Whether you are one or you wanna date one

When my daughter was little, dating was like tiptoeing through a minefield without a flak jacket. Because I was still in my 20s when I divorced, the men I dated were young, child-free and carefree—and completely uninterested in becoming a stepdad. When my daughter cried, used scissors inappropriately, refused to sleep and otherwise behaved like… well… a kid, I was mortified. And then, I met someone with a child of his own—someone her age.

The clouds parted and the angels sang.

While the girls watched videos or played outside, we would simultaneously make dinner and surreptitiously make out. Neither of us looked askance when the other’s daughter woke up at night crying out for a glass of water. And he was in heaven as well; he said he had a hard time getting dates because of his fatherly status. I found that hard to believe: Dating single dads rocked! Even though that relationship didn’t work out, we remained friends. And to this day I get all mushy when I see an unmarried father tending his kids.

Like dating when you’re a single mom, life for single dads is also complicated—and men have hurdles of their own to overcome. The good news is, they are no longer a tiny minority: one in every 45 fathers now heads a household by himself, a number that is up by an astonishing 62 percent in the last ten years. And just as the bookstore shelves are stocked with self-help books single moms, written advice is now also available to support single dads in their romantic forays.

The bible for romantically-inclined fathers is Dating for Dads: The Single Father’s Guide to Dating Well without Parenting Poorly, by relationship expert Ellie Slott Fisher (www.elliefisher.com), who interviewed dozens of dads and put their stories in print. Plain-spoken, alternately poignant and funny, it addresses pretty much every concern that a unmarried papa might have—from where to meet like-minded women to how to handle PDA.

When is it OK to start dating?
One of the first questions single dads wrestle with is when to start dating again after divorce—or becoming a widower. Fisher says there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question—it depends on your circumstances and your own headspace. “If you’re single, and your self-esteem is strong, and you’ve had honest conversations with your kids, then the timing is yours to decide,” she says. “Clearly, if you’re still grieving the loss of your wife or your marriage, you probably shouldn’t be dating. But don’t let friends, family, or the parents on your son’s soccer team tell you when you’ve waited long enough. If they haven’t walked in your shoes, they just don’t get it.”

In other words, don’t be pressured into dating. On the flipside, Fisher warns that one of the most common mistakes she’s seen among newly-single fathers is to get serious too soon! “Single dads who struggle with being alone sometimes rush into serious relationships, resolutely ignoring red flags the way a Super Bowl quarterback disregards his injury and plays through the pain,” she writes, adding that men who are suddenly without a partner may mistake lust for love. Her advice: take it s-l-o-w-l-y. If not for yourself, then for your kids.

Where do I even find a date?
Assuming you feel like enough time has passed since you became single, and you’re ready to date, where should you get started? Online is a good place to stick a toe into the dating pool; it’s easy enough to look for partners with kids. But Fisher says don’t overlook opportunities right under your nose. “How about at soccer practice and the orthodontist office?” she smiles. “I interviewed one man who is now engaged to the nurse he met taking his daughter to the orthodontist, and I know a woman who married her son’s soccer coach. Single women are everywhere! Starbucks, the grocery store, the park (go walk your dog, or your friend’s if you don’t own one). Men just need to be open to meeting someone.”

Should I introduce her to my kids?
Once you do meet someone, and you like them enough to date them on an ongoing basis, when is it a good time to introduce them to your kids? According to Fisher, to say men are reluctant to make introductions is an understatement. “Most men think they should wait on introductions until things are serious,” she says. “But what happens too often is that their kids have no idea Dad is even dating, then they are shocked to discover he’s about to get married. Never do that to your kids. It’s better to tell them you are dating someone and ask them if they’d like to meet her. If they say, ‘NO,’ honor their request but tell them that if you ever decide to date someone exclusively then you will insist they meet her. Most kids will say okay to this because they don’t necessarily expect it to happen.”

How do I juggle parenting and dating?

Once you do have a girlfriend, how do you find that delicate balance between taking care of your children’s needs—and your own? In other words, how do you give your romantic partner attention without neglecting your kids? The solution, Fisher says, is fine-tuning your scheduling skills.

“You have to plan specific time with each,” she insists. “If you have plans to take a date to a nice dinner, you tell your kids your cell phone will be off for a few hours but in an emergency here’s the number for the restaurant.”

And, she says, it’s important to also be up front with your new sweetie about the can’t-miss activities a dad must attend. “If your child has a game or a concert, something you should be going to, you explain this to your girlfriend,” says Fisher, who adds: “If she doesn’t understand then she’s not really interested in dating a dad.”

True, that. Ladies, make sure you’re aware of the caveats when dating a dad. Never try to talk him out of his paternal duties.

How much do I tell the kids?

Last but not least, once you’ve made introductions, and are now incorporating your new lady into your life, how much should you share? “Kids want to know details about the woman, like, does she have kids? What does she do for a living? Where does she live? Is she pretty? And a father should give honest answers,” says Fisher. “But don’t ever share your sexual exploits—even with your teenaged son. Your kids should see some affection between you and a girlfriend; holding hands, your arm around her while sitting on the sofa, but they don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable by seeing you two kissing.”

Granted, that’s some of the fun of dating. But the rewards for dating a single dad—someone with a big enough heart to include many people in his care—will outweigh the minor inconvenience. Hopefully he’ll make up for it when you are alone, after teeth are brushed, bedtime stories are read and doors are closed.

Photo by  Ashwini Chaudhary on Unsplash


Jane Ganahl is an award-winning journalist, the author of the memoir Naked on the Page: the Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, and editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age. She is grateful that her daughter is grown so she can stop sneaking around while dating.

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