WASHINGTON – When Sean Alfonso couldn’t quite master the French braid, he asked a hairdresser for step-by-step instructions: He wanted it to be perfect when he styled his daughters’ hair.
“Just because a girl is raised by a man doesn’t mean they can’t have the same experience a woman would give them,” Alfonso said.
The Scottsdale man has shared custody of his daughters, ages 4 and 7, since he and his wife divorced three years ago. He describes himself as a single father – more than just a father who’s single, but one who’s playing a significant part in his children’s lives.
And there is a growing number of single fathers in the country this Father’s Day. The Census Bureau said there were about 1.7 million single fathers in the U.S. in 2011, defined as households maintained by dads who are divorced, separated, widowed or were never married.
The percentage of children living with their dads rose from 2.6 percent in 1994 to 3.7 percent in 2009, the bureau said, and about 15 percent of all single parents were men in 2011.
But while the numbers of single dads has been increasing, awareness has not, according to one father.
“There is not enough support for single fathers,” said James Rodriguez, president of Fathers and Families Coalition of America.
Rodriguez, who became a single father at age 23 to a 1-year-old and 2-year-old, said society has “misrepresented” dads to make it seem like they are in their children’s lives less than they really are.
“Being a single father, everyone asked, ‘Where is the mother?’” said Rodriguez, whose children are now adults. “Single mothers don’t get asked those questions.”
But Alfonso said he doesn’t mind that single fathers seem to fly under the radar. In fact, he sees it as a good thing.
“The fact that single dads aren’t as recognized is because we’re doing a pretty good job,” Alfonso said. “Being a good parent is kind of like being a good referee – nobody should really know you exist because it’s all about the kids.”
Alfonso did notice a lack of a network for fathers, however, which is why he started Arizona Dads in 2006.
“There weren’t any (kids’) playgroups without women, so I started a playgroup for guys,” he said.
What started with black-and-silver fliers hung in Starbucks and car washes throughout Scottsdale has grown into a network for children and their fathers.
“We talk about the same stuff women talk about – what schools are good and what clothes to get them,” Alfonso said. “We just do it over beers and wings.”
The group now has 10 to 15 regular dads who are actively involved in their children’s lives, whether married or single, stay-at-home or working.
“We can call each other anytime and we know what’s going on,” Alfonso said. “We understand … the day-to-day life of being a single dad that takes an active role in raising their kid.”
He said he hopes that more groups like Arizona Dads are formed, saying he does not know what he would do without it.
“Being a single dad comes with great responsibility but also a great reward,” said Alfonso, who plans to spend this Father’s Day barbecuing with his daughters. “It’s the best job in the world.”