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My journey as a single dad

By Israel O’Dea 4 min read

"Ultimately, I had to make a choice on whether to stay focused on raising our child or mend a fractured relationship with my partner. I chose Shyvana."

My journey as a parent began with an unexpected pregnancy. I was four months into a new relationship after not being in one for three years and I was intent on making this one work. I’ll admit that I hadn’t been the best partner in previous relationships. I was a proud and obnoxious kind of guy who didn’t take authority well. Neither did I appreciate being told that I was the problem.

I’ll never forget what I was doing or how I received the news, but the date and time still elude me. I was 22 years old, a body piercer and gamer, hooked on cigarettes and marijuana, living with my partner and her family. I was playing League of Legends with my partner’s brother when I received a phone call from her. She’d gone to the doctor—for what reason I wasn’t sure—but on the phone, she didn’t sound like her usual self.

“I’m pregnant . . . ” she said.

That little bombshell rocked my world and though I acted like I was OK and prepared to deal with it, I was actually terrified. My partner was young and unprepared, although she was adamant about having the baby. We had many discussions between ourselves and our families about what to do. It was an emotional rollercoaster ride that nearly consumed me. I’ve always been pro-life, but this experience actually caused me to consider abortion and to ask my partner if she’d consider it. We were ill-prepared to deal with the ensuing onslaught of emotions and trials to come.

The author and his daughter.

I’d grown up in a good Christian home. My mum was a stay-at-home mum and committed everything she had to raising her kids. My dad, although a workaholic, set a reasonably good example as a father. My siblings and I went to a private Christian school and attended church and youth groups every week. Life had been very comfortable for us, so you might be wondering what went so wrong that I ended up the way I did.

At 16 years old, I was working as a labourer for a commercial construction company when I was diagnosed with cancer. My brother, 15 at the time, was diagnosed 24 hours later with the same type of cancer. That period shook and broke our family, and although my brother and I survived, our family didn’t. My dad left a year after treatment finished—he didn’t have it in him to be a part of our family anymore.

The combination of a near-death experience and losing my role model was what resulted in a proud, violent, drug- and alcohol-addled young man. Rebellion against my dad’s example and an insatiable desire to satisfy my own wants and needs were all that remained of that once-good Christian boy.

Fast forward to the birth of my daughter. I’d decided not to follow on in the footsteps of my dad and instead face my reality head-on. My partner and I committed to having the baby and raising her to the best of our abilities.

On April 10, 2014, Shyvana Aroha O’Dea was brought into this world. This precious little child changed something in me and my desire for self was shattered, totally remade into an overwhelming desire for her wellbeing. I was so focused on her that little else could distract me, aside from the emotional state of my partner.

My partner struggled with being at the hospital alone with our daughter, and after putting enough pressure on the doctors, was released a day early. I knew something was wrong after the first day back at home. She was disconnected and highly reactive to anything and everything. She’d suffered heavily from depression and anxiety before the pregnancy because of a life of abuse, so I told her to take the back seat. I took over all of the care for Shyvana, waking up in the night every time she needed feeding, changing and bathing. Anything related to Shyvana became my responsibility.  

Sleep deprivation and exhaustion soon followed and, ultimately, I had to choose whether to stay focused on raising our child or mend a fractured relationship with my partner. I chose Shyvana. This resulted in my partner and I separating, an experience which broke me at that time.

We tried four months of “co-parenting”, where my now-ex would party all hours of the night while I was home raising our child. It was too much for me to bear. I packed up Shyvana’s things, my clothes and bedding, and left.

We lived in my car for about two months until we were placed in state housing, many suburbs away from my ex. I continued to focus on raising Shyvana, but became distracted by the gangs living on our street. I ended up affiliated with one of New Zealand’s biggest gangs, doing things I never thought I would do.  

"This precious little child changed something in me and my desire for self was shattered, totally remade into an overwhelming desire for her wellbeing."

By the grace of God, I was afforded an opportunity to move cities—one that I jumped at. This allowed me to leave the gang behind and start over. Once settled into our new home, I sought out God again, knowing He was the only way I’d succeed in raising my daughter. I was baptised into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in December 2017 and now teach Sabbath schools and preach on occasion. I started running our church’s community outreach program, mentoring kids in a poverty- and gang-stricken community.  

My daughter and I have both since been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. I had to advocate fiercely to get her diagnosed at her age and to equip her with all the support required to face this challenge. Once again by the grace of God we are triumphing. Shyvana now attends the city’s only Seventh-day Adventist school. When she started, she was a year-and-a-half behind in learning development, but as of our last meeting with her teachers, as a six-year-old, she is currently at the learning level of a seven-year-old.

As a solo dad, I have remained single for nearly six years while I have focused on raising my daughter. I want to encourage other solo parents to put God and their children first, because God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him.


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Israel O’Dea is a solo dad who lives in New Zealand with his six-year-old daughter. He is the project manager and lead director of a small community mentoring program.


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