by John Hoffman
It’s not often that a 47-year-old guy, who wasn’t really planning on fatherhood, ends up as the full-time single parent of a four month-old baby.
That’s what happened to George* (not his real name) last year. Right now he’s on parental leave, looking after baby Nathan*, now nine months old. Nathan’s mom is involved and comes for visits. But George is the 24/7 parent. (*names changed to protect people’s privacy)
This situation is not something George planned. In fact, he didn’t even know his girlfriend, was pregnant until four days before she gave birth. She hid her pregnancy (rather well, apparently) from everybody. When George finally realized that Melissa* was pregnant he urged her to go to the doctor to get checked out. The next day she sent him a text confirming that she was indeed pregnant. The day after that she sent another saying she had given birth. Later the same day she informed George that she would be meeting with Children’s Aid Society (CAS) workers the following week to go over the adoption procedure.
It’s not hard to imagine how George’s head was spinning. He was, very suddenly, and very unexpectedly, a dad. “I had no time whatsoever to plan for this,” he says. “I spent the next week in a panic talking to friends and family trying to figure out what to do. After looking at my options I decided that I did not want my son to be adopted.”
However, Melissa still felt she could not take on the responsibilities of motherhood. So George’s only option was to be a single dad. However, that wasn’t a slam-dunk as far as the CAS was concerned. George explains, “I had to show them that I was ready to be a father and that I could give Nathan a good home.”
One issue was George’s living space, a slightly bigger than bachelor apartment – bed/sitting room, bathroom and kitchen alcove, was tiny. Another was that he had zero baby gear. So he had to get a few things together. In the meantime, Nathan lived in a foster home for three months.
“My friends at work had a baby shower for me,” he says. “They gave me money, gift cards, new and used baby gear. One person brought a huge bag of baby clothes.” Meanwhile George had to make room for Nathan in his tiny apartment. “I made a little baby area in one corner of the room,” he says. “I had to put some of my stuff in storage to make room.” George also had to show that he had a support network – friends and family he could call on if he needed help. And, of course, he and Nathan had to get to know each other. They did that via weekly visits at the CAS office.
Eventually, George was able to put everything in place to meet the requirements of the CAS. The final step was taking Nathan home for a couple of day visits before bringing him home for good. George remembers that first visit very clearly. “I had thought I was ready for it, but that first time I brought him home was like a bullet between the eyes,” says George. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is what I’m going to be doing for the next 20 years.’ I felt lots of things. I was terrified. I wondered how I would provide for Nathan. But I was also curious to see what was going to happen.”
That was about five months ago. George got weekly visits from a CAS worker for a while. They come once a month now. And Nathan’s mother comes by fairly regularly to help out and even “babysit” at times. “She’s decided she wants to stay involved and I realized that I was going to need her assistance at times,” he says. “Besides, I couldn’t, in good faith, cut her out of Nathan’s life.”
But most of the time, George is on his own with Nathan. And, so far, so good (mostly). George says he’s really lucky he got a “good” baby. In other words, Nathan is a happy content baby who doesn’t cry that much and sleeps well. He was already sleeping through the night when he came to live with George.
However, George has had some tough moments with Nathan. At one point this winter, Nathan got fairly sick with diarrhea. George was worried, exhausted and, frankly, depressed. Luckily, social media gave him a way to reach out for help. “I posted a Facebook status one day where I said that things weren’t going well. And I said something like, “With one phone call I can make all of this go away and get on with my life.” Within half an hour three different people had called to offer encouragement.
George has found support he needs in other places as well. He sometimes goes to a parent drop-in where he can hang out with other parents (almost all moms) with little kids. And he has joined a local Dad’s group.
George and Nathan have lots of challenges ahead of them. George will be going back to work soon. He’ll have to find child care. And eventually he’ll probably want to find a bigger place to live with more room for a growing child. But for now things are going OK.
One important lesson George has learned is how important it is to reach out for support when you need it. “I was fairly seriously depressed last winter,” he says. “ I let it go on for far too long before I asked for help. I won’t let that happen again.”
I’m really glad George learned that lesson. It’s one of the most important insights for any father or mother. All parents need support. And if you can find the support you need, it will do more than anything else I can think of to help you be the kind of parent you want to be.
Good luck, George and Nathan. I wish you nothing but the best.