A single father’s inspirational Facebook post about raising his daughter after her mother left is going viral.
Richard Johnson, 21, says that for most of his life, he didn’t want kids. “I came from a family where everyone is either divorced or a single parent. My father wasn’t in the picture, and I never wanted that for my kids, so I was dead set on not having any,” Johnson tells Yahoo Parenting. That changed, though, when he met the woman who would eventually become the mother of his little girl. “We decided that we wanted kids, and I wanted to give them the life I didn’t have.”
Still, the Las Vegas dad says the moment he found out his girlfriend was pregnant was the scariest of his life. “The more I thought about it, the more panicked I got. I didn’t know what it meant to be an involved father except from what I saw on TV or movies.”
In a letter to Life of Dad, an online community for fathers, Johnson explains how he ended up raising his daughter, Persephone, alone. Life of Dad posted the note to its Facebook page Tuesday night, and it has racked up more than 12,000 likes and more than 650 comments. “[My daughter’s] mother left about a month after she was born. We still don’t know exactly why, but we suspect post-partum depression played a part,” Johnson writes. “In the first few weeks of it being just [Persephone] and me, I stumbled upon your page by accident. I was so nervous and scared about being a father in general, but now I was a single father and had to fulfill two roles. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I had read every ‘new parent’ book I could find and clocked in over 1000 hours in YouTube videos from everything to braiding hair and painting nails to theories on how to deal with common parental issues. I then started to watch your page more closely and saw that there were other fathers out there who were in similar predicaments as me. The page started to turn into a major confidence booster and really helped me through all of this. … You truly helped my daughter and me through a very difficult time. We’re both very happy now and continue to grow together everyday. She’s now 10 months, and I now get asked by my friends for parenting advice constantly. We’ve come a long way, my daughter and me, and we definitely owe part of that to this page and the people within it. So from both of us, we wanted to thank you.”
Richard Johnson, a 21-year-old single dad, with his 10-month-old daughter, Persephone. (Photo: Life of Dad/Facebook)
Johnson says that when Persephone’s mother left in February, she initially took the girl with her. “She took my little girl to California, but then called a week later and said if I didn’t come get Persephone, she was going to put her up for adoption,” Johnson tells Yahoo Parenting. He immediately got his daughter, brought her home, and says it’s been the two of them ever since.
In a follow-up Facebook note posted Wednesday morning, Johnson explains that the early days as a single dad were tough. “I spent more than a few nights holding my little girl as she slept weeping because I wasn’t sure I was going to be a good enough father for her,” he writes. “One night in particular was the night she first crawled. She came to me and laid her tiny little hand on my cheek and stared into my eyes. I took it as ‘Come on Daddy, we have a lot to do.’ So I told her no more crying for either of us and we were going to fight to be happy. We’ve kept true to that promise.” That follow-up post has received more than 3,300 likes.
Once he embraced being a single dad, Johnson said he reached out to friends for advice and even formed a support group with other single parents. “I was never around babies, I certainly did not know anything about girls. But I asked around to older friends who had raised girls. I practiced braiding hair and, I’m not bragging, but now I can braid hair better than most women can,” Johnson says. Not that his 10-month-old is ready for hairstyles just yet. “She still has no hair, but I want to be prepared!”
Johnson and Persephone moved in with a friend who is a single mother to a 6-month-old boy, though the two are not romantically involved. “We are each other’s rocks,” he says. “I watch her son when she is at work, she helps me out.” Johnson currently works part-time at U-Haul, a job he says is especially understanding about his situation, but says he’s looking for night work so that either he or his friend can always be with the kids.
The overwhelming response to his post has taken Johnson by surprise. “I don’t understand it,” he says. “I felt this is what a parent should do. I played football when I was a kid, and I didn’t have anyone there in the bleachers. I want to be sure my daughter doesn’t have that experience. It was terrible, it was one of the worst things in the world. As a parent, I guess you do have a choice, but to me there shouldn’t be any choice. You should stick with your kid. You bring a life into the world, you are supposed to love it and nurture it.”
David Guest, one of the founders of Life of Dad, says Johnson’s story is emblematic of the men the website brings together. “Fatherhood is a universal experience and it’s the most important and emotional one a man will have in his life,” Guest tells Yahoo Parenting. “Reading Richard’s post, you can really see his struggles of being left alone with his little girl, you can see his openness and vulnerability, his worries of ‘I didn’t know if I could do this.’ It’s relatable because you feel that way even if you have a great co-parent, let alone doing it by yourself.”
Life of Dad was a lifesaver, Johnson says. “At first, when I was alone, I was so depressed that I didn’t want to see a bunch of happy couples with their kids,” he says. “But as I came out of that, I was checking Life of Dad and saw there were other single dads out there. There’s such a terrible stereotype of deadbeat dads, but I know that’s not always the case. Sometimes people are dealt a terrible hand, and it’s inspirational to read their stories.”
Johnson didn’t even know if his post would be made public. “I just wanted them to know that they helped a random soul out, because I will always be indebted to them. There were too many nights when I sat around not knowing if I could do it,” he says. “But this website really helped my daughter’s father become the man he needed to be for her.”
Today, Johnson says he can’t believe there was a time he didn’t want kids. “It’s been crazy to go from that to waking up before she wakes up and getting her outfit ready for the day,” he says. “I want to give her the best start I can. I want to teach her to trust me, to know I will be there when she goes to sleep and there when she wakes up. Now I look forward to every day because it’s so incredible to see her. She smiles when I look at her. She’s my best friend and my little shadow. I talk to her about everything – I know she doesn’t completely understand what I’m saying, but one day she will. I take a lot of pictures and write to her every day, so one day she can look back and form her own opinions about what happened and hopefully she won’t have any anger. People on Facebook say she’s lucky, but I’m the lucky one to have her.”
Top photo: Life of Dad/Facebook