My daughter just turned seven years old, and instead of being with her, I sent her a video screaming, “Happy birthday!” and affirming her. She lives two hours away and, unfortunately, that means I can’t make every big moment in her life, but I’ve learned to keep showing up regardless of the circumstances.
When you’re a single dad, and your children don’t live under the same roof as you, it can be really difficult to have the impact you want in their lives. I’m not a dad expert, but I have been trying, failing, and trying again to best impact my daughter’s life for seven years now. Despite the distance, we have a strong father-daughter relationship, but it has taken a lot of sacrifices, miles driven, candy, tears, arguments, and prayer.
How do you be a good dad when you only have your child every other weekend and holidays? Am I good dad if I never make it to a parent-teacher conference? What if I never have the chance to take my child to dance rehearsal or basketball practice? Does that make me a bad dad?
The model for being a single dad when your child doesn’t live with you looks different for everyone. But for me, it looks like showing up as often as I can. And when I fail, I show up again the next time.
It means trying to make the most of every opportunity to see my daughter. It also means not putting too much pressure on the time I have with her and showing up when I say I am going to—which helps her know she can trust me, even though I’m not always there.
Consistency vs. Overcompensating At first, I wanted my daughter to have as much fun as possible with me. My goal was to make dad’s house so exciting that she wouldn’t want to leave. There would always be candy, toys, ice cream, and time spent doing something that was fun and usually too expensive for me to afford. None of those things are bad, but getting that special treatment soon became the expectation instead of the surprise. My daughter started thinking we would buy a new toy every time she came over, and when I started saying, “No, not this weekend,” she called me mean.
In an effort to overcorrect the bad behavior I had helped create, I felt like I had to help her change right at that moment because I didn’t get to see her for another two weeks. I turned into this Jekyll-and-Hyde dad trying to find the balance between spoiling and too much discipline.
I don’t know your views on God, but what changed for me was realizing that I can be a good father—even when I’m not there—by covering her in prayer. My problem was that I was trying to control everything, but being a separated single dad meant control wasn’t an option. I started praying for God to show me how to be the father my daughter needed and not the dad I kept pressuring myself to be.
I realized she had a heavenly father who loved her and would protect her when I couldn’t. Once I accepted that, it took the pressure off being the perfect father and, instead, I started doing my best to model my heavenly father to her. That meant giving her more grace, serving her instead of spoiling her, praying for her, and showing her unconditional fatherly love.
Play the Long Game I can’t say this happened overnight. Fatherhood has been a process of learning my daughter’s personality and figuring out how to best be involved. When you don’t live together, you have to think about the long-term and not beat yourself up over the short term. When my daughter was younger, she would cry when she left my house, but now she understands she will be back again in two weeks. The sooner you can create a sense of rhythm and normalcy out of something that’s not normal, the better.
Time with your kids goes much faster than you think, so do your best to make the most of it. Also, if you’re trying your best, then give yourself some grace when you can’t make it. That doesn’t make you a bad parent, as long as they know you would be there if you could.
Remember You’re Worthy. Keep Showing Up. I once watched a pastor break down in tears as he calculated how many weekends he and his wife had with their oldest son before he turned 18 and moved out. The sad reality for me was that I would only have half of those weekends with my daughter and never experience what it’s like for her to grow up in my home. That can make you feel like a part-time parent, but there’s no such thing. When you choose to be a dad, you are a dad every day—even if you only get to see your children part of the time. Your mistakes do not disqualify you. Distance doesn’t have to separate you. God is bigger than all of it.
Being a parent isn’t a contest, so don’t try to measure up to someone who you think might be a better father. This would always affect me around Father’s Day. I started believing the lie that I was undeserving to celebrate Father’s Day with the rest of fathers. Use Father’s Day as a time to remember the gift it is to be a dad. Embrace the day just as much as anyone else, even if your kid doesn’t live with you. Pray for them extra that day. Let it humble you and inspire you for the year ahead to make the most of the powerful gift of parenthood.
Single Parenting Doesn’t Mean Parenting Alone When I first became a single parent, I felt I needed a wife or else my family wouldn’t be complete. I was afraid my daughter would never see a good example of a Godly marriage. However, I soon realized it was equally important for me to show her what it looked like for a man to love Jesus.
As a single parent, there can also be a lot of pressure when you start dating again. Single-parent dating is difficult because you have to find someone who likes you and accepts your children. This can feel like an uphill battle that’s not worth starting. I am still single and not currently seeing anyone, but God has encouraged me to understand that as long as he is involved in the picture, no family is incomplete.
Everything changed when I started inviting Jesus into our father-daughter relationship to make it feel complete. The result has been watching my 2-year-old grow into a 7-year-old who loves her dad and also loves Jesus. Being a single dad isn’t the plan I would have chosen for my life, but God has used it to fill my heart in a unique way that I wouldn’t change. Being a single dad can be complicated, but it can also be extremely rewarding when you let go of control and invite Jesus into your parenting.
You might not be able to control your situation as a single parent, but if you choose to be there regardless of the circumstances, then eventually you and your children will see the blessings from your effort.
Pretty words won’t change your life. This might:
If you’re a single dad, what’s your biggest barrier?
What’s the biggest (most realistic/dependable) way you could show up for your kid(s) more this year?
The more we experience a good dad, the better we can be one. Find a way to experience God as a dad—either through pursuing more relationship with him or being around other dads who know him. Ask some dads you admire if you can learn more from them, or join a group to make some lasting connections.