“It didn’t work out with me an your mom
But yo push come to shove
You were conceived in love”
– Will Smith (Just the Two of Us)
If you had told me my night would go like this, being out bowled by not one, but two six year olds, I would have never believed you. But here I was, Bomani Armah, in the middle of a suburban MD bowling alley. 4 year-old birthday parties crescendo into “how old are you!!” to our right. Twenty-somethings on double dates try to alternatively look cool and cute as they bowl to our left. Olu Armah is hurling duck-pin balls at unsuspecting pins like Aung bending fire. The projectile ricochets off of the left bumper, then the right bumper, then lines itself up right down the middle. Dela, his twin brother and partner in crime, is giving vivid play by play of the 45 seconds it takes for this ball to creep down the lane. Dela has already finished his round, scoring a full 1 point more than his Dad. Now, can they do the impossible and take the top two positions of the night? A strike from Olu puts him in 1st place by a healthy margin (considering our scores looked like impressive math test scores, but miserable bowling rounds). The ball didn’t exactly crash into the pins, more like scooted them over impolitely. But fall they did, and we all erupted like Tiger Woods winning the masters. The twenty-somethings flirting to our left, and the gang of pre-k’s and their parents on our right, roared and hi-fived Olu. As the noise quieted, and Dela rushed to reset the game, his mother Eshe Armah hands me a drink. “You suck at this” she says through a laugh. “Yet someone how I’m still 11 points better than you!” I snicker back. Cheers. On to the next round.
I am fortunate, because this is what single parenting looks like at least every other month for me. I’ve seen horrible fights over custody, child support, education, religion, and just residual animosity from failed relationships. Having bitter squabbles in court, and neutral child transfer locations assigned by a judge, was not the reality I had day dreamed about. It is a blessing to not have landed in one of those situations. Wish I could credit myself for that stroke of fortune but my failed marriage has proven I’m not that good at predicting relationships.
Eshe and I have embraced a great reality. Few people who raise children are truly single parents. It’s always been about partnering with immediate and extended family, friends, the school, the extra-curricular programs like Boys & Girls Club and martial arts. Both Eshe and I know the benefits of a strong nuclear family. My parents have been married almost five decades. To many outsiders they look like Cliff and Claire, and I can tell you that from inside, they look like the Huxtables as well. Eshe’s wonderful grandparents stepped in and filled any gaps in her nuclear family. Neither of us want our children to be without that strong family unit, where they are surrounded by love and understanding. Our children don’t benefit from us fighting. They don’t gain anything from being told, “you get that from your mother”, or hearing information about their parent that is too grown and too judgmental for a child. That’s why I am glad we have reconciled our relationship, and put conscious effort (and a few prayers) into keeping it that way.
The most important step that I made in being a single parent is reconciling my relationship with Eshe. This is different than reconciling our love or our romance. Underneath everything we had a relationship. A relationship that created an environment so healthy that at one point we thought it would be a great idea to raise children in it. It hurts my heart that my sons can’t come running to me on nights they have tales of their latest nightmar. I’m nervous about the disadvantages my sons might have in their mom and I not sharing a room, and being able to discuss, debate and work out strategy for each of them in the wee hours of the morning. I still want to be that parent, no matter how complicated or limited that is going to look now. This has led us to meeting at least monthly, just the two of us, and discussing our beautiful and brilliant children. It is a work in progress, but so is everything else in the world.
One of my mentors told me I was wise to end my marriage when I did. He had stayed in a relationship for the kids, and ended up robbing every one involved of valuable time they could have been truly happy and themselves. He didn’t want to be the “no good black man” who didn’t take care of his kids. It was better to be separated now, he told me, and grow into who we are as individuals. As long as we keep a close partnership with raising our sons, everyone will be stronger for it.
So, as well as keeping up with their reading assignments, their martial arts classes, and watching their favorite cartoons with them, I try to stay conscious of how their mother and I are getting along. I’m learning to avoid blaming either of us. There is a natural inclination to blame perceived shortcoming or defects in a child’s development on her parenting skills, or my parenting skills, or the lack of a two parent household. Another break through for me was just realizing that children are weird, and they develop at a pace that has no regard for schedule or expectations.
Learning to recognize and embrace the “inconvenience of being a single parent” has also been an important lesson. As far as sacrifices go this is nothing. My children are a blessing, and not a burden. For me, they are a conscious choice I made. They did not ask to be here or cause the rift between their mother and I. I can afford to live a really good life without spending money and leisure time as if I was single. Part of me doesn’t even miss going out on Friday night with my for-real-for-real single friends. When it comes down to it, I’m in a committed relationship with two wonderful 6 year olds, and their Mom. I’m still her first call when the car breaks down, if she has my children in it or not. It doesn’t do me any good for something bad to happen to her. We are on the same team, and our children need to know that. Even if our team can’t beat the two of them in bowling.