Michael Ray wants you to know he’s just like any other parent. And as much as he would like to keep it that way, I have to jump in and disagree.
This Australian single dad has been raising his 5-year-old daughter Charlie for the past three years alone. In that time, the personal trainer and powerlifter has shattered conventional stereotypes by publicly donning his little girl’s nail polish on his toes at a recent lifting contest. He’s also become a pro at braiding and curling her hair (he credits YouTube tutorials), intricately cutting sandwiches into heart shapes, putting on play makeup, and even making outfits for Charlie’s teddy bears on his personal sewing machine.
Couldn’t you just melt?!
Recently, Charlie has entered kindergarten and to cope with the transition, Michael has begun surprising her with daily love notes in her lunchbox. It’s an effort to help her get excited about reading, along with a way to stay connected to his daughter during the long days of adjusting to school.
Learning about his journey into fatherhood will show just about anyone that Michael’s highest priority in life is helping his daughter succeed and feel cared for. This priority is carried through in every activity he does with Charlie. He even went so far as to help overturn a ban on fathers being allowed backstage at her Melbourne ballet school last year.
He tells Babble:
“It was never about me not being allowed backstage that was the catalyst for taking a stand. It was about Charlie being made to feel different from the other children because of our family situation. The thought of Charlie not having the support of a parent to share her excitement and pride with broke my heart.”
All Michael wanted to do was be there for his daughter during her show. In the process, he changed the way an entire ballet school views fathers and their roles during performances. Michael represents an incredibly positive shift in the way we choose to view fathers and their roles in our children’s (and especially daughters’) lives.
“Charlie’s loved reading right from the start. I’m constantly amazed at how quickly and enthusiastically she’s been able to read,” he says. “The notes are a way to strengthen that, plus I always want Charlie to realize how much I love her and hopefully to enforce the importance of being kind, brave, helpful, and curious. And also to add some silliness and make her smile as well. It’s become something she loves and shares with her little buddies at school.”
Made on construction paper, the notes resemble a mini book. Michael loves to cut out shapes and images that correspond with the messages he’s sending. Notes vary from silly phrases, like “I love you banana face,” to more elaborate designs, like one that spells out “LOOK” with the message, “LOOK for someone to help, something beautiful, someone to be kind to, something to share.” And my personal fave is shaped like a sheep, reading, “I wooly, wooly love you. You will do great things one day.”
“Charlie’s started hiding notes for me in the fridge, so I find them when she’s at school. And she’s also been writing funny little notes for her grandmother as well. So it’s definitely had a positive impact,” Michael tells Babble.
Michael lives for the moments of growth he sees in Charlie, and hopes to be a positive male influence for the partner she will eventually choose when she’s older.
“I’ve never been so aware of needing to be an example for Charlie. Everything from how I interact with others, to being patient and compassionate, to buying her a surprise bunch of flowers from time to time in the hope that she should expect this from potential partners in later years,” he says. “I’m always thinking if I raise my voice or become short with Charlie, how would I feel if her future partner spoke to her in that manner? She sees everything I do, so everything I do is done in the hope [that] she’ll look for any future partner with the same character.”
Whether it’s a daily note in her lunchbox or teaching her a new skill, Michael’s love for his daughter is seen in his every action. And that’s just about everything you hope for in a parent — whether a mom or dad. For Michael, it’s never been about proving that dads can be as emotionally connected as moms. This is simply the way he operates in their daily life.
“As a former boxer and current Australian record holder in powerlifting, if you had told me before Charlie was born that one day I’d enjoy doing a little girl’s hairstyles, nails (and letting her do mine!), and dressing her up in a nice outfit, I would have laughed at you. Now, it’s a joy and a source of pride,” he tells Babble. “Watching this amazing little girl do ballet turns me into a blubbering mess, to the point where the other ballet mums tease me. After spending the first 50 years of my life not crying, I’m definitely making up for lost time!”