Ever noticed how much energy one single kid has? It’s A LOT. Now multiply that by nine. How does a man deal, you ask? We asked three fathers how they keep it all together, and how they still manage to make time for their wives and themselves.
Father of Eight
Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, 41: I have eight children and five grandchildren. I grew up in a big family myself — there’s ten of us.
I always wanted a big family, I just didn’t know it was going to come that quick! I had my first child at 16 years old. It was like, “Oh!” It changed my life though. I was running in gangs at the time, but when I looked at my child I said, “Wow, that’s a life. I need to be here for her.” So I was going in the direction of making good choices, and I got into the firefighter trainee program at high school, then I got on the fire department at the age of 19. From then on, I had a job, and I’ve been able to make ends meet for my family.
My wife has always been a stay-at-home mom, and so, we’ve struggled at times because there was only one income coming in. But even then my kids were just so good — they were like, “Dad, we’ve got everything.” And it’s amazing because as a parent you want to give your kids everything, and when you’re in those times when you can’t afford to give them everything, you feel like you failed them. But my kids have always been good. They never asked for much, and to this day they’re like, “My dad is an excellent provider.”
I start Christmastime in the summer, pursuing sales, knowing what they like. So knowing my son likes G.I. Joes, if I see a new set of GI Joes, I get them, I put them in the closet, and by the time Christmas comes, they’d already poked a hole in their present so they knew what they’re getting — and no one would tell on each other! Now that they’re older, they tell us who did what, but they always looked out for each other — to this day they still do.
As parents, my wife and I understood our roles. I understood she was the nurturer of the family and I was the protector and provider, so I knew I had my part to do in the helping of the development of our children. I will provide whatever is needed, and she will nurture it into their lives. When it came to disciplining our children, we did it together.
With my wife, we were always able to separate our relationship from us having children — that’s what kept us together. I think what a lot of people do, they stay in a relationship based off of the child. So me and my wife, we’ve been through our trials and tribulations, and the kids never came up as a reason I should stay, or a reason she should stay. The only thing we asked each other when we’d go through some hard times is, “Are we going to be together?” Once we established that, whatever we went through, we could make it through because we knew we were going to be together. That said, my wife and I definitely make a point to spend time together. We leave town several times a year — once with the kids, the rest with just me and her.
I teach my kids that nothing worth having comes easy, and a family is always worth having. So there’s gonna be some good times, some hard times, and some bad times. But we as a family, we may be mad for a minute, but we have to always remember that we are family, and nothing can change that.
Father of Four
Ron Demott, 45: I have four boys. The oldest is ten, then they’re nine, seven and just about six. Our first one ended up being quite a bit of fun, so we just kept having more! I don’t think there was any intention initially to have lots of kids, but part of it is we recognized we’re in a good place financially, and it just kind of made sense. Why not have more kids?
There are all kinds of strategies for parenting. If you have two, you can maintain the one-on-one of offense and defense — you can always have one parent guarding the other child. Probably the most difficult is three, for whatever reason, because you have to move to a zone and it really changes your perspective on your ability to be there on every single play, because you just can’t. Interestingly, the fourth one makes their activities less difficult to manage because they’re able to kind of pair up and play with each other. So my hat’s off to those who have three, but certainly life got easier with four.
With four, you learn to relax a lot. You have to relax and you have to rely on those around you because there’s just no way that you’re gonna be there for everything. It becomes a little more freeing having more children, I think.
You have to be really good at time management, though. We manage by using a calendar, and ours is just outrageous. In the last couple weeks we decided to introduce karate, and it’s a couple times a week commitment. All four are in it, and that was the first time I looked at the calendar and said, “We’re at a point where no matter what we do, if we introduce anything else, we have to give up on something else.” Most parents probably experience that a little bit, but it was very evident to me that if we want our kids to be able to do their schoolwork at a reasonable hour, we weren’t going to be able to mark anything else in.
As far as personal time, I work out at lunch. I’ve always enjoyed working out, and it’s always been an important part of my life. I get to hang out with my college friends on the big reunion day. I’ve done a couple trips to Vegas here and there, but it’s just kind of different: You realize that you’ve made a big commitment to bring some people up, and if you want to bring them up right, you’re probably going to have to give up some social activities.
But it’s very, very important to maintain some time with your loved one. Recently my wife and I have been able to do lunch dates. I really try and make sure that we meet even for an hour without the kids around once or twice a month. Then there are things that we do socially: Fundraising events, the school galas, those sort of things; so that’s an opportunity to be social as well. We’re pretty good about attending that stuff.
With four kids all the same gender, unless things start to look ratty, there are always hand-me-downs, and you learn that quality really does matter. We’re not buying high-end stuff at all, but we might spend a couple more bucks on something, recognizing that its long-term value is greater. Or buying in bulk, at the opportunities where you find good discounts. With bikes and big items like that, the two oldest have had brand-new bikes, but my two younger sons have no idea what a brand-new bike looks or feels like.
We have no plans for another child — four’s good. Some of it has to do with the difficulty associated with aging and birthing. There are just more complications as you get older, obviously, and we started looking at some of the risks associated with that. Although if you ask my wife, she’d probably say she’s willing to go for that girl.
Father of Nine
Olan Suddeth, 42: My ninth child is on the way this month. I have a girl that’s 22, a boy that’s 20 — both of those are moved out. One of them is married. And then I have boys ages 11, 9 and 7. I’ve got a girl who just turned 5, a girl that’s 3, a boy that’s 1 and a girl about to be born. Not to sound cliché, but they’re all special — they’re all unique individuals, and everybody has their own memories and their own story.
Even as a little girl, my wife had an eye toward a large family. I did not — my dad and I are only children. First, my wife and I had our boy and our girl. If you noticed from our kids’ ages we have a pretty good gap in there. When the youngest was nine, I thought we were done, and I was okay with that. Then my wife started battin’ her eyes at me and saying, “Hey, I want another baby.” We were on a Disney World trip, and we brought home a new souvenir: Number three. It just kind of went from there — and here we are.
What’s it like? My house is very loud — it’s organized chaos. My wife is a saint: If not for her, nothing works. Because she’s very put together, and knows the scheduling, and knows who goes where and who does what, she does a great job of keeping everything moving in the same direction. I’m a little more chaotic, especially the details around the edges: I can walk through the living room and it’s not a big problem, but my wife’s going, “There’s 15 little toys scattered here and there that need to be picked up,” and I haven’t even noticed them.
If dad has been in charge too long, not to make myself look like the sitcom dad, there’s definitely a difference in the cleanliness of the house, or where things are. Not to say I’m incompetent: People look at me and go, “Oh my goodness, you’ve taken six kids to the grocery store by yourself!” And I go, “Yeah, so? They’re not wild animals!”
To live like this you have to have some organization. Just the simple logistics of getting everyone fed, everyone dressed and out the door, there has to be some organization — if you don’t have it, you’re probably gonna have to learn it.
In terms of having time to cultivate hobbies and interests, you almost have to. Because here’s the thing: If you’re going to be a good father, you’re going to be a good role model. You have to still be a rounded person. One of my biggest hobbies is home-brewing. I see in online communities, people will go, “I just had a baby, I don’t know how I can brew.” I’m going, “You’ve got one baby!” Honestly, what are you teaching them if you’re saying, “Well, I have no personal value myself — I’m just here to facilitate everybody else.” So when brew days come around, I involve the kids — putting the water in, stirring grains, putting hops in. They have fun with it too. I play video games with the boys and on my own. We also run. So yes, there is dad me-time, but you’ve got to learn how to do it in a way that has harmony with everybody else.
My 11-year-old functions almost like the lieutenant of the house. He does a great job, especially with his younger sisters, looking out for them, helping them out, that kind of thing. But he absolutely will say, “Hey guys, you know you’re supposed to be picking up your clothes.”
My mother-in-law is fantastic. She helps out if my wife and I want to take an afternoon or evening to ourselves to go out and eat or go shopping. My oldest son, the 20-year-old, is also outstanding. Even being a college kid, he has no problem watching the kids, so that’s helpful. But day to day we don’t have childcare, we don’t have an au pair or anything fun like that, it’s just us.
As far as my relationship with my wife, it’s obvious there’s going to be some time demands on there. It’s just the way it is. We’re in the stage right now where I’ve got a one-year-old who’s teething, so periodically he doesn’t sleep well at night. My four-year-old is going through a period of having nightmares, so she’s woken us up several times a night. So that can be taxing — as well as just the overall demand level. But we made a point that we have to have some us time. So on most days, even if we’re just going to sit down and eat together and watch TV together, we’ll do that. We make a point to go out just the two of us on a fairly regular basis. Things like intimacy have to be a priority or it goes away, so you set aside time to make sure that it happens.
My wife stays at home now. There was a time she was an intensive care nurse, but once we expanded the family, she decided she wanted to stay home with the kids, so I picked up some extra work to make that work. Although the older kids went to public school all the way through, she wasn’t really prepared for the younger ones to head off, so at this point, the younger kids are all homeschooled. She handles that, and then when dad comes home, I fix dinner for the kids, change the baby or run the baths, and kind of give her a break in the evening.
Homeschooling has been pretty cool for us. They put in maybe half of the total hours that a public school kid does, but they’re still able to kill it on achievement because they’re able to focus on their work, be done and do other things. The biggest thing to me that you have to watch for is socialization. Because you don’t want to have — no offense to anybody — but you don’t want to have the weird homeschool kids that don’t know how to talk to other people, right? So my daughters are in ballet. My sons, except for the nine-year-old, play baseball. We take them on field trips for homeschool groups.
The bigger problem is that we’re honestly too cramped in our house. We’re looking to move, but we need to be in a little bit better financial situation to do so. We’ve finished a room in the basement, and we’ve got some kids doubling up in rooms. Honestly though, with the number of kids we have, unless you live in the Hilton mansion, you’re going to have more than one kid in a room. Last year we purchased a Nissan NV, which seats 12 people. It’s really necessary if you’re going to have everyone in one vehicle, or especially when we take trips to Disney World, Universal Studios or things like that.
My wife and I are huge believers in memories, so we have ridiculous, over-the-top Christmases with gigantic piles of presents that we started buying already — I’m at Target, shopping the clearance items in January, buying things that we’ll set back for next Christmas. We do long vacations that we save up for, too. That might mean that dad literally wears his shoes till he gets a hole in them and drives a very old pickup truck because I don’t have to pay for it, or that mom doesn’t get the $100 haircuts every month. But it does mean that when we go to Disney World, we go for 10 or 15 days so that we can do everything we want to do while we’re there and make these great memories together. Or we’ll rent a condo at the beach for a week and go fishing on the bay or catch ghost crabs at night. Whatever we want. We’re able to go out and to spend that time together, and have some cool things to look back on.