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The Dad Zone: Three girls, one guy -- this single dad is making it all work


Carmine Muscarella shares a special moment with his stepdaughter Madison Steele, 10, and daughters Gianna Muscarella, 5, and Kayleigh Muscarella, 8, during play at their home in Caledonia.

Carmine Muscarella shares a special moment with his stepdaughter Madison Steele, 10, and daughters Gianna Muscarella, 5, and Kayleigh Muscarella, 8, during play at their home in Caledonia. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Jan Swoope



With three beguiling females under his roof, Carmine Muscarella concedes he's outnumbered and, at times, outmaneuvered. But this single dad in Caledonia wouldn't trade the equation for anything. Last Father's Day, he was not able to see or talk to the girls at the center of his life due to a family situation. This Father's Day is a different and happier story.  


Muscarella's is a face of America's evolving family landscape. He is one of the 2.6 million single dads raising minor children. The number reflects a startling ninefold increase from the fewer than 300,000 single-father households in 1960, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data released in 2013 by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.  


"This isn't what I planned, but I take it seriously. ... My purpose is my family," said the 32-year-old divorced father who has raised the girls as a single parent since July 2010. 


A family portrait 


In addition to dad, the lively household is made up of daughters Gianna, 5, Kayleigh, 8, and stepdaughter Madison, 10 -- plus three dogs and a cat, Casey, that rules the roost.  


Madison is the intellectual. Schoolwork comes fairly easy, and she picks up things quickly. Kayleigh "is my roughneck," her dad smiled. She's the archer, the shooter, the one most likely to come home bruised and not know how. Gianna (Gia for short) is "my little love bug. Ever since she's been a baby, she's had those cheeks you just want to pinch," said Muscarella. Gia loves art and makes friends with anyone she meets. 


"Look at this one!" exclaimed the 5-year-old, enthusiastically conducting a tour of paintings adorning the living room and hallway of the home across from Caledonia School, which the girls attend. She flitted from spot to spot, her long ponytail swinging. There are no framed commercial pieces on these walls -- only canvases painted by the children (and even some by dad.) It's one of the many things they do together.  


"We don't have cable; we don't need it -- we're too busy doing stuff," Muscarella said. "We do a lot of outside country stuff." Along with archery and pellet-gun target practice, the girls make good use of their huge back yard and nearby Ola J. Pickett Park. They enjoy sports like soccer and T-ball, and mixed martial arts, too.  


"I love sports; I believe in sports," explained dad, a sometimes personal trainer who was also a former director of the Columbus Air Force Base Fitness Center. It's important, he feels, to know what it's like to get bossed around, get tired, and work through it.  


"The girls are still young enough to be looking for what they love," he added. "I tell them they can try anything, but they're going to do it for a whole season."  


Outside the house, a stiff, reviving breeze filled the dance cards of every tall tree as the siblings played on a wooden swing set Muscarella had assembled. He watched from a picnic table as the kids jockeyed for the choicest swings or zipped down the slide. Outbursts of laughter or "Daddy! She got my gum!" kept him alert. 


Evidence of an active household was everywhere. There was no car under the carport, only a fleet of bikes in pinks, purples and greens. A girly assembly, except for the Harley in the middle of the bunch. It's one of the few personal indulgences the New York state native allows himself.  


"You have to take at least a tiny, tiny bit of time for yourself," he grinned, pinching a thumb and forefinger close together. "It recharges the batteries and makes me a better father." 




Juggling work and parenthood 


Like virtually every single parent, Muscarella grappled with the issue of childcare during the workday. The U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and former active duty servicemember is a work/life consultant at the Columbus Air Force Base Airman and Family Readiness Center. In the course of his job, he helps others who are going through significant transitions, something he knows about firsthand. 


After-school care was his primary lifesaver initially, but since his mother relocated to Caledonia, the girls spend those hours and summer days with their grandmother, developing a closer relationship with her and learning more about the family's Italian and Sicilian heritage. 


Church is a vital element of family life. They attend Annunciation Catholic Church, where dad has ended up as at least one daughter's Sunday School teacher.  


"I love our church community. It means as much to us as our community here in Caledonia," he said. 




Girl stuff 


As Gia, Kayleigh and Madison mature, Muscarella knows he will be called on to deal with more "girl stuff," but feels good about the support system he has in his mom and sisters.  


The biggest challenge, he said, is helping the girls understand why "it's just us, why the family looks the way it does right now." But love and loyalty are big assets in making it all work. The past few years have honed a few principles he tries to live by. 


"Talk to your kids like they are people; they understand more than you want them to," Muscarella shared. "Have a schedule during the week. Routine makes things easier on you and them. And if you have something you want to do that you don't want to be interrupted, whether it's chores or taking a shower, do it before the kids wake up or after they go to sleep." And most especially for dads with daughters: "Be the type of man you want your little girl to bring home. Thinking about things that way helps me be a better man." 


Yes, life will get hectic and Murphy's law will occasionally descend. "But when it really gets tough, I just remind myself that this is what I wanted, this is what I fought for. Even on my worst day, I'm blessed. I know that, and I'm grateful."


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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