A guide for the new ex-husband/single dad

Published March 21, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

Periodically, I’m asked to write for Wyeth Nutrition’s ParenTeam website, a repository of first-hand parenting articles; and the most recent request was to write about being a Single Dad. I corrected that right away, as when we separated, my three boys lived with their Mom, and I’d see them on weekends – so technically, it’s a far cry from the Single Dads who actually raise their kids on their own. Along with Moms, those Dads are real life heroes in my book. So here are some excerpts:

While it isn’t considered a taboo subject, the inescapable fact is that Filipinos don’t talk much about broken homes, and families that have separated. Looking for statistics to prove my point about the growing number of broken homes was difficult. What I did pick up and you can draw some conclusions, is that from 2001 to 2014, the number of annulment and nullity cases filed at the Office of the Solicitor-General practically tripled (from 4,250 in 2001, to 11,135 in 2014). And given how the success ratio of annulment here is so low, you can imagine how so many families beyond those numbers, simply break up without resorting to or seeking legal closure.

Ever vigilant when the kids are around. Me with Matteo, circa 1998.

If I think back to my early years of separation, I know it would have made things far easier if someone gave me an inkling of what to expect, and what to watch out for. So for the young separated Dads who will get something out of all this, you’re very welcome. And for those who’ve gone through this, I’m sure I’ll get a wry smile of recognition.

1. You will NEVER get much respect or appreciation. You will be seen as provider, and not the nurturer. And no matter what you provide, even if you’re sacrificing more than what you’re earning monthly, this is your ex’s mantra –  It’s never enough! And trust me, you’ve lost the argument or discussion before it’s even started, as she’ll say it’s for (insert name of your child, with sad face, here), and you will have no defense. So get used to this, you are absentee father now, and for forever, this is the least you can do, the ‘small price’ you have to pay.

2. Create strong memories with your children. No matter what age they are, don’t just pick them up and have them hanging around your house. Plan the days that you have them; turn them into a plethora of moments that will be part of their treasure chest of memories. Years, decades later, you’ll be happy you did. Face up to the fact that most of their lives are now marked by your absence, so strive to make the times they’re with you truly count.

3. Don’t take sides. Listen to your children when they’re with you; but don’t be fooled into thinking you can be their Hero by confronting their Mother or taking their side. That will only last a moment; as end of the story, is you’re now the blip of their lives, while she is the constant. The fallout of whatever you help promulgate or negotiate is on her, as they’re spending more days with her than you. Be the ready ear, but even when it’s hard, try to help them see their Mother’s way or her reasoning. That is the path to Peaceful Co-Existence.

4. Keep your ex informed. Even when you think it’s the simplest of decisions, getting the kids some gift or providing them with access to a gadget or app – clear it with her first. Again, this is for the same reason as #3 – they spend most of the week with her, and if your largesse disrupts the routine or system she’s established, you’re only inviting her to go on the warpath, and putting a nice fat target on your forehead.

5. Never presume it’s OK. And you may think this is similar to #’s 3 & 4; and yes it is, but it’s also different. Confused? Well, that’s exactly the point. Welcome to the land where things from your perspective don’t really count anymore. You might think because something you did with the kids was OK two weekends ago as you cleared it with her, it’s OK to do it now, and just presumed it’d be fine with your ex. Think again; that was two weeks ago and the world has moved on, things have changed, and you’re in the sh_thouse for not realizing that. So step up your game, boy! You are now as much a child as your children, and your judgment and decision-making will always be suspect and inferior – after all, you couldn’t keep the family together. See what I mean?

6. As they reach their teenage years; anticipate the kids to be sullen, rebellious, and stubborn. That comes with the territory, as they move away from the accepted authoritarian role you played in their lives, and they start forming their own personality, their own Id. And trust me, as they create havoc with your ex’s peace of mind, it will all be your fault, or it’s you who has to talk to them, or your ex is kicking them out of the house – which she’ll never really do, but she’ll like saying it. Any personality fault, weakness, or deficiency of your kids will be your genes – something they got from you. Trust me, this will happen again and again.

And I’ll close with a little something we Men should all know, whether as a single father, happily married, or even as a friend. It has to do with babies, with newborns. Never say he or she ‘Looks like any baby’. Women will always be more observant, picking up on how the ‘nose is so you, Mare; but the ears are Daddy’s.’ And I know, you and I will just see a baby, a generic infant; but believe me, that’s on us, the failure of our powers of observation.

When it comes to parenting, no one wants the Truth. Just look at social media posts that involve babies, and watch how people stumble over each other to serve the perfect compliment – like some ‘kumare’ will comment how her friend’s newborn has her beautiful eyes or looks so smart, and my eyebrows will brush the ceiling, as the baby is fast asleep in the photo. And yet, the mother will gush, and respond with, ‘You really think so?’ – with all these kisses and smiley emojis. I rest my case.