Local News

Single father households on the increase

SEBRING - It's suppertime for the Cooke family with dad in the kitchen showing his two sons how to prepare a quick and easy meal. After his divorce about four and half years ago and with sole custody of his boys, John Cooke of Sebring had to brush up on his cooking skills while taking the responsibility of being a single parent. Men make up a growing share of single-parent householders. The percentage of single-parent households headed by fathers increased from about 14 percent in 1960 to 24 percent today, according to Pew Research. The number of single father households has increased about ninefold since 1960, from less than 300,000 to more than 2.6 million in 2011.
In comparison, the number of single mother households increased more than fourfold during that time period up to 8.6 million in 2011, from 1.9 million in 1960. Along with full custody of his sons, Denis, 13, and Trevor, 10, Cooke has 50 percent custody of his 3-year-old daughter, Marine, from another relationship. "Last time I cooked this Trevor had eight helpings; he usually doesn't eat much," Cooke noted. He told Denis, "Don't put any more in; I think that's going to be good to go; it's pretty wet right there." For a living, Cooke buys houses and then refurbishes them for resale. His sons not only accompany their dad while he works, they work, also. Cooke said the his sons just laid 1,200 square-foot of tile by themselves without a single line out of place. "Too many kids don't know how to work; they turn 18 and they are out there and they just have no clue," he said. He had always been close with his sons, Cooke said. For example, he picked them up after day care or school and spent a lot of time together. Trevor said his dad is "pretty cool" and lets him get away with a lot of stuff. Cooke said he is strict to a point, as long as his sons are doing well in school and sports, they can get away with a lot of other stuff. "The boys have had to pick up a few extra jobs because of not having a mom around," he said. One takes care of the dishes, while the other has trash duties so they have a little more responsibility than a kid that has both parents around. Cooke's biggest challenge as a single dad involves his daughter. "In the ladies room you have changing tables and stuff and in the men's room it is getting better," he said. "Even in the last two years it has gotten a lot better." When she gets older the restroom breaks will be a challenge especially in congested places like theme parks, he noted. Cooke recalled another downside to being a single parent. Last summer he took his sons on a seven-day cruise, and without another adult, Cooke said he couldn't leave his sons in the cabin or on their own to attend any of the functions for grown-ups in the evenings. Everyone talks about single moms and support groups, but there is not much for dads and he wouldn't go if there was a support group, he noted. When single parents start dating friction sometimes occurs between the children and the date, but Cooke said his boys get along great with his fiancÚ. "Now they have someone to talk to besides me so if when they get mad at me they complain to her," he said. His role as dad expands to a role as coach, Cooke said, "I coach football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever they are playing I am involved in and coaching. "There's nobody else so I am there for them," he said. "Everything I do my kids are involved. When I go out and go somewhere my kids are with me. I like it that way. I have never had a sitter." Pew Research notes that the increase in single-father households is likely due to a number of factors, most of which have also contributed to the increase in single-mother households and to the decline of two-married-parent households. Primarily there has been a significant increase in the share of non-marital births. And even though divorce rates have leveled off in recent decades, they remain higher than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Also, some experts suggest that changes in the legal system have led to more opportunities for fathers to gain at least partial custody of children in the event of a breakup, Pew Research reports. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826