I recently went out a couple of times with a single dad whose daughter happens to be the same age as mine. We spent our first date talking about our kids and the challenges of parenting — and realizing we have a lot in common. For example, we both feel perfectly satisfied having spent our upbringings attending mediocre public schools, running around the neighborhood on weekends, and watching TV on school nights. Yet we stress about getting our kids into the right kindergarten and constantly schlep our unappreciative preschoolers to museums and They Might Be Giants concerts. “What’s up with that?” we both wondered aloud. I liked this guy. But when he started in on his daughter’s former ballet career, I was a goner. “That class was the best hour of my entire week,” he said, glowing. “I could not get enough of these 3-year-old girls trying so hard to be little ballerinas. It was the cutest thing in the world.” Awkward silence. It was my turn to speak, but instead I was staring. I was staring not at his gym-toned shoulders or adorable, open smile. I was staring at him.
Most of the men I date are dads, and that is by design. Of course, it’s practical to date other parents. Everyone’s lifestyle is similar. Because moms and dads tend to be less cool than the general population, there are lower expectations to carry on a conversation about indy film, the hottest dumpling joint or world travel. But mostly I gravitate toward men who are fathers because of just that — they’ve gone through that colossal metamorphosis that only parenthood induces. There is a warmth and wholeness that men without children rarely possess.
Another perk: you know what you’re getting. A man’s parenting profile is about as transparent of a resume as you’ll find. We can spend all day scrutinizing the way a guy dresses, how he orders his food or how long it takes him to text us after sleeping with us for the first time. But the best measure of his character, personality and partnership potential is who he is as a father.
I’ve met many men whose displays of parenting were aphrodisiacal. One single dad charmed me with tales of co-writing children’s books with his tween daughter with whom he regularly makes sushi, while another — an artist who took me to his latest exhibit — proudly showed me spots on canvas where he’d invited his son to take liberty with the paint brush.
I went out a couple times with a guy struggling with his troubled teenage son who suddenly came to live with him fulltime after a decade of being an out-of-state parent. He was reluctant to share details, but I was touched by the glimpse of a tenderhearted man doing his best in an impossible parenting conundrum — alone.
It’s these mentions of parental self-doubt, or fighting with exes for shared custody, or pride in a kid’s candid insights that showcase what kind of man a a guy is — and what it might like to be with him.
While out for dinner with one adoring father a few months back, I confessed that I am a wimp at bedtime, often caving to my kids’ stalling antics. “Not me,” he said. “I say good night, and that’s it. I don’t care how much they cry.” Impressed, I asked where that steel came from. “I don’t give a FUCK,” he said. “That’s my time, and they need to go to bed.”Again, I was speechless. I may have uncrossed, then recrossed my legs.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.