From the staff

Column: A single father experiences some challenges, much joy

spowell@newsobserver.comFebruary 21, 2013 

It is 7:45 a.m., and my dog, Sammy, sits at the bottom of the stairs waiting anxiously for me to appear. I grab my keys and his leash, and we’re out the front door.

Rushing a dog is impossible, but in the mornings, I try. We walk past a neighborhood townhouse with the front window decorated with stickers, and with a child’s wagon, a Tonka truck and a miniature basketball goal out front. This is where Matt Utz and his 3-year-old son, Tyler, live. Just as I clear the end of the building, the door bursts open and out charges Tyler, yelling “Sammy!”

“Where’s your dad?” I ask, just as Matt rushes out and scoops up his son.

“Come on, buddy, Sammy has to go for his walk,” Matt says. He looks at me apologetically, and I give him what I hope is a reassuring look.

Walking my dog in the morning before I leave for work may be tough some days, but I know it’s nothing compared with what Matt has to do.

He’s a single father.

A Pennsylvania native, Matt, 30, has lived in my northeast Raleigh neighborhood for five years. He became a single dad a year and a half ago, when he and Tyler’s mother separated. She now lives in Rocky Mount.

My image of a single parent used to be someone like me – a single mother. I remember chaotic mornings when my three children were younger, getting us all ready for school and work on time.

But as my now-adult daughter recently explained to me, more and more fathers are the ones doing the single parenting now. According to 2011 Census Bureau data, 15 percent of single parents nationwide are men – about 1.7 million fathers.

Few of us set out to raise our children alone. My father died when I was 7, so I knew what it was like growing up in a single-parent home.

After my first marriage failed, I remarried. But my second marriage failed, too.

Matt’s own parents divorced when he was young. So when his own relationship was ending, the couple agreed to work to keep Tyler’s life as normal as possible. He spends half of his week in Rocky Mount and half in Raleigh.

Matt, a home-care representative for medical-care equipment, acknowledges that there are challenges. Time management is difficult, and there are the normal parental trials – dinner, discipline, bedtime.

A village of help

When I was raising my kids, well-meaning people often offered unsolicited advice. Now I try hard to resist the urge to offer my thoughts.

Still, I believe it takes the whole village to raise a child, whether this means keeping a watchful eye if Tyler starts to run across the street or making sure he gets home safely if he chases Sammy.

When I see Matt and Tyler together, I remember the theme song from “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” a 1960s movie and later a TV sitcom. In the theme song, “Best Friend,” Harry Nilsson sings that he wants to tell us about his best friend, whom he describes as “a warm-hearted person who’ll love me till the end. … He’s a one boy cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy.”

This is Matt.

A magnet for children

With the window decals and toys in the yard, his home is a magnet for children.

“All I have to do is step outside with Tyler, and he draws other kids to our door,” Matt says.

He speaks proudly of Tyler learning to ride his bike. He’s grateful to the neighbors who helped Tyler learn he has to look for cars before he runs across the parking lot to play.

Tyler has his own dog now. His dad gave him the pet when he turned 3.

As I write this, it is an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon. When Sammy and I went for our walk, Matt was in the yard, surrounded by kids.

I watched him gently put a bicycle helmet on Alia, 4, one of Tyler’s playmates. Other toddlers, including Tyler, rode in riding toys.

I was reminded of a scene from Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.”

This is a good scene.

Sharon D. Powell is a news assistant for The News & Observer’s Eastern Wake News and Clayton News-Star.

spowell@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4855

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