Oprah often says that moms have the hardest job in the world, but plenty of fathers carry the burden of raising a child all by themselves. In fact, 2.5 million single fathers in the United State are doing it all—juggling schedules, putting food on the table and going to school plays or soccer games—single-handedly.
Oprah's celebrating these unsung heroes, as well as other fathers who've given their all to their kids. "We're saluting all these great dads," Oprah says.
Larry Shine and his wife, Kate, had their first son, Henry, 19 years ago. When Kate died of cancer only two-and-a-half years later, Larry says he was overwhelmed with grief. "The year after she died, I was just so immersed in the tragedy of her death," he says. "Then I thought: 'I can't live like this anymore. I can't have this be our life.'" He decided it was time for Henry to have a sibling.
At the time, it was almost impossible for a single male to adopt in the United States, so Larry applied for both international adoption and surrogacy. Surprisingly, both applications went through, and soon Larry became a father of three. Still, he says he was ready for more. Today, Larry is raising nine children on his own! "I never thought I'd be a father of nine. Actually, I never imagined I'd be a father," he says. "Maybe this all happened for a purpose. Because if Kate hadn't died, I never would have done what I did and these kids wouldn't have had a home."
Larry's whole family—including Betty the bulldog—is in the OprahShow studio: Henry, 19; Ari, 16; Halle, 15; Eli, 13; Lili, 12; Sofia, 10; Genevieve, 8; Simone, 5; and Lucia, 3.
When it comes to raising nine kids, Larry says there is never a dull moment. His schedule is jam-packed, and it starts at 3 a.m.
As if being a single dad isn't enough work, Larry also works full time as a corporate attorney. "When the second bus picks up the younger kids at quarter of nine, I leave and drop Lucia off at daycare. Then I go to work all day and come back and pick her up when daycare closes at 6 o'clock and then head home," he says. "[I work at] a very warm and family-oriented firm, so they're very supportive."
Though Larry's big family is thriving, he says there were a few small bumps along the way. Eli's arm broke when he was an infant and hadn't healed properly before he joined the Shine family, but Larry says extensive orthopedic surgery fixed the problem.
Lili had failure to thrive syndrome, which caused her to have trouble connecting with others—though Larry says she opened up after three months in his busy house and is doing great.
And, Simone's speech was delayed, he says. "She had therapy for about six months, and now sometimes I wish I hadn't given her speech therapy," he jokes.
Is there room for any more kids in the Shine family? Depends on whom you ask! "I thought five was it, and I thought six was it," Larry says. "My sense is that nine is probably it ... because international adoption's a lot more difficult, and I'm older. ... [But] I've been given a lot of opportunities, and if it happened again, I'd have a hard time saying no."
Henry, who is a sophomore at Notre Dame, says the family is at capacity. "We're at a pretty full limit right now," he says. "Now that I'm in school, I'd like to be around if there's going to be another sibling."
Though he's rooting for Lucia to be his youngest sibling, Henry says he's incredibly proud of his dad. "Just how selfless he is," he says. "I don't know of anybody else who puts people before themselves like he does."
Though Larry didn't plan on being the single dad of such a huge family, he says it came naturally to him. "I'm more comfortable doing something for somebody else than myself," he says. "Particularly with adopting the kids overseas, when I went to Paraguay for the first time to adopt Ari and saw all the kids who didn't have a home and or a place to go at night, I just thought, 'This isn't right.'"
It may have been an unexpected path for Larry, but he says its one he's grateful for. "I love parenting," he says. "I just felt, 'This is what I want to do.'"
On March 25, 2008, Matt Logelin woke up to what should have been a perfect day. He and his wife, Liz, were proud new parents—their daughter Madeline had been born the day before. But that afternoon, Liz died of a blood clot that no one knew she had.
With a newborn in his care, Matt had no time for mourning. "Right after Liz died, I had to go straight in and I had to feed her. I mean, she had to eat. I had to change her diapers. Life didn't stop when Liz died," he says. "I didn't know what I was going to do. I literally didn't know if I was going to live through this."
Matt and Maddy survived the tragedy, and Matt used the blog he'd created to document Liz's pregnancy as an outlet for his grief. "If I write it, I can get it off my chest," he says.
After Liz's death, tens of thousand of people started reading Matt's blog. The outpouring of support—including notes, money and toys—from the online community shocked him. "To have total strangers giving us stuff and wanting to make sure we're okay all the time was just incredible," he says.
Matt says he's determined to give back as much as he's been given. "We've donated all of the clothes that no longer fit and the toys that we couldn't use," he says. "We've been given a lot of money as well, and we've tried to give that away as much as we can." Matt has also established the Liz Logelin Foundation, which helps widows and widowers with children.
A year after Maddy was born, Matt's still adjusting to life as a single parent. He's even joined the neighborhood new moms group. "They sort of adopted me," he says. "They took me in and made sure I wasn't screwing things up too terribly."
Matt says one of the scariest things about Liz's death is that she took all her parenting knowledge with her. "Liz had read all the books. She had done everything that we needed to do to make sure that this baby was taken care of properly," he says. "It's not something I ever anticipated doing on my own."
Matt says he'd planned to be the free-spirited parent, while Liz would be the rigid one. Given the circumstance, Matt has struck a balance. "I've had to be a little more strict in the way that I do things, but I still let her eat sticks and leaves from time to time."
Gregory Maguire and Andy Newman got married in 2004, just after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. Gregory, an author, and Andy, an artist, met at an art show. Gregory says he was taken with one of Andy's paintings immediately. "There was a painting of a person of great compassion circling and enfolding someone who needed help," he says. "I fell in love with Andy about two weeks after I fell in love with his painting."
As soon as their relationship got serious, they say they knew they wanted to be fathers. Together, Gregory and Andy adopted three children—Luke and Alex from Cambodia and Helen from Guatemala.
Some may consider a household with two dads to be unconventional, but Gregory says their family is just like any other. "We do all the things that a dad and mom are traditionally expected to do," he says. "It's been a surprising nonissue."
Luke, Alex and Helen call their dads Dada and Ba, the Khmer word for father. And just like any couple, Gregory and Andy stay sane in a hectic household by taking time for themselves after the kids go to bed. They catch up over a candlelight dinner every night. "People will stop us on the street and say, 'Aren't the kids lucky?'" Gregory says. "We think, 'No, we're the lucky ones.'"
Andy says he was initially worried about how his community would react to his decision to adopt. "But I was pleasantly surprised because right from the start, whether it was neighbors or whether it was people in the stores or supermarket, everybody seemed to be enthusiastic and very much on board," he says.
Gregory says they encourage family discussion about their situation. "I bring up the subject maybe once every three months to remind them that it is legitimate to talk about," he says. "But the children live it as naturally as they breathe oxygen. Sometimes Luke will even suggest: 'Look, you might ask me what it's like to breathe the air on a different planet, but I don't live on a different planet. I live here, I breathe oxygen, and you are my dads."
Gregory is the author of several novels, including the best-seller Wicked, which inspired the Broadway musical. Many of his books, he says, carry a common theme. "I tend to write stories about characters who have difficulty at the beginning of their lives," he says.
Gregory says he faced his own difficulty growing up. His mother died in childbirth, a tragedy that he says influenced his decision to adopt. Andy was also inspired by his mother, who died about 10 years ago. "In the final six months, when we spent a lot of time together, that was what turned me around about adoption," he says. "It became more and more evident to me that she had given so much and I wouldn't be here if not for her. I thought, 'Now it's my turn to do this for some children of our own.'"
When Dana Canedy met Charles King, she says he wasn't her type at all. "But he had the kindest heart and the kindest spirit of anybody I'd ever met," she says. The two fell in love and decided to have a baby. During Dana's pregnancy, Charles, a soldier, was deployed to Iraq. Six months after Dana gave birth to their son, Jordan, Charles was given two weeks' leave to see his new family. "It was a very full two weeks. He fed him, he changed his diaper, he played with him, he took him to story time at the bookstore," Dana says. "It was incredible."
Unfortunately, that visit would be the only one between Charles and Jordan. Two weeks after Charles returned to Iraq, he was killed in a roadside bombing.
When Dana was about five and a half months pregnant, she bought a journal for Charles to use to record notes for Jordan. "He became consumed with it," Dana says. "The journal is over 200 pages, and in it Charles writes everything from the power of prayer to his favorite foods."
Dana says the journal provides Jordan with a father figure of sorts. "This book is a conversation with his dad," she says. "When he gets his heart broken, he'll be able to hear from him about that. Whatever he needs, I'm hopeful that he'll be able to find it in here in his dad's voice."
When Charles got the news that he was heading to Iraq, Dana says they discussed the possibility that he might not return. "He was going to a war zone," she says. "The year before he left, we were preparing for life and death."
The journal ensured that no matter what happened, Charles would live on in spirit. "When I read this journal, it feels to me like he's still alive," Dana says. "I can feel where he pressed the pen down. I hear his voice when I read it. So he's still with us."
Charles also wrote a note for Dana in the journal. "This is the letter that every soldier should write," he said. "I want to thank you for our son. ... I'd like to see him grow up to be a man, but only God knows what the future holds."
Men don't often keep journals, and Dana says she was surprised at how attached Charles became to his. "He told me it was very therapeutic to him to write for Jordan before he slept. He'd go out on his missions, come back at night and write well into the night," she says. "I encourage every man to do this."
Dana says she was struck by certain themes that repeat themselves in the journal. "He writes an awful lot about the power of God in his life and the power of prayer. He writes a lot about his love of military service," she says. "He writes, probably more than anything, about his respect for women. ... I'm very proud of that."