Just over 2 years ago, I became a single dad with shared care of my then 1-year-old daughter. My journey to parenting in ‘1 Player mode’, as I call it (a reference to the ‘1 player mode’ in old school video games), has been the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced.

But it’s taught me a heck of a lot about myself, and my capacity to adapt, survive and thrive in these circumstances. As I reflect over the past few years, here are some of the things that I’ve learned:

1. I need to look after my well-being.

When I first became a single dad, I made some key decisions wrong, that can make huge differences: from the days I had my daughter, to the activities I picked outside of being a single dad, these seemingly innocent choices had a significant impact on my wellbeing.

For example, when I became a single dad I was continuing to train for bboying (breakdancing), but as my schedule was different to that of the rest of my crew I often trained by myself, which was socially isolating when I already spent a lot of time on my own when I had my daughter.

After a year of this, I made the choice to take a ‘break’ from bboying and start going to the gym to get myself out of the house and around other people on the days I didn’t have my daughter. A lot of these decisions were only determined by trial and error, but once I made those key changes, life got a lot easier to manage and finding that balance across different areas of my life improved my overall wellbeing.

2. I’m better at this than I thought I’d be!

My patience became a lot better than I thought it would be when it came to parenting on my own.

This was partially a survival mechanism, because most of the time when I have my daughter I’m on my own – there’s no back up, so I need to be as flexible as I can.

This isn’t to say I’m some sort of unflappable Zen master when things happen, but I’ve find its far easier to let things go when my daughter does something that would normally frustrate me. I’m also helped by the fact that my daughter is pretty much the awesomest kid I’ve ever met, and makes being her dad a breeze 95% of the time (although still tiring!)

3. Being a dad affects everything.

Being a single dad has taught me a lot about myself, such as how I react to pressure situations, what becomes important to me, and how I prioritise my time.

When I think about myself before and after becoming a single dad, for better or worse, most of my decisions about my life now are filtered through the lens of how this affects my life as a single dad.

However, I try to look at this as a challenge – how can I do the best I can in 1 Player mode? Even though a lot of my choices are now limited due to my circumstances, it’s an opportunity to test my creativity and resourcefulness.

4. I got into the home-zone.

I learned how to activate my ‘Domestic God Mode’ (the male equivalent of the ‘Domestic Goddess’). Prior to becoming a single dad, I was no slob, but I wasn’t the epitome of domesticity either.

Division of labour, working to your strengths/preferences, doing what needs to be done (but not the stuff that won’t be noticed) – that was the way I operated previously. Once I was running a household on my own, I had to adapt to survive as I was responsible for everything from keeping the place in a habitable state to cooking meals for myself and a growing toddler.

One thing that surprised me was that cooking went from a chore to something I actually enjoy now – definitely a first for me!

5. It’s all about my daughter.

The last and probably most important thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that my daughter was key to getting me through it all.

With all the challenges I went through when I became a single dad, from juggling full time work (and commuting to Auckland for one or two days a week every other week in my first year) and single daddying 4 nights a week, to working through the emotional fallout of coming to terms with the end of my relationship and the impact of my new identity as a single dad.

It was and still is my daughter’s unconditional love, smiles, kisses, hugs, innocence and cheekiness which gets me through each week. It is said that when parents separate, the children need both parents in their lives, but in my case I needed my daughter as much as she needed me.

5 things I've learnt since becoming a single parent dad

3 years into being a single dad, I’ve learned so much.

Although it’s been my biggest challenge to date, being part of my daughter’s life in a meaningful and ongoing way is my priority, my responsibility, and ultimately rewarding in ways that I never imagined.

For more expert advice on single parenting, check out our Grown ups: Single Parents section.

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Ben Tafau is a single dad based in Wellington with shared care of an amazing three year old daughter, and writes about his adventures playing the parenting game in '1 Player Mode' at 1PlayerDad.com where he provides practical advice for other dads walking a similar journey.

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