.

My parents weren’t rich but their kids aren’t bums. Like,  me, my brothers and my sis all pulled our weight. Our parents both worked full-time jobs but we never had to help out around the house outside of doing our part for ourselves. We had hard times but nothing we couldn’t get through together.

Can you elaborate and break down what that means, financially and support-wise?

Yea. So, I was always able to live at home and MJ lived with me at my parents’ place, when he was a baby. We didn’t have to pay bills or mortgage. My parents always asked that I just stay in school and they’ll handle the rest.

Now, that’s where it gets a little tricky because again, I was the baby growing up, so, you know, I bent some rules (laughs). I went to college mostly free. Like I said, I played basketball and had a partial scholarship. Plus I went to school locally so I didn’t pay out-of-state [fees]. While I took classes and went to practice or games, my parents watched my son. I also still lived on a campus apartment for half a year after becoming a parent, before moving back home. Besides my siblings, my parents had practice being grandparents with my oldest brother, but he been moved out by the time MJ came along. So there was room for us.

No, I didn’t quit school because I became a dad, but I did quit not long after. So when I moved back home, despite quitting school, it was okay. I paid everything for my son because [I felt] that was my right, but it wasn’t demanded or asked of me. 

I left school after having enough credits and earning my AA in business because I just wanted more money faster. I got my CDL and became a truck driver at around 21/22. I got my second truck at 26. I now own and operate three trucks and I’m getting my fourth one soon. I’m 32 now. Five trucks is considered a ‘fleet’ and I’m proud. The goal was, and I guess it still is, to build generational wealth for my son and I’m doing that for him and pretty much my whole family, honestly. So yea, I left school early but I’ve been fully sustainable before 25. And I got my own house for me and my son by 27.

“I didn’t quit school because I became a dad, but I did quit not long after. It’s a different type of energy when you’re doing it for someone else besides yourself.”

It hasn’t been easy but it’s been possible and I credit God and my parents for that. And of course my son for the motivation. It’s a different type of energy when you’re doing it for someone else besides yourself.

On What It’s Like Dating As A Single Dad

I’m careful (sighs and smiles). I’m not perfect and I don’t think it’s fair to assume that I have it all or should have it all figured out by now, just because I became a dad at a young age. I’m still learning and living like anyone else my age.

I’ve been in a serious relationship twice in the past 12 years. What I’ve learned is that it’s not so much a break-up for me as it is for MJ, too. My son doesn’t come from a two-parent relationship, so it’s not like he has a mom and ‘dad’s new girlfriend’ as a possible alternate or bonus mom. I realized after my first girlfriend that my son places a lot of expectations into my relationships. I do think his goal is to have a mom and dad at home and in many ways, that’s my goal too. So now I look at things through his lens. I’m not quick to introduce people to him unless I think we’re serious or that they’re serious, too.

On The Last Time He Spoke To His Child’s Mother & What Her Life Is Like Now

It’s been years – many, many years. I’ll say that. I told you, she ghosted us. She doesn’t reach out and has no desire to. I reached out in the beginning but I’m not going to beg. I don’t think I should have to beg anyone to be in my son’s life. He’s the prize; you should want to be in his.

But the same way single mothers hate to be labeled a ‘bitter babymama’ I don’t want to be a bitter babyfather. So I don’t speak much on her. But there really isn’t much to say since we don’t stay in touch at all. Again, I’m just grateful that she carried out her pregnancy because my son is the best thing to happen to me.

“I reached out in the beginning but I’m not going to beg. I don’t think I should have to beg anyone to be in my son’s life. He’s the prize; you should want to be in his.”

Last I heard though, she was doing well. She doesn’t have any other kids, to my knowledge. I guess in some ways that’s a little better or comforting or whatever. Not for me, but more so for MJ. Everything is on the internet these days. I’d hate for my son to later look up his mom and see that she went on to be a good mom to her other kids. I’d hate for him to think it was him. So I guess she meant it when she said she never wanted to be a mom.

Does MJ Ask About His Mom?

Not anymore. He used to. That’s normal, of course. But not anymore – nah. She hasn’t seen him since he was less than a year old. So he has no memory of her. I think he just leans into his grandma a lot and my sister really does spoil him. Plus he’s a teenager now and these kids know a lot, so, yea. He knows what’s up!

Do you think he’ll ever look her up online or that he already has?

I wouldn’t know. If he has or does, he hasn’t told me. But I do know it’s a conversation we’re going to have to have soon. I’d rather approach him asking if he wants to talk about his mom rather than him feel like, you know, he can’t come to me to ask about her. It’s a conversation I said I would have when he is old enough but I guess I keep lying to myself about how old he is now. But I know we have to have it soon.

On Any Advice He Has To Offer Other Single Parents

Just keep your head up and focus your energy on who and what matters most. It’s easy to get caught up in a web of resentment but let it go. For all the single mothers everywhere, you’re so strong and appreciated. To both carry a child and carry out with raising them and loving them, thank you. 

For single fathers, you are seen and felt, brothers! Keep your heads up. I know it gets hard sometimes and some of us have less support than others. So on those days when things look bleak, look towards your kids. Just know it’ll all get better and it’ll always be worth it. 

***

Mike is a loving father of one son and an owner-operator truck driver. He’s currently based in Chicago and is a Bulls fan for life. In his free time he likes to read, watch ESPN and spend time with his bestfriend and son, MJ.

This story was edited for clarity.

Image via Unsplash

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