Fathers are special. They are the cape-less superheroes who weather any storm, the go-to person before prom night when the little girl is all nerves, or when the little boy’s just lost a game. But what about single dads — not just those who are divorced, but those who are away from their family? Does their status make them any different? Do life’s challenges alter their parenting skills? Four single dads reveal their ways of coping with the challenges while pursuing a career in Dubai.
‘I try to be detail oriented’
Rainer Schwarz, 46, Economist. Father of three girls
Born in Germany, raised in Brazil, Rainer Schwarz arrived in Dubai in 2006. The economist is a single dad to twins, 12-year-old Alexis and Filippa, and Noura who turns eight in October. “We arrived in Dubai when the twins were just a few months old. My little one was born in Dubai in 2011. My ex-wife, who is also German, was raised in Saudi Arabia, so we were keen on the move to an exciting region that was not entirely unfamiliar to the family.”
Between 2006 and 2015 Rainer changed jobs, relocated to London while his family stayed behind, travelled across continents almost every week, neglected his health and ended up severely overweight. “Suddenly the whole thing did not make sense. My career had gone up and down, I was not in a good place in life and marriage, and we finally agreed to separate. It was an extremely difficult decision as the kids were very young, but we decided to go ahead with the separation in a friendly, constructive way and fully share the responsibilities of bringing up our daughters.”
The family now has two homes on either side of Dubai’s Happiness Street, but the girls have the freedom to move between them whenever they wish to and especially when Rainer is in town and not travelling. “Contrary to having a lengthy legal debacle, we put in place a post-nuptial agreement in which we agreed about kids and financials. For us the most important decision was to look after our kids and my wife at the time had the gorgeous idea of making clear to the girls that there would be two homes under the umbrella roof of our mutual love for them — that the girls would always have two places that they can call their own.”
While Rainer believes the twins understood the situation and sentiments well, for his younger daughter it was difficult, “why mummy and daddy were not together anymore”. But “at the end of day they realise we are good friends that support and can trust each other.”
Rainer, who co-parents the children with his wife, defines his parenting style with absolute transparency and humour. “I have German DNA and Brazilian humour and together we have lots of fun. By the time my girls graduate from school and set off independently into the world of university, I want them to think of me as a trusted friend, more than just a parent.”
“One of the most difficult things in parenting,” Rainer explains, is “that in life if you have gone through situations or processes, positive or negative, you have matured enough to understand that there are certain ways of dealing with things. But conveying this little wisdom to the kids without them having to commit the same is often the challenge. I usually sit them down and discuss matters; I try to be detail oriented. When we go for dinner or while doing homework, we talk a lot and I try to be precise and factual. Attention to detail and getting to the truth of the matter is very important for me, it’s something I learnt while growing up, and I try to make them aware of that.”
He admits that his ex-wife often ends up shouldering much more responsibility. “She also works at the school where the kids go, so her involvement is greater. There was a time when I did many more school runs than I do now because of my work schedule. In the worst moments perhaps, I will see my girls for a few days during the week, but in the best moments we spend weekends together and would also do one-on-ones during the week. Then there are days during the week they will call me and say they want to sleep with me and so they come over. There are no rules stipulating any time or days.”
As a dad, Rainer believes in pushing his kids towards excellence. “Alexis has definitely found a passion in ballet dancing, choreography and music and I feel it’s going to convert into an occupation. Filippa hints at studying engineering while Noura at her age is extremely passionate about animals. They tell me, ‘dad why do you keep going on about excellence’. For me academic excellence is very important. The only thing that will give them a chance in life is of course being healthy, and having superior knowledge alongside their innate intellectual abilities. So be it in the context of dancing ballet or engineering, you have to be in the top 10 per cent. With 9 billion people soon on planet earth, the competition is monstrous. There is no place for mediocrity.”
Alexis: Dad has an amazing sense of fashion and always finds enough time to work and hang out with us. We love going for camping in Oman and shopping.
Filippa: Dad is very smart and has a great sense of fashion. I love going camping with him in Musandam and to The Jamjar. I wish he had some patience.
Noura: He is the best dad in the world.
‘My boy should grow up understanding the importance of being just’
Ruman Muhith, 37, service delivery manager for Revonic, a digital agency. Father of a boy
Ruman Muhith was running at the local council elections in his home town of Ipswich for the Labour Party in the UK when he got a job offer in Dubai last year. Two weeks before the elections he took up the offer, a bit reluctantly at first, since it would mean leaving his political journey midway, but more importantly his seven-year-old son Dawud.
“I had long desired to work in Dubai but family responsibilities had taken precedence. I had to take care of my parents. So when the job offer came, I was delighted but in bit of a dilemma as well whether to pursue politics or whether to set sail for a new country leaving behind my wife and son. My greatest fear was that I would miss out so much on my son’s growing up years. But eventually I decided to go ahead.”
The physical separation has made Ruman a single dad. “It’s not easy,” he says, “leaving most of the parenting responsibilities in the hands of my young wife who continues to live in the UK with our son, and is a nurse by profession. She tells me she does feel like a single mom dealing with the pressures that come with it, but over time she has adapted very well. To make it easier on my family I make sure that we travel between Dubai and the UK frequently. So on all school holidays, that include summer, Christmas and Easter breaks, either they come down to Dubai or I end up going home. I also make frequent trips back home. In the last 13 months, I’ve made six visits to the UK. My wife’s support has been tremendous and despite her work and managing our child, she has plenty of time for us as a family.”
Being in the field of technology, he uses it to his advantage, mapping the gap of 3,000 miles with Skype calls. “I make sure I Skype every day to stay in touch with my boy. From his homework to his Islamic classes, I am involved in active parenting. Disciplining him over Skype is also a part of the deal. Dawud realises when I am firm with him, even if it’s on screen.”
“I have seen how the digital world has taken over every aspect of life, including parenting. At 6, my son picked up the skills to use tools and services, such as video calls, online gaming, educational apps and of course Voice over IP calls. His mother and I had to help educate him on online safety, dos and don’ts, including the why’s. We shadowed him and helped him along the way,” says Ruman.
His determination to be an active parent despite the distance has made Ruman successfully convince his son’s head teacher to get web cams in the classrooms and skype in school in Ipswich. “During school plays or during parents’ evenings I make it a point to be there online. His teachers discuss his reports with me and I even get to see some of his performances. This makes me an integral part of his schooling despite being so far away.”
For Ruman, it’s important to have some core values in place as part of growing up. “I want my son to grow up understanding the importance of being just and fair, to speak the truth and develop a sense of trust and respect.”
Dawud: My dad is my superhero because he is good at boxing and he is not afraid of anyone. He tells me to stand up to bullies. When I am visiting him in Dubai we go to theme parks and we wrestle in bed. When I miss my dad, I Skype him and we talk and do my homework together.
‘I am happiest spending time with the kids’
Ewan Walton, 43, chief development officer for a retail group. Father of a boy and a girl
Ewan Walton came to Dubai from the UK in 2001 to have bit of a variety in life. A year later, he met his wife in Media City while in an elevator. “It was the first serious relationship I had and we married four months later.” Ewan’s son Oilver (15) was born in 2004 and his daughter Karen (10) in 2009. “I always wanted to be a dad and when I met my (now ex) wife I felt she was the right woman,” he says.
But in 2014 Walton and his wife decided to separate. “That was a very difficult time for everyone. My ex-wife and I decided we would do our best to go through this period without the kids feeling alienated. Sometimes in life things don’t work out, and we need to accept that. In the end, we just decided to go our different ways, and we did that without being hard on each other.”
Today Ewan shares joint custody with his ex-wife. The kids live with their mother and their stepfather in the Ranches, while Ewan, who is still unmarried, lives in Dubai Sports City.
The divorce, Ewan feels, had a positive influence on his son in many ways. “It gave him the maturity to understand people and emotions. He is particularly supportive of his mother as she was upset for a long time. He would put her first before anyone and that I feel is very impressive for a boy of his age. At 15 he is wise beyond his years and he understands that things don’t work out between two people who love each other or did love each other.”
But for Karen, his daughter, who was much younger, it wasn’t easy. “She was not very comfortable talking about her feelings. But it’s different now, she has a very nice stepfather.”
Ewan admits that he would have wanted the kids to live with him all the time. “But that’s what their mother wanted as well, so the agreement was joint custody. The kids now officially live with their mom but they spend their time with me whenever possible. To be honest with myself I think the kids at that point needed their mom more than me.”
The first year after the divorce was difficult, says Ewan. “I travelled a lot, and by the end of that year I went bankrupt. It was a very tough year all around. The kids would be pretty much with me every weekend and all I did was focus on my work, and the kids and of course my ex-wife as much as possible. But there was a lot of balancing to be done. I had to be the mom and dad when they came to live with me. Also, my ex-wife and I were trying our best to continue with the same parental beliefs that we had before. As individuals, we have different beliefs when it comes to religion, life and career goals, but we had always agreed that the kids would grow up in a certain way and it continued that way even after the divorce. Our ways of communication and what we communicated to them before the divorce did not change.”
Talking of parenting styles, Ewan agrees that his is more independent and hands on. “While their mother has a live-in maid, I make sure that the children do their own washing and tidying up. They get a bit frustrated, but they learn so much in the process and we have a lot of fun.”
With Oliver, he enjoys the adrenaline sports — surfing, white boarding and off-roading. I am not a fan of his new-age music but we still dance and sing together. “Being a young dad has its own advantages. I can still do a lot of things with him.”
With his daughter, Ewan makes cupcakes with different toppings. “We also make slime together and go to the pool. Being a solo dad I’ve also learnt girlie things like hair braiding.”
“I am starting to have a life again so to speak,” says Ewan, “but typically I am happiest spending time with the kids.” As a father, he teaches his kids to be kind and respectful to others. “It’s important they realise that things are not always going to go their way always, but that doesn’t mean you have to change how you are with other people. For my ex-wife and me it was very important to show them that we still had a good relationship. There is usually so much hatred in a divorce that it makes the kids feel horrible.’
Also one of his other beliefs is to guide his kids to find a passion in life. “They need to find a passion, and work hard to achieve it. My son has been the UAE kart champion but of late his passion has been waning although he says he can still make a career out of sports. Maybe go into sports psychology.” Ewan, who recently helped Oliver select his GCSE options over a family dinner, says, “You know I would have moved on from Dubai had it not been for the kids. But sometimes I do feel like I am trapped. Maybe when they go to university I will finally go back.”
Karen: I love making cakes with daddy, baking and going to the beach. I love watching the sea creatures and collecting shells and playing on Kite Beach.
Oliver: My dad is a wonderful person. We visit the theme parks and beaches together. It is so much fun.
‘I tell my kids to be humble and accept everyone’
Luca Sacchetto, 43, entrepreneur. Father of two girls
For Luca Sacchetto, fatherhood is a natural progression of a family. Growing up in Italy with good memories of his childhood made Luca look forward to having children of his own.
“I remember the funny experience the first time I tried putting a diaper on my first born — I am still confused which is the front and which is the back. There are all the nice memories that come with any first thing that happens in life,” says the father of two daughters, 12-year-old Isabel and seven-year-old Arianna.
But of course not all is easy with the sleepless nights and the worries about when they eat the first food, hoping that they don’t choke, he admits. ‘During the first few years, the child is totally dependent on the mother, a bit hard to accept that to be honest... but after that they start wanting to spend more time with you and looking for you and then the relationship with the father changes,” he says.
Luca’s relationship with his daughters evolved quite a bit after he and his wife separated. He shares joint custody with her. The children live in Arabian Ranches with their mother, while he has moved to JBR. “I am with them on alternate weekends and even sometimes during the week when I am not travelling. Sometimes we end up seeing each other even three to four times a week.”
As a dad, Luca considers himself a good sport. “During the week, they are so caught up in school activities, so during the weekend I try and give them a lot of free time to chill out. We are outdoors most of the time, enjoying the pool and beach and this helps in a way to keep them away from tablets and cellphones. We love going to Fujairah as well and spending a night out there.”
Summer for Luca is travelling with his daughters to Italy where they spend time with their grandparents. “In July and August we go to Verona and take short trips to the mountains, lakes and the ocean.”
Did the separation affect the kids? “Well, we handled it quite maturely. There were no soap opera-like scenes, no fights or bitterness. We kept our kids first and just arranged our lives over two houses instead of one. We still celebrate everything together — like there is a traditional Christmas celebration that the whole family participates in. Honestly, it’s very hard to understand how they feel, as they look pretty relaxed most of the time.”
He shares most of the responsibilities of bringing up the kids, but would still like to credit his ex-wife as being more hands on with school and education. I take an active interest in their other developments, such as hobbies and sports. We have this tradition of going to Fujairah — the three of us every year for snorkelling. We also enjoy water rafting or hiking in Italy.”
Cooking is also a way that Luca bonds with his kids. “I am a decent cook, and just last week we tried doing a Tiramisu together.” He does agree that balancing a job, kids and personal life is not easy as a solo dad. “Especially when you have a new companion and they don’t have kids, it’s difficult for them to realise the kind of commitment you have and the constant juggling that we have to do.”
For him, fatherhood has been a work in progress and the greatest joy has been to see his daughters grow up wise beyond their years. “I always tell my kids to be humble and accept everyone. Kids in Dubai are spoilt easily. I try to keep them down to earth. The beauty of Dubai is its people — we find here people from all over the world. Inclusion and acceptance should be a very important part of their life.”
Isabel: We do things together — like go to a park, get ice cream, drop off my little sister and have fun. I would not invite daddy to my movie night with friends — he would make a comment at everything and I wouldn’t want that. The best thing dad has taught me is patience and responsibility.
Arianna: Daddy is my superhero because he is very strong. We go to the pool, eat ice cream, go to the park and for a swim. The best thing daddy taught me is to be nice with other people, respect them and how to ride a bicycle.