When Eric Behrenfeld’s wife died of brain cancer more than three years ago, life was tough. But when the grieving husband learned his toddler, Owen, had autism, his toughest day got tougher. Even so, the Chicago blues drummer and percussionist fought off depression to parent Owen alone.
"My wife and I were really in love and planned to have Owen," says Behrenfeld, 47. "I had a blossoming career as a musician. I was working a lot. She worked. Owen was a beautiful child, and then she got brain cancer and it was unbelievable."
His biggest success, he says, is that he is raising his son on his own and Owen is doing well.
"I define myself as a solo parent because everyone thinks a single parent is free and dating. With Owen, I don’t have that luxury," Behrenfeld says.
To solo parent Behrenfeld has taken fewer live gigs and is pursuing more in-studio creative projects. Other income flows in from Social Security checks and his small business selling drum accessories.
Owen, now 4, has a speech delay—he uses Picture Exchange Cards to communicate—and is being potty trained. He attends an afternoon special education class at Anderson Academy in Chicago. Through Sittercity.com Behrenfeld found people familiar with autism willing to watch Owen to give him small breaks.
"One of my goals for Owen is to keep him drug-free with an organic and gluten-free diet," Behrenfeld says. "I have had people ask me ‘when are you going to put him on meds,’ but I refuse to do it. He’s healthy and that is the biggest thing I have accomplished, really. I’ve changed his diet rather than drugging him up so I could go out on dates."
Behrenfeld says he finds the term ‘solo parent’ empowering.
"I’ve had to become a ‘Maddy,’ both a mom and a dad," Behrenfeld says. "I’ve learned to be organized, patient and loving. It is a strange thing that I’ve gone through this metamorphosis."