This Life: Single dads still increasing. What’s up with that?

Becoming a single father never figured into Corey McDaniel’s plans. It is not what he would’ve chosen for himself or his sons.

But if there’s anything the 48-year-old Stone Mountain dad has learned over the past year and a half, it is that sometimes we don’t get to choose.

On May 18, 2016, without warning, McDaniel became the sole parent to his boys, Corey Jr. and Christian, who are now 14 and 11. Their mom, Allison McDaniel, just 44 years old, died suddenly after suffering complications from a seizure.

His new status puts him in what U.S. Census Bureau demographers say is an ever-increasing group — single dads.

The vast majority — 43 percent — are divorced, while 34 percent have never been married, 12 percent are separated from their spouses and 4 percent are widowers like McDaniel.

“The bottom line is we don’t just have one family form,” said Benjamin Gurrentz, a statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau. “Families are a very diverse group and tend to change over time, and that’s what our estimates show.”

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While the majority of children living with one parent still live with their mothers, the percentage living with just their father increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 16.1 percent this year, according to new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 America’s Families and Living Arrangements table package.

Overall, nearly 20 million children under age 18 live with one parent, composing 27.1 percent of all living arrangements for children under age 18. In 2007, 25.8 percent of children under age 18 lived with one parent, and in 2012, one of the highest intervening years, 28.3 percent of children under age 18 lived with one parent.

When his marriage ended two years ago after 21 years, Rob Young of Lilburn gladly took on the day-to-day task of raising his sons, ages 14 and 17.

And while the sheer number of fathers raising their children alone is a little surprising, Young said he’s starting to see it more and more.

Just as men abandon their families to “find themselves,” Young, 47, said, “I’m seeing women with children as young as 2 and 3 years old suddenly decide they have to find themselves and the hell with everybody else.”

But, he said, sometimes blessings come from the things you don’t expect.

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“On the one hand, it’s more difficult,” Young said, “but on the other hand, I’m probably a lot closer to my boys than I would’ve been.”

Gurrentz couldn’t say why more dads are stepping into this role, but experts at the Pew Research Center say the rise is likely due to a number of factors. First, there has been a marked increase in nonmarital births. Second, even though divorce rates have leveled off, they remain higher than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Some experts suggest changes in the legal system have led to more opportunities for fathers to gain at least partial custody of children.

The temptation is to be impressed that fathers are taking on the sole role of caring for their children. But why shouldn’t they?

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After thinking a lot about why this news resonated so, it occurred to me too many of us still hold tight to gender-based beliefs when it comes to child-rearing.

Women do it better. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Biology does not a good parent make. Feeling competent and getting the support you need to be your best do.

Even before his wife’s death, Corey McDaniel said he and his sons spent a lot of time together playing chess, watching movies, attending church and enjoying the outdoors with their Boy Scout troop.

In addition to filling both mother and father roles, McDaniel has no choice but to do more of the cooking and oversee the family finances, a task she was better equipped to handle because she was an accountant, but his sons are chipping in more, too.

“My boys and I have always been close since the time they were born,” he said. “That will never change as long as we are there for each other.”

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