A single dad's survival mode

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 Photo: Getty Images

I became a single father when my son was two and a half. My first instinct was to go into survival mode.

One thing I decided from the outset was that the government benefit payment was going to be a safety net, not a lifestyle choice. Every time I went in to the government office I treated it like a job interview. I had a shave, ironed a shirt, and was polite. They paid for me to go and study at the local TAFE, and when there was a mix-up regarding my payments, they took ownership as they I could see I had always been upfront with them.

I was incredibly fortunate initially. My younger brother, who lives in London, offered to buy into my house so I didn't have to move. He never hesitated (even after all those hidings I gave him when we were kids!). I still haven't figured out how to show him the appreciation he deserves for caring that much from the other side of the world.

We had problems. When I started working part-time I had to put my son in childcare earlier than I would have liked. And I had been a stay-at-home dad since my son had been 11 months old, so I knew the routine of looking after him, but I had no support. My parents were down south and my brothers were in London. 

But these issues were not the thing that weighed most upon my mind. I had this recurring thought that I might die in my sleep. I would get into bed at night and imagine this scenario where my son would wake in the morning with no one to feed him or change his nappy. I wondered how long it would be before someone found him.

Don't get me wrong - I had friends. But who checks in with you every day? How long before someone noticed they hadn't heard from me?

I had this acute feeling in my mind all the time that I had no backup plan.

My other sign of mental stress I would experience was when he would go to his mother's for the weekend. I would wake up in the night in a panic, wondering where he was. It was that half-asleep, half-awake state where I somehow knew he wasn't in the house, but forgot where he had gone.

Then I would realise and wonder what was wrong with me.

Eventually the financial stress started to catch up. I got in a flatmate, a guy who had lost his family in a similar manner but who didn't have the privilege of seeing his children, let alone raising them, as I did. We understood each other's situations so it worked, as we probably made allowances for each other that many flatmates would not.

Then my son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. It made things harder.

Something that kept me going was knowing a little about my family history. My great-grandmother had been widowed in 1934 with nine children, and converted her property into flats to provide an income. She always said trust in God and he will look after you. I have taken the same attitude.

The events I describe are some years back, as I was a single parent for five years before remarrying.

I was incredibly appreciative of my wife, who had no children of her own, being prepared to parent my child, who was not born to her - so much so that two years ago, we adopted a child together. Now I have the same opportunity.

Becoming a father was a privilege to me. I never planned to do it solo, but it just showed me all the more that it was what I was born for.