We are launching our series on the Experiences of Fatherhood in Washington State with the story of a panelist from the June 2018 Fatherhood Summit. Anthony Gayle, or Tony, brought the crowd to laughter and tears as he shared his fatherhood journey with us. This is his story:
I am the proud father of my son, who turned four years old in February. He is amazing and he is my everything.
Like most fathers, when I came into fatherhood I quickly had to face the fact that I knew very little about babies, raising a child, toddlers … anything. Unfortunately, I had to face that fact immediately and in the most trying time of my life. My beloved wife passed away shortly after giving birth to our son and I was now a widower and a single dad. I slept in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit next to my son for almost three months, and in that time period I learned so much from the nurses and the folks around me. I realized in those critical moments that I needed help and I read all books I could get my hands on from the library. As I read the countless books on parenting, I realized that the way I had been raised was much different than how I wanted to raise my son. I needed help. I needed support. So, as soon as I could, I reached out to parent groups, inquired about classes, additional reading, anything! This is when things got interesting.
Parent groups are really moms groups and, let’s get real, I am retired military and my vocabulary was not exactly soft and my communication style was abrupt; I struggled with transitioning from a Military Parachuting Weapon of War to a loving, nurturing, full-time father. So I looked for classes, but classes for fathers are limited and hard to come by. The difficulty of being a single dad in a world that looks for mom struck me the hardest when, one day, I was in the doctor’s office, just waiting and waiting. I was there for my son and after a while I went to the front desk and asked how much longer the wait might be and she told me, “I’m sorry! We were looking for the mother! I will let the nurse know you are here.” Oh! Wow.
This can be frustrating, but the love I have for my son is strong and motivated me to keep looking for my village of support. As we entered toddler years, it became more apparent that my son needed some extra supports to help with his developmental delays. I began asking the speech and occupational therapists to recommend literature, college classes, or conferences that I could sign up for to learn how to be a better parent. I started to attend these classes and conferences and it was at one of these gatherings where I finally found the support network, the Washington Father Network. In another opportunity to educate myself, I took part in my first fitness class, Zumba, and I was hooked! It was through this unexpected class where I found my village of parents who accepted and continue to support my unique widower situation.
As I told my story, as vulnerable and scary as it is to share, I found more connections, learned about new resources, found play groups, and found help in navigating the many complicated systems that exist for single parents of kids with special health care needs. This experience has also helped me to learn more about myself and seek help with my Traumatic Brain Injury, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, grief, and issues related to my upbringing. The most important lesson I learned in all of this, so far, is that I am not alone. You are not alone. We have a long way to go for fathers to be more visible, but we will get there with the love and support of our villages.