Top ten easy survival tips by Bob Greig, founder of OnlyDads.
Before men get to the stage where they sit down in front of their PCs and Google “support for single dads” – and find OnlyDads – they tend to have been through the wars. The emails and ‘phone calls we get prove the point. And anyway, I know it. I too typed something like that into my browser seven years ago. Back then all I found was a forum for misogynists and reams of confusing legalspeak.
I’d only got round to searching for external support when I realised that not much was going right in my life. I was facing redundancy, a complicated divorce, a house move, and I had the responsibility of having two girls at home who needed me to be especially strong at that time. Superman, I was not, and yet I delayed crying for help.
Aficionados of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs will understand what I was going through. I was surviving, fire fighting, postponing – not thinking straight.
This tends to be situation of the most of the men we now deal with via telephone and emails. The building blocks of their personal “hierarchy” are crumbling. For these men, the safety net of a family home and the nurturing capacity of love and companionship and sex is often missing. For a spell, life becomes a precarious state and everything seems to be out of joint, unfocused, basically, a mess.
Many single dads reading this will know narcotics, or booze, or watching telly, or staring glaze-eyed at porn sites…will offer only temporary relief. None of these pursuits will rebuild your damaged self-esteem. In fact most such activities can quickly turn a precarious existence into something more fragile and damaged and desperate.
Some will find (many for the first time in their lives) that mental health becomes an issue. Anxiety disorders and/or depression may emerge. These can be devastating. They are always bewildering. Social networks fragment. Friends dissipate. Self-esteem will be quietly replaced with a vague, or sometimes not so vague, self-loathing.
Isolation is the upshot of such a breakdown. Isolation can and does kill people.
So, what follows is written for isolated, doom-laden dads who are finding it difficult to see a way forward. I hope it offers a sticking-plaster to get through the first few days of the new (dis)order. It’s not a cure, by any means, and it won’t suit everyone – but the easy commandments below have all worked for me in the past.
- Deal with it – There is a pile of correspondence in your home or car. In that pile there will be at least one letter, maybe several, that you know is there and will be troubling your subconscious more than the others. At times of chaos, correspondence from the Council, Inland Revenue, Solicitors… can accumulate rapidly! Here’s what to do. Open the one that worries you most and write a reply. Tell them you are having a terrible time and that you are doing everything you can do to respond properly. If you are under the care of your GP – mention that too. (and if you are not, go and book an appointment!). And then send the letter! It’s a start…!
- Get a haircut – It’s the quickest, easiest, cheapest transformation available. You’ll feel younger, fresher, lighter. People will say positive things about you – to you. The mirror will be kinder to you. If you’re bald, go and pay for a shave and indulge in the experience.
- Do some housework – Take everything out of your bathroom/toilet and get back in there with a bottle of bleach and leave it spotless. There is probably something primeval about this particular tip, in fact I’m sure there is. It’s worth doing. Bathrooms are the easiest room in the house to clean too. This way you’ll really feel own your home. Next day you can do the kitchen, then the living room, garden…
- Look good Buy a new shirt. This may sound flippant, or trivial. It’s not. I even suggest buying something that is not your usual style. It will help you feel different, and “feeling different” has to be a good thing.
- Friendship matters – Get in touch with a friend (one friend) and thank them for the help or advice they have given in the past. My guess is you will feel you owe a few people a “thank you”. Friends won’t expect or need it, but it will make you feel better, and that’s the point. Start with one though. You will know who.
- Mornings and nights – Ten minutes before you head for bed do one or two things that will set the next day up for a positive beginning. I have got into the habit of washing out and preparing my coffee pot – it’s these simple things that take minimal effort but offer pay back the next day. Get a pile of laundry ready for the wash, make sandwiches for lunch, are other obvious suggestions.
- Hide away for a bit - Not being too hard on yourself is easier said than done. But do try and realise that you are not alone in struggling through the dark days. “Give yourself a break” has a variety of meanings – they all have merit. My guess is there won’t be one man reading this who hasn’t taken himself out of circulation for a while simply to hide away. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself doing just that. You probably need to as part of the healing process.
- Treats – Treat yourself to something. You will have at least one or two things on some mental list tucked away at the back of your mind. I’m thinking more of purchasing London Calling by The Clash on 12 inch vinyl rather than a Harley Davidson though. Turning a mid-life downer into the full-blown crisis is not recommended!
- A good walk – Go for what is known as “a serious walk”. Philosopher Soren Kiekergaard writes: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.”
- Meaning of life – Take this period in your life as an opportunity to re-evaluate; it offers a time to be honest with yourself, which is not to be ignored. You will have spent years compromising yourself in a relationship that had probably been failing for years. Asking “what do I want?” is a question so few of us ever ask. Now is the opportunity to do just that. The next “phase” of your life lies ahead. Daydream. See what emerges…
Please do let us if you have found other helpful remedies. They will make a useful addition to this particular post.
You may also be interested in reading Natasha’s post called The Mailbox Monster which deals with the stresses of marital law and family breakdown.