Editor’s note: This is part eight of a portrait series highlighting ordinary families in the community. Earlier this year, Sheridan Press photojournalist Justin Sheely asked local families several questions regarding how having children changed their lives.
SHERIDAN — At a glance they resemble something from the movie “Three Men and a Baby.” Pat Tarver — a stocky guy with a long, bushy beard that he’s been growing for 11 years — is a single father.
Ashlynn, 3, is a vivacious little girl who likes to squeal with excitement and leap from furniture, but also loves to help her dad make supper and bake cookies. She visits her mother every other weekend and on alternating holidays.
Ashlynn and her father could not be any more different. Ashlynn is outgoing and social. Tarver, while not shy, said he grew up a loner. He grew up as a kid being teased about his strong southern accent and severe dyslexia.
Tarver, 43, never needed much in life. He didn’t mind living in his vehicle or in a shack attached to a garage. Now, he is raising Ashlynn in a safe home and he protects her — a task he takes very seriously.
What has caught Tarver off guard in his role as a single father are the expectations of society — or, rather, the lack thereof.
When he takes his little girl shopping or to play in the park, he sometimes overhears other parents talking about him — offhanded comments about how men could never be single parents.
They usually assume that he is another dad stuck with the child for the day.
“Society at large [is] not used to seeing men as single parents,” Tarver said. “They are not used to seeing men step up [in parenting].”
But some strangers have recognized Tarver’s parental achievements. One day he had to change a dirty diaper in a parking lot. He dropped the tailgate of his carpeted truck bed and did the job. An older woman was passing by and noticed.
“She said to me, ‘Women need not take for granted what men are capable of these days — good job, daddy,’” Tarver recalled.
Other challenges Tarver has faced came from the lack of familiarity with little girls. Tarver didn’t grow up with sisters. He had to learn a few things, and expects more surprises will come as Ashlynn grows up. Dolly time and tea time don’t exactly come naturally for him.
“I wish that in the high school family classes, that they taught how to braid a girl’s hair,” he said.
Tarver has been working with people with behavioral and mental health issues for more than 26 years, but he said nothing has tested his patience like raising his 3-year-old.
“It’s gone to a whole new level,” Tarver said.
There are times he feels overwhelmed, but Tarver, being a professional social worker, has taken steps to ensure he doesn’t lose his cool.
“Remember to breathe; you’re going to get stressed out,” Tarver advised parents. “It’s not going to do anything to lose your cool.”
But, Tarver said, everyone loses their cool at some point.
He recalls when he and Ashlynn moved into their house. It wasn’t long before Ashlynn found a black permanent marker and drew a circle on the hard surface floor. Tarver was upset but found a way to keep things in perspective.
“I could’ve had it removed, but I decided to keep it to remind me that it’s just a marking on the floor,” Tarver said.
Tarver said that things are going to happen. He is keeping the mark as a reminder of Ashlynn’s artistic side for when she gets older.
While Tarver utilizes timeouts for Ashlynn, sometimes he has to give himself a timeout. When his patience runs out, Tarver discovered that Ashlynn’s behavior will change when she notices that her father has given himself a timeout. It may be simply removing himself from the room or cleaning the dishes. The timeouts help Tarver to cool down and refocus.
Tarver’s love and dedication for Ashlynn are evident, at home and at work. He said he brings in a modest income, but has turned down job positions that would pay more because it would have him working nights and weekends. Spending more time away from his daughter is not an option.
“I’d rather stay home and do dishes so I can have time with her,” Tarver said.
Ashlynn loves to be involved with what her dad is doing, especially cooking and baking. A little step stool stays in the kitchen just for her.
“I had no concept of love, unconditional love, until I had her,” Tarver said.
To recommend a family to be highlighted for this project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.