In 2015 my life suddenly took on whole new meaning, as following a divorce I unexpectedly became a single dad with sole custody of my son. Like so many other single parents I was plunged into a world where I was suddenly solely responsible for the upbringing of my child; running the home and ensuring he had the love and attention he deserves. I had been used to sharing this workload as half of a partnership, on the gradual learning curve of parenthood, and to take on this full-time role overnight was a shock to the system and required a total restructuring of my life.
I felt alone and desperate for answers; was I doing this right? Was I making the right decisions? Was there anyone else out there finding this difficult or was it just me feeling the pressure? I searched the internet for support groups, for other fathers in my position but found precious little. I was doing all I could to ensure my son had the best life possible with an arm round his shoulder at all times, but if truth be told I could have done with some support myself.
With little to no resources available I went it alone and through trial and error we moved on with positivity and strength, creating a happy family.
Having experienced this time of uncertainty I was determined that no others in my position should have to do the same, and be left alone in the dark, worried about their, and their child's future. I wanted to use what I had learned and give something back to other fathers who might be out there looking for help in raising their children alone. Through my own journey, I felt well placed to help other single dads, and to ultimately, and most importantly, help create a supported, and positive environment for their children to be brought up in.
So, in 2016 I formed Dads Unlimited, to create a network of support and resources to fill in the gap that was so evident when I myself needed help most. I know first-hand the mental strain, stress and anxiety every single parent experiences and was adamant no-one else had to needlessly endure this alone. At first the response was slow but very quickly I realised there were so many others in exactly the situation I had been in. What began as a local group soon turned into a national network with people reaching out for help and guidance from across the country.
When I looked into figures I was shocked to see the Office of National Statistics showed that the number of single dad households had risen by 137% in the period from 2013 - 2016. The figure is now at around 406,000 single male primary carers in the UK, which represents 14% of the single parent population. With such a vast and increasing number, it was clear that there were many dads out there, like me, who were crying out for advice and support. So through this network we now hold meet-ups, offer free counselling and advice for single dads, and indeed some mothers, in these tough, testing periods of their lives.
At a time with so much focus on encouraging men to share their mental health issues, it seemed incredulous that so little was available in terms of support and services. I know first-hand the strains, and pressures of struggling along in silence. Too often us men are needlessly stoic, and carry on stubbornly in isolation. Having a sympathetic, understanding network eventually made all the difference to me.
And while it's important to support the well-being of single dads, like me, through family breakdowns and new parenthood, ultimately, the children involved are at the heart of everything us single dads do. We know that happy homes make happy children, so all we can do is support other single dads, to ensure they're in the best place possible to create such environments, and to look after themselves.
So, as I write this, two years in to being a full-time dad, I am as determined as ever to provide the best upbringing for my child, and through Dads Unlimited to boost the chances for other children like him by support, care and understanding for this growing population of single dads.
No-one needs to go it alone - especially when their mental health, and, crucially, their child's future is at stake.
Nav Mirza is the founder of Dads Unlimited http://www.dadsunltd.org.uk/