Father’s Days

A single dad with ADHD is doing his loving best to make sure his children’s lives turn out better than his own.

Single father walking with ADHD child toward lake at sunset
Single father walking with ADHD child toward lake at sunset

It’s 10 o’clock at night: Do you know where your children are? I know where mine are, but, as a single parent with attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD), I’m not sure what they’re doing. Sabrina probably went to sleep after I tucked her in, but I’d better check on Nicolas. Sure enough, as I enter his bedroom, I hear a rattle of papers. I give him a hug, slide my hand underneath the pillow, and gently lift his upper body to find a stack of scrap papers between his chest and his bed. It’s two hours past his bedtime.

Nicolas is nine, and I would be willing to let him stay up later than 8 o’clock, if he would only stop trying to beat the sunrise every morning. I take away the papers and pen, and explain that he can have them back in the morning if he sleeps past 6:30.

I used to think I could trust him to fall asleep, especially since I began giving him a little melatonin before bed. Then, the other day, while changing his sheets, I pulled out the bed frame and saw a patch of carpet underneath littered with papers, books, dirty clothes, and toys. When I confronted him with what I had found, he shrugged and told me that he forgot the stuff was there. I knew better, which is why I was now checking on him. Maybe I would have checked on him earlier, or noticed the piles under his bed sooner, if I didn’t have ADHD.

My Son, Myself

Every time I look at my son, my “mini-me,” I feel pride, love, and fear. Pride because he has overcome distractions and hyperactivity well enough to earn almost straight As and improve his social skills. Love because I see in him what I once was; fear, for the same reason. I do not want him to end up like me in 15 years —trailing a string of disappointments, broken promises, and unfulfilled dreams. I want him to hunt down success, grab it by the horns, and wrestle it to the ground. I want him to unlock his potential and, most important, to be happy.

Nicolas has the challenges that I had at his age — he’s shorter than anyone else in his grade, lacks self-confidence, and he has a mind that races even faster than his emotions. I imagine what he might be like without ADHD when I watch Sabrina. Everything comes easily to her. But then he wouldn’t be Nicolas. When he recently handed me a poem he wrote, I remembered a poem I wrote at the same age. I went from poetry to writing song lyrics, and I think about how my dreams — and the music still within me – have gone to waste. But I can help Nicolas and Sabrina realize their dreams.

[Free Download: Parenting Guide for Moms & Dads with ADHD]

Faced with laundry, dirty dishes, meal plans, grocery shopping, homework, teacher conferences, doctor appointments, judo lessons, Girl Scouts, and baseball, I think that being a single parent must be easier for someone without ADHD.

Movin’ On Up

It’s 10:37 now, and I’m folding one of my daughter’s shirts — robin’s egg blue with a pink ladybug on the front. I think back to the first year or so without my wife, to all three of us hanging on by a thread. Life wasn’t easy: diapers for Sabrina, daycare for two, and an hour-plus commute each way to my job. Still, I managed to harness the energy of my not-yet-diagnosed ADHD, fixed up our house, and sold it for a profit. We moved into a nicer one, in a better school district and closer to work.

A year ago, on the day I was diagnosed with ADHD, I lost my job. Maybe it was the stress of SPwADHD — Single Parenting with ADHD — that crippled my ability to avoid distraction. Or maybe the company was just looking for a budget cut. With no job, no wife, a small unemployment check, and two kids, I felt more alone than ever. The symptoms of my ADHD worsened, as did my son’s.

Life Goes On

So where are we now? In the same small town. A bit of my hair is falling out, and my dreams are receding with each passing year. But now I have a job that I enjoy, and, most important, I have my kids. I have finished my first year of teaching reading to at-risk high school kids, some of whom have ADHD. One day, while watching me pace the floor and then tap my foot at full speed after finally sitting down, a student asked me, “What is it, Mr. Ullman? You got ADD or something?” I told them the truth, giving some of them a way to identify with me.

[Calling Dads with ADHD: How to Have a Calm, Loving Relationship with Your Child]

It’s nearly 11 now, and, as a incurably poor sleeper, I know I have a long night ahead of me. The children, though, need their sleep. As I slip quietly into their bedrooms, I am relieved to find that my precious Nicolas and Sabrina are in dreamland. Godspeed.