Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making the Most of Your Time as a Single Dad

Since I started the Upbeat Dad blog last October, I’ve developed a running list of ideas to write about. Ideas come to me at different points throughout the day or night and I simply take out my Blackberry and add to the list.
A couple of months ago my 12 year old daughter said to me, “Daddy, I have an idea of a blog post that you can write.” She proceeded to tell me something quite profound. I wrote the post the next day and it was well received by our audience. Since then, she’s amazed me with some of the most innovative ideas for writing – so much so that I’ve developed a separate list of blog ideas from her. Today’s post is such an idea.
She recently reminded me of our life when it was just the two of us – after my divorce and before my new marriage. That was a 7 year period and though it certainly was not what I had planned for when I got married to her mom, it was a situation that was presented to us and we just had to make the most of it.
The 7 year period came in two distinct phases – parenting from a distance and parenting full-time. After the divorce, she lived with her mom primarily but came to me frequently. But when her mom moved back to her home state, I became a long distance dad. After a few years, she came to live with me primarily so I then became a fulltime daily dad. Through it all, we have cultivated such a close and loving bond that it just thrills me to speak of her.
This post is written from the heart and I know that any dad who is or has ever been single can benefit from some of the issues I’ll address. I encourage you to read and share with those whom you believe would benefit.
When my marriage ended in the early 2000s, my biggest concern was our daughter and her well-being. We had accumulated material things but to me, none of that mattered – our daughter was the only important consideration. As it turned out, I lost practically everything – the house and its effects and much more. Again, none of that mattered.

Our daughter was and still is the best result of that marriage. That’s why, despite the many challenges that we went through during the marriage and the legal ending of the marriage, I will always say that I’m so glad that I married my former wife because without her, my daughter would not be here today. She made the entire process worth it.
She and I have always been close. I joke with her that I was the first person she ever saw (since I was in the delivery room). During her first 3 years, while our then family was together, she bonded with both my former wife and me. When the marriage ended, it was very important for each of us to maintain that bond.
As a new divorcee, I had to adjust quite readily to the life of a single dad. Since my daughter wasn’t with me all the time, I needed to maximize each moment with her. Initially, the time we spent together was meager, at best – a day here or there; then overnight; then the weekend; and so on and so on. But however little or much time we were together, it was time well spent.
When her mom relocated to her home state, I wasn’t a happy camper at all. It certainly wasn’t my desire but I just had to deal with what the legal system allowed. I committed to being the best long distance dad I could be. And you know what? I thought it was such a bad thing at first but in hindsight, I think that solidified our relationship. What do I mean by that? Well, from a distance, I chose to become even more involved in every aspect of her life.
You see, from a distance, we could easily have seen the manifestation of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” So I really had to be proactive. I called her school and introduced myself to the school officials. I visited when I could. I went over her homework on the phone each day. I was just a dad – though at a distance. And that brought us closer.
The really cool thing to me was that when she was with me, it was no longer for a couple days – it was for extended periods. She spent the entire summer with me. And every break from school –Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, etc – she was with me. When her mom lived locally, one thing that happened quite a bit with her was separation anxiety. As she left one of us to go to the other, she’d often cry. With us living in different cities, as difficult as that was, on the one hand, it minimized the times when she had to experience the apparent discomfort of going from one parent to the other.
The times we spent together during those days were truly special. She reminded me today of a trip we took to Disney World. We got up early in the morning and made the 3 ½ hour drive to Orlando. And it was a day of magic at the Magic Kingdom. That’s something we will never forget – just a dad and daughter at the place where wishes come true, having the time of their lives.
When she came to live with me primarily (approximately 4 years after the divorce), it took my parenting to another level. As I wrote about in the post, The Story of My Blended Family By The Upbeat Dad, being a single dad of a child who is with you during the fun times in the summer is much different from being a fulltime dad.

So developing a regular schedule was now of great importance. There was school to deal with. Along with homework, there were teacher conferences; there were appointments with her tutor; there were piano lessons. Oh and by the way, I had a new business to run. My 24 hour life was consumed with being a dad – but believe me, I loved every minute of it.

I was fortunate to have a good support system – my sister and her family and so many other relatives and friends. Without them, I’m not sure how I would’ve managed. I couldn’t exactly take my young child to every business meeting that I had. Plus, though I’m good at many things, I can’t really do girls’ hair all that well. Family helped with that quite a bit. The expression “it takes a village to raise a child” is very true. I was a single dad but I certainly wasn’t alone.
I did have the need for companionship – a need that was fulfilled when I met my wife. But throughout the 7 years of being a single dad, I can honestly say that I didn’t feel as if I wasn’t missing out on anything. I often hear single parents speak of the need for companionship to the extent that they cannot seem to be content with just being parents to their kids. I saw it differently – I didn’t seek to become a single dad but since the situation presented itself, I chose to embrace it and made the best of it.
By the way, check out the post Dating 101 for the Divorced Dad. I share some tips on just how to make the most of the dating experience while protecting your kids and their emotions in the process.

I hope that this post has been enlightening in some ways and encouraging in other ways. Regardless of the circumstances that lead to single parenthood, I strongly encourage both men and women to embrace the role of nurturing and caring for the young, innocent children when relationships don't quite work out. Children from so-called broken relationships should not have to miss out on the best things in life.

Today I’m happily married with a wonderful wife and two kids (we have an 8 month old son). But I strongly believe that, had I not chosen to embrace my life as a single dad, things wouldn’t be as they are today. For all current and former single parents, I believe that if we just love our kids, in time – perhaps sooner than we think – we’ll have the ideal life that we think and dream about.

If you’re a single dad – whether or not your kids are with you primarily – I encourage you to learn from some of these tips. Carve out time in your busy schedule to let your kids know they are loved and they’re your top priority. It might take some juggling on your part but through it all, if you make the investment in your kids’ lives, it will reap huge dividends as time passes along.
I thank my daughter for suggesting that I write on this topic. It’s quite timely and a very necessary subject matter. I hope you’ve benefited greatly from it.
Rodrick with daughter after awards ceremony during time as a single dad
Have yourself a wonderful day!
The Upbeat Dad

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Can We Learn from the Fearless Nature of Babies?

My son recently turned 8 months old. Now he’s becoming mobile – no longer just sitting and looking at things around him. He’s starting to creep. He hasn’t quite perfected the skill just yet. But he’s learning. My daughter is 12 years old and it really does seem like only yesterday that she was at that stage.
As she became more mobile, I recall thinking how much better it was when she would only just lie there – no creeping around and pulling down things and putting strange things in her mouth. But as the golf expression goes, it’s par for the course. In other words, it comes with the territory. Kids grow and develop and that’s part of the process.
I have learned a very important life lesson from watching my kids grow. My son is at the stage now where this lesson certainly applies. He does not yet know of the dangers that his different movements can present. He hasn’t yet learned what it’s like to fall off the bed; or to have something on a shelf fall on him. Right now, he’s just all about moving around and exploring his surroundings.
Just last week he was on the bed one morning and he saw my cell phone on the bedside table. He made his way across the bed and when he got to the edge, it’s as if there was no edge at all. He was so ready to get the phone that, in his mind, he would probably just be suspended in midair in the process of reaching for the phone. Had I not grabbed him, he would have fallen off the bed. There was absolutely no fear of falling on his part. That’s typical of a child at his stage. He knows no fear when it comes to such matters.
That got me thinking. There’s a lesson in this part of the nature of children for each of us adults. What can we learn from this? Well, check this out:
Babies do not know of the inherent danger in doing some of the things that they do. They only know that they like to explore their surroundings. Sometimes in life, there are things that we know we want to do but to a great degree, fear grips us and has such a hold on us that it’s as if we’re paralyzed and never take any action. We analyze and contemplate every possible pro and con and before we know it, time passes us by and we still haven’t taken action. Have you ever heard the term “analysis paralysis?” We think about decisions so much that we end up not doing the very thing that we set out to do.
As our kids grow and develop, they become more aware of the dangers that their actions can cause. That’s why, as parents, we have to be so mindful of their every move. They’ll put the strangest things in their mouths and to them, it’s no big deal. They open cabinets and pull out pots and pans and it’s all a learning process for them.
Inevitably, they get hurt or otherwise disappointed as they take these actions. But the point is that they have taken action. Do you know how much they learn as they explore their surroundings? I dare say that for every accident that occurs during their exploration, there are much more beneficial lessons that they learn. If they sat still and never took any action, they certainly wouldn’t have any accidents or incidents. But at the same time, they wouldn’t learn much would they?
Sometimes, as adults, we are so fearful of failing that we’d rather stand back and watch others take action while we sit back where it’s comfortable for us. I do believe that we learn much from observing others but I also believe that in order for us to realize our greatest potential, we must develop the fearless nature that is so evident in babies. Even when we do fail, sometimes the lessons that we learn are so priceless that, given the choice, we’d do it again.
How will you know what you can do if you don’t try? How will your gifts be used to help others if you simply sit and analyze each situation? The calculated risks that we take can lead us to some of the greatest rewards we could ever realize.
My challenge to you with this post is to learn from the youngest citizens of this world. Forget your own weaknesses and inhibitions and just take action to realize your hopes and dreams. This lesson applies to every phase of our lives. A couple might be struggling and might be hesitant to seek marriage counseling because of preconceived notions about that process. So they never seek counseling and end up divorced. In this scenario, do you think they might have benefited from counseling? What’s there to lose?
In our careers and professional lives, the benefits from this lesson ought to scream out to us! We want to climb the corporate ladder. We want to start that business we’ve dreamed about. We want to go back to school and finish the degree that we started but never quite finished. But then we think and analyze and overanalyze every possible angle of these decisions and then we end up taking no action at all.
Have you heard the saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?” I’ll state that in another way, “It is better to try and fail than not to try at all.” Some things in life are just worth trying.
I hope you embrace the truth of this lesson. You are loaded with great potential! Let the smallest among us inspire us to achieve true greatness!
Enjoy your day!

The Upbeat Dad

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sooner or Later? The Choice is Yours

Have you ever heard people say, “Sooner or later things will work out?” That’s an expression that many of us can relate to. We’ve heard it for much of our lives. That expression relates to each of us in many ways. And it’s very true. Tough times don’t last always – sooner or later, things have to work out, right?

How about in your professional lives? Have you ever struggled so much that you wonder if things will really take off for you? Perhaps it’s on your job. Or maybe you’ve started a new business and want your company to soar to record profits. But especially now – in the recent economic downturn – things have been slower than molasses and you wonder when your big break will come.
And what about at home? Are you stuck in a bad marriage? Are your kids driving you up the wall with their different issues? Has the bad economy made things stressful for you at home? You’ve got to believe that sooner or later the struggles will end, right? That’s probably the only thought that keeps you going.
I have a way of believing that we have a lot more to do with our “sooner or later” than we think. Simply saying “sooner or later”, in many ways, suggests a passive approach. In other words, we just think that we go about our everyday lives and do what we always do and then somehow, “later” becomes “sooner” and our dreams come true.
I believe that there’s an appointed time for our success but I also believe that we have a role to play in that timing. Simply standing back and wishing that we have the families and professional lives that we desire is probably not the best approach to seeing our dreams come true.
I want to suggest to you today, as you march towards the future with your hopes and dreams and great expectations, that you become an active participant in making your “later” become “sooner.” There’s too much that we envision to simply stand back, wishing and hoping. Certainly it takes time to become successful – there’s no such thing as an overnight success. We have to build our success plan and execute it step by step.
But by being proactive and diligent, we can reap the rewards that life offers much sooner than we might think. We have much more control over the timing of our success than the traditional “sooner or later” expression would have us think. So going forward, I challenge you to choose “sooner and not later”. You get it? There’s “sooner or later”. So given the choice, I’d rather choose “sooner”.
The following poem that I wrote is from my book Poems of Inspiration: A Daily Dose of Self Motivation. It’s entitled Sooner or Later. It tells in poetic form the message that I share in this post. I encourage you to embrace the life changing message embodied in it.  Enjoy reading:
Sooner or Later
By Rodrick Walters

Can’t live like this forever—
something has got to change.
To the good life I’m but a stranger;
it always seems out of range.

They told me that sooner or later
there’s got to come a day.
They told me that sooner or later,
things will go my way.

I’ve struggled from conception;
my fate, I guess, in life.
Hope seems but deception;
an illusion in the night.

So tired of the darkness,
the struggles in my heart,
the pain, and all the sadness—
I want a brand new start;

a life where I can live
and love and laugh and play,
a life where I just treasure
every moment of the day.

I want the good life sooner;
can’t wait for much more time.
Later seems more like forever,
but right now’s my time to shine.

My night will turn to daylight,
my bad luck into good,
and my problems into promise—
just like I knew they would.

I choose sooner and not later,
and I’m starting with today.
Now my future’s so much brighter—
now the sun will light my way.

Let’s go out and make it a great day today. After all, today is “sooner” – we can’t wait for “later.”

The Upbeat Dad