06/15/08 — For single father Dana Lewis, taking care of his daughter is his first job

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For single father Dana Lewis, taking care of his daughter is his first job

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 15, 2008 2:02 AM

Father's Day has special
meaning for Dana Lewis.

But nearly six years ago, he was more focused on how his world had been turned upside down.

Divorce struck his family, and he was suddenly faced with survival.

Would he lose his house? Could he afford to send then-5-year-old daughter Anna to private school?

"I didn't think I could do it, but with the Lord's help, I made it," he says now. "But it was only with His help."

Now 50, Lewis had been married once before but had no children. When he remarried at 36, he thought it was for life.

But eight years later, he found himself taking care of his stepson, then in high school, and his young daughter.

Today his message for single parents is one of encouragement.

"You can do it," he said. "Some people think you can't, but you can. Me and God's done it. I haven't done it by myself."

Someone once told Lewis that time heals all wounds. It's proven true, but not without some bumps along the way.

"It just devastated me," he says of the separation and divorce process. "And then I had to go up and get Anna ready in the morning and wash clothes, try to keep up the yard, all the inside and outside things."

Juggling the responsibilities of a job -- he's been a service manager at Tri-County for 16 years-- and parenting proved exhausting.

"I don't know how in the world I managed it," he reflects. "To start with I had to do everything for her. All that takes time. I would work and work and then come home and have to continue working."

Divorce is difficult, no matter what the circumstances, he says. In some respects it's like a death, in others it can be worse because much is left unresolved.

For him, relying on faith helped.

"It's just amazing, if you keep praying about the situation, the Lord will work things out for you," he said. "But He won't work it out in your time.

"I sure have done a lot of praying."

Family and his church -- Love Memorial Baptist -- have rallied around.

"I tried to keep a routine going, we try to stay on a schedule," he said.

But in those early days, he wasn't quite as confident that things would work out.

"(Anna) would cry nearly about every night," he says. "I wish I could have had a tape recorder on recording some of those prayers. It would just tear me up."

As it turned out, though, it would be his daughter who most helped him navigate through the situation.

"If it hadn't been for her, I don't think I would have made it," he said. "I really think the Lord has put me on this earth here to raise her.

"For somebody to have a child to raise, that should be one of the biggest miracles. Me and her are so close right now. We're so much closer now than we would have been."

It's challenging for any single parent, Lewis notes. But reflecting on it now, he sees it as an opportunity to become a better father than he might otherwise have been.

"A lot of people don't understand. Most of the time a man wouldn't get a girl and a lot of people don't understand why I kept Anna," he said. "Most men would say, 'I just can't handle it. I'll let her grandma keep her.'"

And while his own parents and in-laws assisted, Lewis said there was no question as to who would be raising his child.

"I knew that that's what I had to do. I just had to make up my mind," he said.

Not that there weren't struggles -- finding rides for Anna to Wayne Christian School, where she'll be a sixth-grader in the fall, child care until Lewis got off work.

Somehow, he says, "The Lord just provided different people all along" to help.

"Whenever I would really need something, it seems like somebody in the church family would fall right in and help me as I needed it," he said.

Worry, once a natural reaction, became something he worked to alleviate.

"The Bible tells you not to worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will take care of itself," he said. "I try to make it through one day at a time and when tomorrow gets here, I will tackle it."

It took awhile, he says, but he knew he had to be strong, even if only for Anna.

"It turned her world upside down, too," he said. "She kept praying that her mama would come back."

The father and daughter have managed to carve out their own family life. Today they pretty much do everything together -- hunting, fishing, playing softball, attending church.

Now that Anna is a little older and more self-sufficient, it's gotten easier to manage the household, Lewis said.

She'll turn 11 on Friday Father and daughter will celebrate in Florida, staying with Lewis' sister and her family, with plans to also take in Disney World.

To see the two together, the bond is evident. Easy smiles break out on their faces as they talk about life at their Dudley home.

"As a dad, if you do something bad or you don't do something right, he doesn't criticize. He's very encouraging about things," Anna says. "He's just very happy most of the time. It's really cool around him."

The thing she appreciates most, she said, is how hard he works to do things for her.

"If I need something, he will spend an hour trying to find it for me," she explains, adding, "And I really like that he sends me to a private school."

Her father's example has been one of strength as well as safety. She credits him with helping ease some of the rough patches.

They made it through, she'll say, "Just because we had each other. It was like we just stuck with each other the whole time."

His goodness, she adds, is also evident in the way he cheerfully helps others.

And her.

"He loves me for me," she says. "He doesn't want me to be anybody else."

It is perhaps because of what he has gone through, Lewis says, that he has become more sensitive to others.

"When you go sit down next to somebody in church, you have no idea what that person's going through," he said. "If you see somebody going through something, really struggling, give them a hug, tell them you care about them, ask if there's anything you can do for them."

Despite some of his own heartache, Lewis says he is not adverse to considering getting married again.

"I'm praying that the Lord will help me meet somebody," heŇ° said. "He's always met all my needs so I know He will."

He said friends have joked that having a newspaper story about him might go beyond encouraging others in a similar situation and elicit interested candidates.

"If the Lord wants to use this to bring me somebody, so be it," he said with a chuckle.

In the meantime, father and daughter have learned to appreciate what they share.

And each will readily admit that life is too short to waste even a moment.

So at the end of the workday -- or playday, as the case may be -- both confess their favorite time of the day is when they get to reunite.

"I'm just so happy to see him at the end of the day," Anna said. "I just run up and give him a hug. Sometimes I will go sit with him in a chair before I go to bed. We'll just have our time. ...

"I think I will probably always be close to my dad."

"I hope so," Lewis replied.