Marquez Kemp holds his foot up so his father Markevius Kemp, can tie his shoe as younger brother Micah looks on. Natrice Miller/Freelance
Photo: Natrice Miller
Photo: Natrice Miller

Single-father families outpace ones led by single mothers

This story was originally published June 19, 2011, on myAJC.com.

Andy Kuklinski and his son will likely spend this Father’s Day with friends, cooking barbecue and, well, just having fun. Except for time around their apartment complex swimming pool, it will be an otherwise uneventful day. But this 40-year-old Dunwoody dad doesn’t need much these days to be happy.

Just being with little Yusuf, 5, is more than enough.

In managing the day-to-day care and supervision of his son, Kuklinski recently joined the ranks of an increasing number of metro Atlanta single fathers.

According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the rise in the number of Georgia families led by single fathers in the past decade outpaced the rise in single-mother families for the first time since 1970.

Indeed, among the fastest growing types of households were those that include a father and kids without a wife, which were up some 45 percent, compared to those with a mother and kids but no husband, which showed a 35 percent jump.

Experts say the numbers reflect not only a shift in court and societal attitudes about child-rearing but women for whom motherhood has become less important.

It shows that perhaps more men are able and willing to be primary caretakers —- and more women are recognizing that they don’t want to or can’t, and are therefore letting their children go, said Julia McQuillan, a sociology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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McQuillan said that society has this notion that work is very important to men and parenting is very important to women, but fatherhood is very important to many men.

“To me, this trend suggests that not only do men say it’s important, they are doing it, ” she said.

Matthew Weinshenker, an assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University, said the state trend mirrors what’s happening nationally, where the number of single dads has almost doubled from 1.5 million to 2.79 million since 1990. In addition, those same census figures, he said, show single dads are older than single moms on average and have higher incomes.

Weinshenker noted that what the census cannot detect is that some “single fathers” are gay men raising children with or without a same-sex partner. Estimates of how many are vary widely, he said, “but there is little doubt that increased acceptance of children raised by gay parents is a small but noticeable part of the rise in single fatherhood.”

Whether they are the sole custodial parent like Kuklinski or share custody like Jabril Mujahid-Alexander and Tom Morgan, more men are willing to bring home the bacon, fry it and feed the kids if they have to.

For his part, Kuklinski said he’s been the primary caregiver of his son since January, when he and his wife started divorce proceedings after a decade of marriage. “It’s been the best six months of my life, ” he said recently.

Ziad Minkara of Kennesaw became sole caretaker of his children three years ago. He admits the family had to make adjustments.

“When something like this happens, your whole world stops, but you shift gears and go forward with the minimum impact on the daily life of the kids, ” Minkara said. “That’s what’s important.”

Minkara, a real estate investor, is the father of 12-year-old twin boys and a 14-year-old daughter.

“Having to juggle everything I do and still be there for them has been hard but rewarding at the same time, ” he said.

Until recently, Morgan, 44, of Sandy Springs, also had full custody of his two daughters.

“It was just kind of a hellish period, ” he said immediately following the divorce from his wife.

For three years, Morgan said, he and the girls went it alone. When their mother became more stable, he said, they decided to share custody. “She has them half the time, I have them half, ” he said. “It’s not easy, but it works.”

Although there are more single fathers than ever, dads say they still get odd stares when people find out they are the primary caregiver.

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Jim Higley, who recently won the title of “world’s greatest dad” in a national contest, said he regularly encounters people who seemed puzzled and intrigued by his decision to raise his children alone.

Higley, widely known as the “Bobblehead Dad” from his weekly parenting column in Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal, took over sole parenting responsibilities of his children about five years ago, when he and his wife separated and then divorced.

When he first assumed that role, Higley said he tried to be supermom and superdad.

“It was an impossible task, and I constantly found myself falling short, ” he said. “Somewhere along the way, I realized that, in order for me to give my kids what they required, I simply needed to focus on being the parent my kids needed me to be.”

Higley said that once he stopped worrying about how others saw him, he was able to focus on his kids and, depending on their needs, either be soft and nurturing or hard-nosed and firm.

Although not that different from many of the challenges single mothers face, single fatherhood doesn’t come without its struggles.

For instance, Mujahid-Alexander of Tucker, who shares custody with their mother of his 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, said he had to turn down a swimming outing recently for his son because he didn’t believe he could watch both kids at the same time. And Kuklinski said he has had to give up a few dates.

Despite the challenges, they said giving up that place in their children’s lives was unfathomable.

“I grew up in a two-parent home. I have no concept of what it would be like without two parents and I could not see my children growing up like that, ” Mujahid-Alexander said. “That wasn’t acceptable.”

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