Whoever said raising kids is a woman’s job hasn’t met Andrew Miller, Scott Shaller or Bob Little. These three, and many other Forsyth County men, have stepped up in the face of difficult circumstances to be a paternal figure to children.
It hasn’t always been easy. The days are long and the challenges are many, but in the end, they’re all enjoying the rewarding job of being the patriarch of their families.
A week before Mother’s Day 2009, Forsyth County resident Susan Miller died from cancer less than two months after delivering her fourth child. Her dedication to her family made it difficult to go forward.
“You go through an experience like we did and to think about it, you don’t know how you would actually live through it,” he said. “You pick up the pieces and start to put them back together, and that’s what we’ve been doing as a family the last three years now.”
Each day is both a challenge and a blessing for Miller and his children, Hannah Joy, 13, Madeline, 10, Katelyn, 8, and Andrew, 3.
Miller said he’s been lucky. With flexibility from an understanding employer and his mother volunteering to watch his son during the day, the family has been able to make it work.
“During the same year, 2009, my father passed,” Miller said. “My mother … will watch Andrew during the day so he’s actually been a blessing for her. He gives back to her the love that was taken from her life.”
Miller starts his mornings early, trying to get ahead of the kids as they get ready to go to school.
“My alarm clock is one of three faces that will greet me between 6 and 6:30 in the morning,” he said.
Miller has grown since the days the family would frequent Zaxby’s and Chick-fil-A for dinner.
“Trying to cook has been a challenge — trying to put together a meat and two veggies,” he said “I’m glad summertime is here so I’ll get to do a lot more grilling, which is one of the comfort zones for me.”
Coming home from work is the best time for Miller. There’s less of a schedule, nobody’s rushing to run out the door and he’s always greeted by a bunch of happy kids.
“They light up when I come home at night and greet me at the door and treat me like I’ve been away on a business trip for a week when it’s only been a day’s work,” he said. “That kind of gets you going. That’s a good energy boost when you’re greeted with all their enthusiasm and love.”
Miller said as a man, he’s sometimes runs into the difficulty of raising girls into young women.
“That’s one thing that’s not a specialty of mine,” he said.
But he’s working to teach them and try to relate with them.
“It’s a conscious effort to not just be a father to them, but also mother them,” he said. “They’re daddy’s girls, and girls are often more affectionate and forgiving toward a father than a mother, so I think they’re pretty forgiving of me. But they’re always there to let me know when I miss it by a smidge.”
Scott Schaller was living the bachelor’s life. He’d never been married and he had no kids. He was just the fun uncle.
But that changed a few years ago when his brother died, leaving behind two daughters and a son.
“They wanted to live with me and I couldn’t say no,” Schaller said. “I just sat down with them one night, had a talk with them, said this is how the thing will have to be, we’ll have to work together … . And they just had the biggest smiles on their faces and I said alright, I’ll make it happen.”
Schaller petitioned for custody of his nephews, Jordan and Randi Schaller, when they were 13 and 14 respectively. Their older sister, Taylor, had already turned 18.
Schaller said the biggest challenge was going from being an uncle to a father figure. He said he went from being the cool uncle who would let them get away with things their dad didn’t allow, to the guy who says no.
“That’s the real tough thing, to say ‘no,’” he said.
The kids do get a little more freedom, he said. There are fewer rules. He doesn’t make them clean the house or wash the dishes like their dad.
“He was kind of strict, but it was good for them. I’ve kind of let them slip by the wayside … I’m too easy on them in some ways and harder on them in other ways,” he said. “I’m not there to replace their dad. Nobody could ever replace their dad. They had a really good father and he was really good with them.”
There were plenty of adjustments. But the Schaller family is a large one, so he’s had a lot of help, especially when it came time to deal with his nieces.
“Girls are tough,” he said. “I’m 50, so it’s not like I don’t understand girls, but it’s a whole different thing dating them than raising them.
“Whenever I have any issues, I just call one of my sisters up or mother and they’re ready to talk, so I’ve got a lot of backing.”
Being a guardian has changed him. It’s made him settle down, but it’s been a rewarding experience, he said, especially because he’s taking care of such responsible kids.
“It’s made me a better person,” Schaller said. “It’s a different life. It’s a different feeling. It’s hard to put it in words, but it’s been good.”
Raising kids was second nature for Bob Little, a father of seven. In addition to his own children, Little fostered his uncle’s daughter from the time she was 9 years old until she got married.
When his children began having children of their own, Little said he was looking forward to being a grandfather. So far, he’s has 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Due to some unfortunate experiences, instead of being a part-time grandfather, Little became a full-time father figure to three of his grandchildren.
Two of them have since moved out, leaving 13-year-old Michael, who’s been living with him since before he was 2.
“He’s like one of my own, really,” he said. “I treat him just like I did my own kids. He’s spoiled rotten, but he’s done good.”
Little has made sure to keep his grandson busy, not just with extracurricular activities at school, but projects around the house too.
“On Fridays, we go to yard sales and pick up old mowers that don’t run. Then we get them running and get them to the flea market,” he said. “I keep him busy so he won’t get into nothing.”
This summer, they’ll be going to Florida, and Michael went to camp for a week, Little said.
“When he goes to camp, I miss him, because he’s gone a whole week,” he said.
Little, who drove a garbage truck for the city of Roswell and worked in a food shop in Alpharetta, has been retired for nearly seven years. He admits his parenting style has changed a bit since having his own children.
“When you’re 73, you don’t get out and do too much,” he said. “I can’t keep up with him as fast as he gets around.
“But if he wants to play ball or something like that, I’ll take him backwards and forwards from one thing or the other.”
When Little married his second wife, Jan, 32 years ago, he adopted her 3-year-old son.
“Since we were married … we’ve never been out either a kid or a grandkid,” he said. “I like it pretty good. I enjoy having people around and everything and I enjoy helping people.”