Don’t get me wrong — I think single mums are superheroes. As are single dads. Parenting is freaking hard, whatever situation you’re in, but there’s no doubt that it’s even harder when you’re on your own.
I’m lucky that, despite our differences and the ongoing difficulties in our relationship, my children’s father is present and involved in their lives. He’s around to celebrate Father’s Day with them, as well as birthdays, Christmas and all the other occasions kids get really excited about and want both parents to be there. But if he wasn’t I wouldn’t do anything on Father’s Day that’s any different from an ordinary Sunday with my kids. Sure, I might hug them a little tighter. I’d probably feel a little sad that he wasn’t involved in their lives. But I certainly wouldn’t expect praise, a pat on the back or any other kind of special treatment on a day that was created to honour dad.
I’m not their dad. I’m their mum, I had a whole day of recognition and celebration just a few months ago and my two children make me feel valued and special pretty much every day of the year, no matter how chaotic, stressed or mundane that day is.
This doesn’t mean I don’t totally respect and applaud the millions of single mothers who really do go it alone — without dad and possibly without any sort of father figure whatsoever in their children’s lives. I watched Angel Soft’s video, which is an extremely touching tribute to single mothers on Father’s Day. But it didn’t change my mind.
When my kids are with me I have to be everything and everybody for them. There’s no aspect of their care I can pass the buck on. There’s nobody there to take over if I’m too tired, too busy or simply feel out of my depth. But, of course, it goes both ways. My ex has to do exactly the same whenever he’s flying solo. As much as I believe that the modern reality of mum and dad is often very far removed from the traditionally perceived parenting roles (mum cooks, cleans and cuddles; dad plays rough and tumble, builds stuff and doesn’t like to talk about feelings), it can’t be denied that the majority of mums are a child’s primary source of love and care, in the early years at least. We carry our babies inside our bodies, we deliver them into the world, very often we are their only source of nourishment for several weeks or months and they probably spend more time in our arms than in anyone else’s for a long, long time.
When my children are with their dad I’m not there to comfort them, wipe away tears or wrap my arms around them. But their dad is, so he does. Does he expect to hear “Happy Mother’s Day” every Lent? I seriously doubt it. Just as I don’t expect to hear “Happy Father’s Day” every third Sunday in June simply because I sometimes have to fulfil the role of dad too. Or, at least, what society perceives that role to be: is it really such a surprise that mums can play basketball in the back garden, hook up computer consoles and deal with spiders just as well as dads can?
I won’t deny him the right to have this day all to himself and that goes for the millions of wonderful single dads all over the world who do their best by their kids.
Incidentally it’s widely believed that the first official Father’s Day celebration took place in the United States in June 1910, when a woman called Sonora Smart Dodd was inspired by the American Mother’s Day to plan a day to honour fathers. And guess what? Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single dad.
If you’re a single mum who wishes other single mums a Happy Father’s Day that’s your absolute right. If single parenting has taught me anything it’s that we all have to figure out our own ways of making it work. But please don’t extend the platitude to me.