Something is going on in the publishing world. There’s been a sudden slew of books focused on fatherhood. Author Simon Kettlewell created something of a storm with Eternity Leave, his novel about stay at home dad life and the Music, Football Fatherhood crew will shortly publish its opus, simply titled Dad (that said, the MFF guys have crowdfunded Dad because of a lack of interest from publishers). Into this mix comes a book called Single Dad by Harry Borden, a collection of photographic portraits of men who are raising families on their own.
Single dads are very much overlooked. About 8% of all single parent households in the UK are headed by men so they make up a sizeable minority, yet they are largely invisible. The reasons why steadily become clear in the book, although more about that in a moment.
Single Dad has a very simple format. Harry Borden, who has worked for publications including Vogue, Time and The New Yorker, has photographed 48 single parent families, mostly in their homes but occasionally in a different location such as a park. Each family has one photograph and a short, written testimony explaining what their situation is and how the dad came to parent on his own.
There is Neil with his children Kiwa and Ngaire. He became a single dad in 2015 when his partner, Jeng, died. Neil’s story is striking because he talks about how he worries about being seen as weak in the workplace.
There is also Nate and his two children, Vey and Dexter. Nate says he loves sharing “every precious moment” with his kids. He says he is proud of his kids and hopes they will be proud of him one day too.
Nav, meanwhile, became a single dad after breaking up with the mother of his son, Eisa. He described it as a “rollercoaster” and had to give up full-time employment. Nonetheless, he describes fatherhood as a “privilege” and stated: “My son has bought meaning to my life that I never had the right to expect.”
Other subjects include well-known bereavement activist Benjamin Brooks-Dutton (dad to Jackson) whose wife was killed when she was struck by a car that mounted the pavement she was walking along. Rick, who is both a dad and stepdad, became a solo parent when his wife Holly died after a 14-month battle with cancer. David has been raising his daughter Ruby since she was 10 weeks old, his wife Laurel losing her battle with bowel cancer at that point.
All these stories have one thing in common: Loss. This, I feel, is one of the reasons why single dads are overlooked. People in relationships, be they married or otherwise, don’t want to face the realities of divorce, relationship break up or death. It makes them uncomfortable.
The other challenge single dads face, a challenge I have faced as the main carer for my kids (albeit within a marriage) is that gender roles are very entrenched. Many people don’t like to have their perceptions challenged. There is still an outdated belief that women should provide care and don’t like it when confronted with evidence that men are just as good at caring for kids as women.
In fact the foreword to Single Dad is written by none other than Sir Bob Geldof. In two pages he provides an absolutely blistering account of his experiences of the family court system. Geldof explains that a lawyer offered him the following advice:
“Whatever you do, never say to the court that you love your children. You’re a man, they’ll just think you’re being over-emotional and unstable. You’ll lose.”
The fathers in Single Dad challenge these perceptions. Not only are these men caring for their children, but they are often doing so in tough circumstances. There are a couple of surrogate dads in the book, but the majority are widowed, divorced or been through a break-up and had to navigate their children through these waters as well.
Of course, Single Dad does more than celebrate the dads, it celebrates their children as well. They, too, have come through some challenging times sometimes witnessing the best and worst of human nature at a very young age.
That’s what Borden, himself a separated dad with four kids, set out to do with the book: Challenge. He wanted to challenge outdated notions of masculinity and show men could make wonderful carers for their kids.
There is, by the way, no overt celebration in this book. None of the subjects claims they are doing a better job than a single mother. Indeed, Borden makes a point of dedicating the book to his children and their mothers. The book merely shows how single dads quietly get on with raising their kids.
In the brief introduction, Borden writes about his own father, a man detached from family life. he goes on to say he pities his father and that he must have “felt so alone” throughout his life, with no meaningful connection to his offspring.
Borden stresses the men in his book each have a different story; “but all share a love and commitment for their children.” he adds that they “confound the simplistic notion of fathers as ridiculous.”
I don’t know if there are plans to release this title in paperback, but the version I have is a beautifully-bound hardback printed on very high quality paper. This possibly explains why the book is on the pricier end of the spectrum (Don’t get the wrong idea, you don’t need to sell off any Bitcoins to buy a copy, you get change out of twenty quid). Nonetheless, it’s worth every penny.
The best of mankind can be found in this book. Single Dad is well worth a read and will enhance any bookshelf.
Single Dad by Harry Borden is published by Hoxton Mini Press (see website here). It is hardback, has a cover price of £17.95 and is widely available from all good book retailers.