When it's just dad
Single fathers fight for respect, struggle with hardships of going it alone
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N e w s  O b s e r v e r . c o m

Published: Jun 19, 2004
Modified: Jun 19, 2004 5:37 AM
Jimmy W. Crawford of Raleigh consoles his daughter, Joann, 15, after a post-dinner conversation at the kitchen table. Crawford says he sometimes has difficulty meeting his daughter's emotional needs in her transition to womanhood.
Staff Photo by Robert Willett

By SHEARON ROBERTS, Staff Writer  N e w s  O b s e r v e r . c o m

For Glen Warren, a 46-year-old Raleigh resident, this weekend takes on a very special meaning.

His son Anthony, 20, a fueler with the Army who returned from Iraq in August, is being reassigned there in September. But for four days, Warren will bask in the company of his son, who is home from his post in Fort Stewart, Ga., to spend Father's Day weekend with him.

"For many nights I couldn't sleep because every time I heard a police siren near the house, my heart would race because I would think that they were coming to tell me he was dead," Warren said.

Warren has been the only parent his son has really known. The two share a family relationship found only in the homes of single dads, the smallest but fastest-growing type of family unit in the United States.

Census statistics show that one in six single parents is a single father. In only one year, from 1998 to 1999, the number of single dads in the country increased from 1.7 million to 2.1 million. The number of single-parent moms stayed constant.

In North Carolina, 5 percent of children in 2002 lived in homes headed by single dads. In the Triangle, the number of single fathers reached nearly 7,400 in 2000.

But for single dads, like single moms, the task of being the primary caregiver comes with a high price. They struggle to pay the bills. They feel inadequately prepared to raise adolescent daughters. And they wrestle with balancing work, family and personal time.

Warren juggled his jobs as a therapist at Wake County Human Services during the day and a limousine driver at night. He experienced mounting debts and desperately needed to supplement his $34,000-a-year income, which clothed, sheltered and fed three children.

"I did everything that a single mother does, and what I didn't know, I learned it," he said.

Warren said he "took from Peter to pay Paul" to spread his earnings around and ensure that his children's needs were met.

He described his credit history as "not so good" but said now that his children are older, he can recover financially. His daughter will enroll at N.C. A&T State University in August, and his other son got married in April.

Jimmy W. Crawford, a photographer at Research Triangle Institute, recalled being devastated by his divorce. But he picked up the pieces, he said, for the sake of his 2-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

The drastic change left Crawford in debt for months, but what proved even more trying for him was adjusting emotionally.

'Good face'

"I tried to put on a good face for the kids to make their lives consistent, but after I put them to bed at night, many times I sat by myself and just cried," he said.

As his daughter became a teenager, Crawford faced a new challenge and admitted at times to feeling lost as to how to address her change to womanhood.

"The one thing that I fell short of was the intuitiveness to understand children's age development," he said. "I can feed them, I could dress them, but I had a hard time taking care of their emotional needs."

Crawford said he had no family near his Raleigh home, so he made trips to Gastonia and Fayetteville to allow his children to spend time with their grandmothers. He said his ex-wife's mother also served as a good feminine presence in his daughter's life.

A balancing act

Eric H. Miller, a creative director at MarketSmart Advertising, agreed that regaining control of his personal life as a single dad was difficult.

Miller shifted to freelance work in 1990 when he become a single dad to juggle taking care of his daughter, who was 18 months old at the time, and his son, who was 3.

Miller would get up at 6:30 a.m. to get his children ready for school, then pick them up at 2:30 p.m. He would spend the afternoon with them at his North Raleigh home until they went to bed at 8 p.m.

"They'd be, 'Tell us a story, Dad,' and I'd say OK, and then they'd be, 'Tell us again, Dad,' " he said.

He would then do his freelance work as an advertising copywriter from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

But Miller said he faced perceptions that men were incompetent at parenting and that in relationships, single dads were always on the hunt for help.

"If you're looking for a mother for your children, you've got the wrong woman," Miller recalled one date telling him. His reply: "Whatever makes you think I'd let you within 100 yards of my children?"

Miller said the experience of being a single dad in fact made him 10 times the father he would have been and even more committed to parenting.

"It's the hardest, most exhausting, most joyful, most fun experience I've ever had," he said, "and I would do it over again in a minute."

Staff writer Shearon Roberts can be reached at 829-4550 or sroberts@newsobserver.com.

Web link to original story: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/nc/v-printer/story/1350066p-7472983c.html



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