Previously in "Curiouser": Kayren Lovett, daycare worker and former single mother.
She was curious about: The life of a single father.
Locating a single dad was more difficult than I had anticipated.
"You can thank the courts for that," says Chris Nash, whom I found through a friend. He says that in his eight years as a single dad, he has yet to meet another father with outright custody.
A St. Pete native who lived in Clearwater Beach and Ft. Lauderdale before moving to Atlanta to work for GE Capital, he came to single fatherhood as the result of a tragic accident. He was sharing custody of his son Alex with his ex-wife when she was killed in a highway collision; Alex, still a toddler, was strapped into the backseat at the time. That was eight years ago this month, but Alex "still remembers everything," says Nash.
Nash left his high-paying job, bought a farm and spent the next two years teaching tennis, growing things and raising his son. The farm "helped me get through the process of losing his mom. I had really cared about her."
Now living in the Hillcrest neighborhood in Clearwater, Chris and Alex have a big backyard garden -- 25-by-45 square feet of tilled and irrigated rows of green. Chris slides open the glass door to the patio and slips out of his loafers into a pair of galoshes, or "farming boots," as he calls them. He pulls a few ripe red tomatoes off the vine. "Don't know why," he says, "but farming helped me understand the life cycle."
Alex, who just finished sixth grade, pads out in white socks, complaining he can't find his Fall Out Boy T-shirt. The two go into the laundry room off the side of the house and sort through clean and dirty clothes together until they find it.
Alex was born without a left arm. It may seem that "God has taken a lot," says Chris, but "he's totally compensated, this child. ... The only handicap he's got is me."
Alex has never had a babysitter. "When I go sailing," says Chris, "he goes sailing. He can catch all by himself."
Alex makes a face. "I don't like to keep fish. I always throw them back."
The Nash home is a warm, open space, with hardwood floors, a fireplace and two TVs in the living room ("Because I can," Chris says grinning), one on top of the other. Before dinner, Alex lies on the couch still in stocking feet (nearly black on the bottom), while Chris stands with one hand on his hip. Tucker, their 1-year-old Manx cat, watches the simultaneous flicker of ESPN and the Weather Channel.
After a few minutes, Chris is back in the kitchen pulling baked chicken out of the oven and slicing his homegrown tomatoes.
The family had lived for a year on the Georgia farm when a real estate appraiser, a friend of Chris, offered him a job in Clearwater. The family packed up and headed back to Florida. "All I wanted to do was get back to the beach, raise him on the beach," he says.
The following few years were busy ones. Each morning Chris would drop Alex off at Skycrest Christian School in Tampa, work 9-5 and take night courses in Brandon to earn his appraiser certification. Two years ago he opened his own firm.
He has little time for school meetings, but says the women at school "seem to take care of him a little more. Not that he needs it. He's very self-sufficient." Alex says school bores him (P.E. is his favorite class), but framed honor-roll awards hang in the hallway. Other citations sit on the glass desk in Chris' home office next to Realtor magazine and the fax machine.
Alex picked up the electric guitar last year and knows how to play "'Smoke on the Water,' and some others I made up." He also surfs and skateboards; pictures around the house show him surfing during Hurricane Rita. He's not allowed to watch South Park and says, in a distraught tone, that he can only drink Coke occasionally when they go out to eat.
Chris says Alex is a child "of 1,000 questions." Once he asked his dad, "If you could do anything you wanted to do in life, what would it be?"
After some thought, Chris replied, "I'd get a job traveling the world taking pictures of beautiful things."
"It was a question I would have never thought to ask myself," Chris adds. As an appraiser, photography had always been a part of his job, but his son's comment prompted him to start taking pictures for pleasure. Photos of various plants and flowers and his son line the walls.
"If you want to accomplish something in life, get it done. That's what I want to teach my child; if you want something, get it done."
Nash says, laughing, that he'd like to meet a woman who can "clean and cook a fish," but is quick to add that he's making a joke. "Every time I get an urge to meet a girl, I just put a boat in the water and go fishing." He likes doing "whatever I want when I want" and not having to answer to anyone -- except, perhaps, to Alex.
Chris is curious about: A wounded veteran; the parent of a fallen Marine; or the parent of a child killed by DUI. In the next installment, I'll find out about one of them.
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