Once in a blue moon, a special someone crosses our path, without knowing they present as a teacher in our lives showing us how we can be better people.
Often enough they do this just going about their everyday business, doing what is normal to them, but in fact is extraordinary to us.
Michael Ray is a single father who has been raising his six-year-old daughter, Charlie, alone for the last four years. His love and dedication to his daughter is nothing short of phenomenal.
With an exceptionally big heart, his attitude and approach to fatherhood are remarkable. Through his stories, we look forward to seeing how Michael can inspire all of us to live from the heart and without reservation despite the challenges or obstacles life can throw us.
The bond you have with Charlie is pretty magical, what is the secret?
Charlie is the most fun I’ve ever had, it seems like I waited my whole life for this kid to show up (I was 49 years old when Charlie was born) so I think our bond comes from no expectations apart from enjoying each other. I am fortunate enough not to consider myself a true single parent as I have my wonderful mother and sister to rely on. I don’t have the usual stresses of conflicting priorities (or the many stresses co-parenting can bring). If I need to be at work or anywhere else I know without a doubt I have the support of family to care for Charlie.
When Charlie’s Mum was still part of her life and we had shared custody I was pretty sick at the time and my future wasn’t guaranteed so I organised my workload being self-employed and my treatment to be able to allow four days a week completely for Charlie and I being together and after struggling with the time apart and worried I may not even get to see Charlie grow up during that period I realise that the most important thing is being together and having fun as you never know what tomorrow brings.
We are connected at the hip (always has to have some contact with me), I often wonder why I pay for two seats at the movies because without fail Charlie ends up on my lap and every night Charlie crawls into my bed without fail. We are always together to the point if I turn up somewhere without her before I even get a hello it’s “where’s Charlie?” the look of disappointment on my “so-called friends” can be a bit challenging to my self-esteem??
I’ve ceased being Michael and now I’m “Charlie’s dad”. Charlie even presents the trophies at the powerlifting competitions I compete in. Setting a new national record and receiving my trophy from Charlie was another embarrassing crying moment in front of all those big strong tough guys (I still get teased about it to this day)
Sunday’s are our special days that nothing gets in the way of. Charlie is Boss on Sunday’s for everything, where we go, what we wear, what we do even what we eat. Thankfully she is a fun boss, although by the end of the day I could really do with a Dad nap.
It’s common Fathers may find it hard to show emotions to their daughters, do you have any tips that can help?
My dad was a man’s man who drummed into me to open doors, carry bags and always defend women but also not to be a sook, toughen up don’t cry and every macho platitude you can think of. The moment this little girl came into my life I’ve done more sobbing and shed more tears of joy and pride in the 6 years Charlie’s been here than the 50 years before. It’s embarrassing (Charlie even asks “are you going to do a happy cry again dad?” thankfully the eye rolls haven’t started yet!) and more than a few times I’ve had complete strangers give me hugs!
Just remembering Charlie’s first day at kindy, school or even picturing some long off distant milestone or event and I’m a teary mess! At Charlie’s ballet concerts I became “emotionally incontinent”, a blubbering mess!
My advice to dads is to NEVER miss a chance to show your true emotions, don’t hold them back for special occasions or use them as a reward for certain behaviours. Never let your child feel there’s anything wrong with your emotions (or theirs), take the time to explain to them that you’re crying because you’re happy or sad or whatever, never dismiss your child’s emotions as silly or try to stop them voicing them because if Charlie’s ever sad the last thing I want is for her to hear my voice in her head telling her “you’re just being silly”.
I want to be the first person she wants to speak to about whatever she’s feeling good, bad or confused whether she’s seeking advice, opinion, support or just a sounding board, in our relationship we will hopefully always have each other.
What is the biggest parenting stigma you’d like to voice your opinion on?
That men aren’t every bit as capable as women at parenting. The whole “only a mother’s love” stuff is so sexist and dismissive of a father’s bond it needs to go to the same place as “a woman’s place is in the home”.
I’m not sure about anyone else’s parenting methods but I’ve come to believe firstly decide what sort of person I want Charlie to be (and to want to associate with) then set the example. Charlie mightn’t hear everything I tell her but she see’s everything I do! She’s always watching how I interact with people, how I try to help others and what impresses me. Also, I’m the example of how Charlie should expect to be treated by any future partner. I usually bring Charlie home flowers every few weeks in the hope she’ll expect this sort of treatment and if I ever raise my voice to Charlie I just imagine how I’d feel if I heard someone else speak to her like that and tell her to make me say sorry.
Everyone talks about raising children, with Charlie and I, it’s definitely the other way around! This kid has turned me into the best, happiest version of me. Never in a million years would I constantly examine my behaviours impact on anyone other than myself and now, how I’m perceived by this kid is everything to me!
What words of advice can you give to single dads out there?
Don’t worry about anything other than being there for your kids, forget about everything that leads you to becoming a single dad and live in the moment because that’s where your kid is. Live life through your kid’s eyes, don’t try to calm them down or dampen their excitement of things that have become ordinary and common place to you. Wind them up; get them to fever pitch about jumping off a diving board, going on a roller coaster or even watching a thunderstorm.
Realise there are only so many first time experiences and all of them deserve to be celebrated with the same amount of enthusiasm as the moon landing. One of my favourite quotes on parenting is “great parenting lies in the ability to make the ordinary extraordinary”
And the opposite side is you’ll never know when your kid won’t want to climb into your bed in the middle of the night or when she’ll prefer to do her own ponytail or nail polish. I’m sure there’ll even come a time when Charlie will want to spend her Sunday with her mates and I’ll never know when that last time is so I’m going to celebrate every time till then because nothing is forever good or bad exist in a moment then gone apart from the memories so decide how you want to be remembered, what stories you want your kid to tell your grandkids about you then behave accordingly, live up to the superhero worship only a kid has for their dad because they deserve it!! (and so do you!)
What has been the most difficult part of being a single dad and how did you overcome it?
Apart from having to fight for the right to go backstage at Charlie’s ballet concert cause I am a male and constantly struggling with the lack of unisex toilets and change tables and some ignorant comments about “every little girl needs her mum” can’t really say there’s been any difficult part to being a single dad. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people Charlie and I encounter are so supportive and complimentary it makes me wonder, is the bar for fathers set so low the fact that I can braid her hair, do her nails and not drop her on her head make me a superman??
I’ve loved every minute of being Charlie’s dad right from the start. The night feeds, the burping, the nappies, the baths, the learning to walk, talk, ride a bike and everything in-between. Charlie has just been the easiest, happiest kid right from day one and as much as I’d like to claim credit for some incredible parenting skills, it’s been nothing but blind luck and an enormous sense of gratitude to be a dad.
If I was a genie and could grant you three wishes, what would they be? (And why…)
- For my dad and my brother to have lived long enough to have met Charlie
- Being 50 years older than Charlie I often wonder if I’ll get to see grandkids
- For Charlie to find true happiness and carry with her the sense of how loved she was and all the memories of our amazing moments