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.
There are no surprises dating single dads
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.
Single dads do amazing things for their kids — and that's hot
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.
How to pick up cute single dads on the playground
Are you hanging out at the playground? Maybe the local pool, or on the sidelines of soccer practice and choir concerts? In other words – you’re spending time being a parent. And where there are parents, there are other parents. And where there are parents, there are single parents. And where there are single parents, there are single dads. And some of them are hot.
I’ve noticed a steep spike in the number of good-looking, interesting-seeming fathers without wedding rings at all of the above locations in my neighborhood. Sure, part of the equation is that my hood is experiencing a gentrification boom, which means an influx of my peeps. But the other part of this scene is that the older kids get, the older marriage are. And statistically, that means more divorce.
A delicious constant supply of fresh meat to your single-mom dating pool? You betcha!
As for me, not gonna lie: I’ve found myself flirting with dads from time to time. The next time you decide — in an effort to stay awake during your son’s flute recital — to peruse the auditorium and spot a cute dude, by himself, with a naked left-ring finger, here’s what to do:
1. Hang out nearby. I mean, don’t be weird. But find a reason to get up in that. Say, encourage your kid to ride the same merry-go-round, or belly up to the same doughnut-and-coffee table after the play. Remember: If you feel awkward as a single parent in a married-parent world, he does, too. You’re doing him a favor.
2. Be friendly. But normal. Don’t be aggressive – dudes hate that. Try smiling. Seriously, that is huge. Just smile at him.
3. Say something about the kids. After all, that is the only thing you definitely have in common at this point. It’s OK if it’s boring. Face it, most talk about kids is mind-numbing. Try: “Where’s your kid go to daycare?” or “Do you rent or own your flute?”
4. Let him know you’re single. After all, at this point you’re not 100% sure he is, too. The most natural way is to talk to your kids about daddy’s house. Kids with married parents don’t have a daddy’s house. “Daddy’s house” is golden code for: “I’m divorced, and I really, really, really hope you are, too.”
Try: “Nope, no ice cream. You’re going to eat dinner soon at daddy’s house,” or “When you’re at daddy’s house I am going to be spending long days in bed with — sorry, what was your name again? — right, with this nice man, Duke.”
5. Embrace the moment. Ok, you’ve established you’re both single parents. AWESOME! Seize on this moment. Within a single second you have confirmed you’re both members of the same secret club with its own language, horrors and, well, more horrors. It’s like you are instantaneous war buddies. Except better, because you didn’t kill anyone and it’s perfectly legal for you to have sex with each other during wartime.
6. Keep smiling. So now you’re having a really fantastic conversation about retainer fees and visitation schedules that no one else by the swingset could possibly understand. That’s nice. But smiling means flirting. Do that.
7. Stop smiling. The part where he starts to tear up talking about how much he misses his kids? Act sad at those parts.
8. Time to go! You leave first. Old-fashioned, throw-back to The Rules of the 90s. Trust me on this one.
9. Be cool, but direct. “We should hang out sometime.” Smile. But not weird. Exchange phone numbers.
10. Collect your kids. Get out of there before they act like assholes and undo all your handiwork.
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.