Nanaimo bucked the national trend when data released by Statistics Canada this week showed the number of single parent households in this city had dropped by three per cent. While the overall figures shrunk, the amount of male parent homes had risen by 17 per cent since 2006.
Being a single father in Nanaimo comes with a host of unique challenges, including a lack of resources compared to those available for women.
Males also face their own set of psychological hurdles that can be difficult to overcome without support. When finding a mate and putting an end to single life, men with kids have their own struggles.
Life as a single parent is not necessarily easy for either sex and women continued to be almost four times more likely to raise a child on their own, despite their overall representation shrinking by some seven per cent since the last census.
"You can call it discrimination when the resources that are available to single mothers aren't there for fathers," said 34-year-old single dad Karson Collins, who works as an apprentice heavy duty mechanic to support his nine-year-old son. "I think a single parent should be a single parent."
Collins moved to Nanaimo four years ago to find a community he described as closed. With the aim of providing for his son, landing a job and building social connections, they've been the most challenging years of his life.
His prospects improved after leaving the city in favour of a rural location near the airport, but the lack of help for single fathers has not made it easy.
That struggle has been shared by the Nanaimo Men's Resource Centre. While the need has risen, the funding available to support men's programs has been slashed by the province.
According to Theo Boere, who chairs the NMRC management committee, a decade's worth of lobbying to increase resources available to men has fallen on deaf ears.
After the economic downturn in 2008, the group's funding was halved. That's unfortunate, Boere said, because the centre is all too dependent on government dollars.
When the time comes to make cuts, "fathers and men are at the bottom of the list."
"Dads also need support groups and networking places where they can share information and feel comfortable, such as a mother goose program for dads," he said. "The one thing that I hear over and over again, the few single dads who sort of brave going to that kind of a group very quickly don't really feel welcome and don't stay."
For men it can often be difficult to admit to needing support. That's why Nanaimo counsellors like John Taylor work to convince their male clients that seeking help can be a sign of strength.
The lack of resources means single fathers are forced to build connections on their own, Taylor said, but a messy divorce can lead to self-esteem issues and that can stand in the way of building those networks.
"Socially we're usually not as adept as women at making those connections," Taylor said, adding that society in general can be stand-offish towards single dads.
Clinical counsellor Mark Giesbrecht agreed.
"It's challenging to take that role on and still get a sense of identity, a sense of purpose," he said. "Our system is not really set up for men to be in that caretaker role."
When it comes to dating and making efforts to escape the single life, the experts say 'wait.'
Working past the transition to single life can be a challenge itself, but once fathers feel secure about themselves and the welfare of their children, taking that next step can also be a daunting ordeal.
Tamara Hide, owner of Island Introductions, said single fathers often seek the same things a mother would in a relationship. For some women, that can be a turn off. "Women aren't looking for a nurturer for their children," she said, adding that single dads tend to favour independent women.
NANAIMO CENSUS NUMBERS FOR 2011
- 915 130 single father families, up by
- 55 with three or more kids
- Seven per cent fewer single mother families with 3,325
- 6,715 married couples with kids at home
- Common laws with kids at home 1,295
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