I tell all young, new fathers: "Be Dad. Never try to compete with who and what Mom does. Not your job." I stand by that statement 100 percent.
A month ago, restaurants, florists and third-grade school projects all spiked in anticipation of Mother's Day. I am not hating "good job" Mom. However, I am an advocate for single dads, and I want to tell the other single dads that Mother's Day shouldn't be the yardstick you use to measure how well you are doing as a father. Come Sunday, you may not have dinner reservations, and the media may not have recurring stories and dialogue about you. A card or ugly tie might be the only thing you receive, if you receive anything at all, and that is OK. Why?
Well, because parenting isn't about accolades. Though it's nice when you receive them, "props" aren't the end goal. Pats on your back aren't why you sacrifice or toil or worry or protect or pay for or do many of the things you do that no one—including your child—may ever see. You do them all because it is your job, plain and simple.
Your job requirements as a parent boil down to putting someone else before yourself at all times, to making something more important than your selfish desires: Staying in and going over algebra homework instead of going out to drink with your friends. Sitting through dance rehearsals at school over calling a cute girl back. These are the hardest things to do—initially—but with time, you learn how to make them second nature.
This also applies to your counterpart and, in some instances, mortal enemy in parenting: Mom. That's right: Mom may have her own selfish agenda that she is working toward accomplishing in raising your son or daughter, and it doesn't involve you. That is a very real and unfortunate side effect of being a single dad: The vision you have for your child's life may not be reciprocated.
There is no remedy for that, either. It is just an ugly truth that may lie beneath the surface as you raise your son or daughter. My hope is that it does not, and that you work in a collective effort dedicated to developing the very best human being possible. If that isn't happening, then concentrate on your son or daughter and the rest will come.
This isn't unique to being single; many married couples experience a silent rivalry for their children's affection. Mom slaves away all day cooking, kissing boo-boos and coordinating playdates, and in one fell swoop she becomes a footnote once Dad walks through the door. Dad has done his best cooking, cleaning and doing his daughter's hair, only to get wailing and attitude that evaporates when Mom takes over. Only her pancakes taste good or her help with school projects is valid.
You are in a marathon, not a sprint. Stamina will determine how you fare, not style. Fatherhood does not happen in a moment; it is a collection. You may not become important to your son or daughter until he or she is 11 and going through puberty. That means you'll have to wait 11 years to pull ahead (even though this is not a competition) in the race!
Can you wait that long? That was a trick question. You have no choice. And you know what? That moment might be so pivotal that it resonates on a deeper level with your son or daughter. Your child won't remember Mom being his or her hero at 3, 4 and 5 years old. Your child will remember your being understanding as a parent when he or she was an adolescent and a teen.
Which role is more important? Neither. They are both important. They both require patience. They are both part of parenting … but one definitely feels more like a win than the other.
I am for dads to win. Even though this is not a competition.
Samuel K. Rhind is a creative writer and single father of twin girls. He is currently working on his first major screenplay and novel. He curates the site Athleteandadiva.com for other single fathers in New York. He hails from the planet of Brooklyn, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.