One parent is still a family

Words to the wise for a single parent from the child of one, this week in Salon's reader community, Table Talk.

Published October 19, 2007 7:02PM (EDT)

Family Life

And baby makes two

Sky Bluesky -- 08:51 am Pacific Time -- Oct 17, 2007 -- #8 of 54

You're not like every other family, so why pretend? There's nothing to be ashamed of. Don't bother trying to put on the impression of a "normal" family when no family is normal.

Here's the secret. (I'll tell you in a second where I get my information.) Everybody's family is weird and has its own unusual dynamics. Moms and dads divorce, there are aunts and uncles and grandparents who act as caretakers, there are stepmoms and stepdads. Adopted kids. Kids with disabilities. Kids where one is in special ed and one is in mainstream classes. Alcoholic parents. Disinterested parents. Parents who work too much and never see their kids. Kids adapt to whatever circumstances they're in, and that's what "normal" is to them.

I was raised by a single dad. My mother died when I was 10 years old, leaving my father as our breadwinner and caretaker. He worked long shifts in the steel mill in Detroit and left us three boys (14, 13 and 10 when it started) to our own devices. We survived, thanks to watchful neighbors (who would keep an eye on us from across the street and across the alley), Stouffer's boil-in-bag meals, TV dinners, and cable TV.

My dad was, in some ways, a very traditional Mexican-American man who expected his wife to stay home and care for the kids while he went out and earned money. That all changed when mom died. Suddenly, he was not only the guy who brought home the bacon but the guy who went with us to school awards presentations and posed for the pictures. He was all I had. So I missed my mother, sure, but I was grateful that my dad did as much as he did to watch over us and care for us.

I knew I didn't have a mom, obviously. Dad wasn't perfect, but he did what he could. He worked every Christmas for years, so we started opening presents early Christmas morning so we could do it with him. By early, I mean the stroke of midnight -- after he got home from his shift at the steel mill. Then we'd go back to sleep, wake up a few hours later and play with our toys all Christmas Day while he slept.

I remember going moonlight bowling at the Thunderbowl lanes in Detroit. We'd eat dinner, we'd nap for a couple of hours, and then he'd take us bowling at 11. We'd stop by the White Castle on the way home for a late-night snack of "slider" burgers and fries.

None of that stuff is "normal" for kids -- what parent in their right mind wakes their kids up in the middle of the night? To go bowling?! But it was the "normal" we had, and it worked for us. It'll work for Bea, too.

Is there a parents group around? Surely there are other single parents out there besides you? I know that there were single parents in the parents group I attended, and no one said boo to them. They were parents, same as us.

My folks were separated at some point and I remember trying to put down both my mother's and my father's address on the form. I tried my best to explain that sometimes I lived with my mom and sometimes I lived with my dad. It made sense to me -- why didn't it make sense to her?

Anyway, I'll shut up now. I just wanted to share that, as a kid who grew up without a mom for half of my childhood, I turned out OK. I loved my dad for what he did, and that is what I remember from my childhood. I didn't wake up every morning and think "Jeez, I don't have a mother. There must be something wrong with me." I had my dad, and that was just the way our family worked.

Best of Table Talk is an ongoing feature of Salon's vibrant community forum. Older posts of the week may be found in TT. Want to join the discussion? Sign up here.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------