TLC is celebrating Mother’s Day with dads — a quintet of single fathers looking for ladies who will love their kids as much as they do. And love them, too. The net’s new series Single Dad Seeking features the diverse dads taking a shot at love with women who want to be moms but haven’t found the right man to make it so.
Getting to know one another via months of phone calls, video chats, text and email, the matchmaker-paired couples finally agree to take the next step, moving in together for a trial run at their happily ever after.
Meet the seekers:
Jason Bunch — Indianapolis, Indiana
Jason was born and raised in Indiana where he raises his two teenage daughters. He is a public defender with an edge who loves metal music, art and reading. Jason is looking for a connection with Sara, a video game tester, who is originally from Connecticut.
Mike McGill — Orlando, Florida
Mike was born and raised in New Jersey. He works as a roofer and resides in Orlando with his son Mikey. Mike is hoping that he will find that special someone in Valene. She is originally from New Jersey and has always wanted to have at least one child.
Paul Sanderson — Ovett, Mississippi
Paul was born and raised in the South. He works in retail to support his four children. Paul is hopeful things will work out with Kallie. She was born and raised in North Carolina and is one of triplets.
John — Fishers, Indiana
John was born and raised in Kentucky where his family still lives. He works as a mechanical engineer and loves motorcycles and weight lifting. He currently lives in Indiana with his son Elijah. John is hoping that Denise, a nurse and equally enthusiastic fitness fanatic, is the perfect match.
Jake — Provo, Utah
Jake was born and raised in Utah along with his 12 brothers and sisters. He has three children and works in construction. Jake is hoping to make it work with Ami, a high school science teacher from Fort Lee New Jersey.
We sat down with Paul, Mike and Jason earlier this year to talk about what motivated them take part in this unique social experiment, what their kids thought of the process and more.
Channel Guide Magazine: Can you start by each giving me a sort of CliffNotes version of your experience as a single dad?
Paul: Oh, it’s changed me so much. You say you want to be closer to your kids, and something like this comes along you could never imagine how much closer you’ll be with them. I mean even being here, as much fun as I’ve had right now, I just miss them terribly. I use to work offshore, so I’d be gone 21 days at a time and as a dad you kind of put your priorities as “Yeah, know I gotta provide and work,” and it didn’t really affect me like it does now. Just from being the sole parent, the bond just seems to be so much stronger.
Mike: For me, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life — trying to work a full-time job, support the house for him and I, pay the mortgage and also be able to pick him up on time, and do everything that we need to do. Baseball, soccer, all that other stuff, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, because at the end of the day, when he lays down and I tuck him in and he tells me he loves me, that’s all that matters to me. It makes every hard obstacle in our way that much worth it. It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. He’s actually my hero.
Jason: I think what you typically have when you have the father who is only there temporarily, they’re missing so much apart of that child’s life. And the awesome thing about being a single dad is that I’ve been there every step of the way. I haven’t missed any part of my kids’ lives. We talked earlier about the little bit of a stigma that’s involved — sometimes, you get a little bit of a like, a double take in stores and things like that. But it’s absolutely worth it, because I’ve been able to enjoy all of my kids lives, whereas my father was not always in the picture, and so he missed a lot of my life. I thankfully didn’t do that with my kids.
CGM: What is your co-parenting situation like? Because that can have a huge impact on your experience as a single parent.
Jason: My ex-wife is not in the picture at all, so it’s just been me.
Mike: For me personally, my son’s mother is 1,200 miles away up in New Jersey and I live in Orlando. We actually co-parent pretty well, as far as arrangements for holidays or summers and things like that. As opposed to when we were before when we were together, it was harder because we were too busy arguing with each other, so it’s worked out a lot better, and she ended up actually being one of my closest friends.
Paul: I would say me and my ex work well with the kids. I mean, that’s pretty much what the total of the relationship now is. She sees them pretty regularly, every other weekend now — but she lives about two hours away, so that’s pretty much the extent.
CGM: Tell me what made you decide to take a chance on this show?
Paul: I would say I was pretty much in a stagnant situation — that’s the best word I could use to describe it — where, you know, I can’t really go out and date because I don’t have anyone to watch the kids, or anything like that. I would try internet dating and it was going nowhere — women would say “hey, you look nice,” all this stuff, and I would invest what little bit of time and effort I have into it. And then as soon as I mentioned I have four kids, that was the end of the conversation.
So I basically prayed for God to fix my stagnant situation, and the very next week I got an e-mail that I though was a scam. The very first words on it were “this is not a scam.” I was like, no, that’s a scam. I threw it away for like a week, but I got another one and they just kept on. The curiosity got me and I finally called, and it took them a very long time to convince me that this was a real thing that they were wanting to do. And it seemed like an answer to my situation.
Mike: For me personally, similar to Paul, I thought it was something that it wasn’t. I mean, it seemed too good to be true, so I think my response was “I’m not sending Mikey to Nigeria and I’m not gonna wire-transfer any money.” [Laughs] But they were persistent — but in the best way. They didn’t hound us; they let us know that “we have this to offer.” I took two years off for me — where I didn’t even consider dating because I was too busy trying to teach him how to read and math and everything else — and it just worked out so well with the timing, and I was ready to go out there. And also I got sick of my son saying my cooking’s horrible, so maybe I can fix that. [Laughs]
Jason: I got an email and I thought it was a scam, as well, but then I double checked it — I crossed checked it against some things. I’m a criminal defense attorney, so I was investigating it and all the names were legit, the phone numbers were legit, and so I finally decided to respond. Then, through the process, I got to know the producers. So that’s how I got involved. I think we’ll all say it sort of fell into our laps … which is just insane [Laughs].
Paul: … divine intervention or something. There has to be someone out there looking out for the five of us, because the hardest thing to do is date with a child.
Mike: It gets lonely laying down at night by yourself. They go to bed early and you still got the next three, four hours by yourself. You’re cleaning up the mess from dinner, you’re cleaning up the toys on the ground, but you’re doing it by yourself, as opposed to having someone there that you’re head over heels in love with and enjoying that time.
CGM: Obviously TV viewers are going to want to see a happy ending, regardless of whether it’s real or not. So did you guys feel any sort of pressure in that regard — oh God this is, this is television, I have to make good television — or did you just allow the process to happen?
Paul: The relationships are real. There’s feelings involved, and those are gonna make a happy ending — especially for me, just the kids getting to experience this, for me, is worth it a lot.
Jason: Right. I mean, I think there is a reality TV construct for sure, but what transpired inside of that construct was absolutely genuine. So, it’s real emotions and these events were absolutely 100 percent real. I didn’t feel any pressure to present a happy ending for television. I wanted a happy ending for myself, so that’s what I was thinking about. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that there were cameras there, because after a couple of days, you kind of get used to them — they kind of become background — and you have to focus on what’s really going on in your life. Because once the cameras are gone you still have your life to live.
CGM: Were each of you allowed to have your experience, however it went, to have as much time as you wanted to communicate with the women before you met with them in person? Were you allowed to do this on your own terms?
Mike: We were, sort of.
Paul: It was loosely open to us. They gave us some options through the matchmaker: this is someone who will fit what you’ve told us you’re looking for. Then we did the video chat and everything like that. And they didn’t want us to experience everything, because they want to be there for several of our first things. They also wanted to capture our real experiences, too, so, it was kind of a give-and-take.
CGM: Can you each talk about the matchmaking process, because I’m guessing, you’re gonna learn some things about yourself in the process, too, while you’re kind of looking for a woman or trying to make a match.
Paul: It was really extensive, and going through that, I had to answer some of my own questions as to what I’m looking for. You know, you don’t really realize that there probably should be more training on dating. It would probably help in general.
Mike: Like a Bachelor degree. [Laughs]
Paul: Yeah. It really has taught me a lot about what I’m looking for, and what our family needs.
Mike: Yeah, for years I’ve gone off my own decisions as far as dating. It hasn’t always steered me wrong, but going through the matchmaker, I was really reluctant, because I’m filling things about myself. So I’m giving a stranger all my information, and they’re gonna go ahead and statistically put it together and see what is out there for me. I was like, how is this person gonna know off of what I just checked on question C? But to be honest with you, I’m kind of bummed I didn’t go through it earlier, because they were spot on with everything and professional in every way. Our matchmaker couldn’t have been any better.
Jason: Yeah I mean, I don’t know if it was the personality test or what it was, but they were able to find more than one match for me and probably any of the women that they presented to me would have worked out. Because I talked to a couple of them, and in talking to both of them, there was an instant connection. They fit.
In the “swipe right” culture, we’re still being matched on somewhat on looks, but that’s only one criteria. A lot of it was personality, interests and things of that nature. I remember talking to Sara, who I’m on the show with, and one of the first things she said was just about how she likes, on an off day, to sit down and watch The Shining. I was like, wait, you like horror movies? [Laughs] and those things just kept piling up and piling up. I’m like, “Are you a factory creation — do you really exist?” She was a real person, and the matchmaker was the one that was able to put that together for us.
Paul: It was unreal how the chemistry worked, it really was.
Jason: It really was. She fit so many criteria that I was like, “You are like a fantasy girl” — but she wasn’t. She was a real person. [Laughs]. It allowed a much deeper connection to occur right out of the gate. And that you wouldn’t just see someone across a bar and like the way they look, because you may not be compatible with them at all.
Paul: Plus, how hard it is for us to even do that on our own, with the kids, you know?
CGM: Did you have family discussions with your kids before you actually said yes to this?
Mike: Yeah, we were all similar with that. Like, I eased my son into it slowly. He’s only six, so I would tell him when I got contacted … then waited a couple of weeks … “Well, I have an opportunity, we can do something.” But I left it at that, and then I eased him into “There’s gonna be cameras, if you want to do it.” This was before anything was finalized with us, once I knew he was okay with it — it literally took me four months just to break it to him. The last part was, “Are you okay with Daddy meeting somebody and spending the summer with them?” He was all about it, he was so on board. He was like, “Oh so we get to go on vacation, we get to spend the summer with someone amazing, and we get to go have all this fun!” so he was so stoked to do it. He was more excited almost than I was. I was nervous.
Jason: My kids were probably the oldest of the group, they were teenagers, so we just had an honest conversation about everything, and talked about it, and talk about whether or not we wanted to do this. We all decided that we did. There were definitely measures that were taken to protect them, and there was ongoing discussions with producers about what we did or didn’t want on TV in regards to them. I felt like everything was handled with care, and they definitely had a say in it because of their age. They were part of it.
Paul: In my case, it’s funny because I have an older set and a younger set, and I handled it almost exactly as they did with theirs, according to their ages. With the older ones, it’s just easier to to sit down and talk to them about it, and see their feelings on it and everything. It was almost identical, according to the age group.
CGM: Plus — and I know this from experience — with the older ones especially, it’s also “one minute I’m fine with it and the next minute I’m fine with nothing.”
Jason: Absolutely, and I definitely experienced that. There were definitely days that were better than others with them, but we’ve done some pickups and stuff since then and now they’re like it’s old hat and fine how many hours are we shooting.
Mike: We got fortunate. The production company, our crew and everything — I can speak for myself, and [Jason and Paul] can probably say the same — they understood that Mikey came first, and my son is what matters more than myself. They understood it. Everyone from the production crew, to [show publicist] Raul, everybody — everyone has been understanding that if Mikey’s not happy and I pull out that you understood why. They also understood that going into this, that the children came first, before any of the show stuff.
Paul: They were really good and made sure to make us comfortable with the idea of “We understand these are your kids. This isn’t a TV show, when it comes to that.” I was 100 percent confident that if anything was to ever go wrong I could say no to this and it would be handled that way.
CGM: Tell me about the first you met these women. Terrifying? Thrilling? Somewhere in between?
Jason: I thought about that, because my whole issue always with online dating, where you don’t see the person first is, is there chemistry? Like, what if she gets here and I feel nothing? (Laughs) Because I’ve gone out on dates like that — I meet somebody and then I go out on date, and I’m like, when’s this gonna be over? Well, it’s not gonna be over for a while! [Laughs]. So I was very nervous about that, and then when Sara got to the door, there was chemistry immediately — just a huge sense of relief. I was ecstatic, actually, when I met her. It was great. It was a wonderful moment.
Mike: I was super nervous for the day I met Valene, I was more nervous than I probably have been since the day my son was born. The whole time my son’s like, “Dad, your face is getting red! You’re sweating!” My son’s my best friend so he was taking jabs left and right, and making it easier for me. Once he came in, I stuttered a little bit, and I was sweating a lot. But it was awesome, because Mikey was also a part of that moment, so he kind of cured the jitters a little bit for me. It was a great feeling.
Paul: That’s actually what I like about Kallie was she was doing that for me. Just talking to her, she goes out of her way to make me feel comfortable. That was a big help for me, because I can be a little awkward sometimes. The first meeting, it is awkward, but you talked to this person, you know something about them, you know you like them, you know you match up on so many things — but you haven’t met them yet. Meeting is still awkward no matter what. That was where our chemistry came from — how open she is and helpful, as far as trying to make it work.
CGM: I won’t ask you to reveal any spoilers, but was there any part of the process where you found yourself saying, “I would have never in a million years guessed this was going to happen?”
Jason: I think it’s happening right now! [Laughs]
Mike: For me, I think just seeing how well it worked — and not only from our standpoint, but as far as everybody who made this show possible, the steps that they took and how thorough they were. It made it just that much easier. I remember thinking throughout the summer that I could not believe this actually working. I was laying down in bed, and I was like “This is amazing!” I must have used amazing a million times over the summer. I couldn’t stop saying it. That’s the best way I could sum up everything that happened.
Paul: Yeah, it’s a lot. I’m a pretty plain guy. I live off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and I have actually said the words, “I can’t believe these people would do something like that — be on one of those reality TV shows.” It’s really funny. God has a sense of humor. He really likes seeing me eat crow. Just the way this came about was an amazing opportunity for me and my family. Just looking around, this is something I would have never done, which is why I’m so happy we did it as a family. I think this is a good thing, not just for myself, but my kids also.
Single Dad Seeking premieres Sunday, May 8 at 10/9CT on TLC.