When she looks at her dad, Jennifer Springer sees a "Giant!" That's understandable. Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall, Craig Springer looms over the petite, blond 5-year-old.
On the other hand, she also says he makes a great mom. A single father, Springer is often called upon to be both mom and dad. Sometimes it feels awkward.
"Being the mom, like with Jennifer, she's a little girl . . . I try to do the best I can," Springer said. "There's no replacement for two people. It's best that the children be brought up with the mother and the father, but you just do the best you can.
"I give them a lot of affection."
After 10 years of marriage, Springer was divorced a little over a year ago. Suddenly being responsible for his children doesn't affect him. "I've been doing it all along. It hasn't been a big change in my life," he says.
Then he thinks again. "Financially it's been a change, though," he admits. "That's why we're in a two-bedroom apartment instead of a three-bedroom house."
That will change soon. The court has awarded him child support payments from his ex-wife. He plans to start shopping around for a house to call home.
It's obvious that his children think this gentle giant is a great dad.
"He's really kind of easy on us, but he can be strict," says 10-year-old Craig Sringer II. In fact Craig has only one complaint about living with just dad, "You have to do more work."
Springer, a probation officer for the state, is trying to instill a sense of responsibility in his children. While "I do the majority of the work" around the house, he points out that "everybody kicks in. They take care of their room" and do other jobs to share the load.
Craig "usually takes out the trash and will sometimes do dishes." Jennifer might dust or wipe off the counters. "When they get out on their own, I want them to be able to take care of themselves."
Free time with the children can be at a premium. They go to the park or sometimes go fishing. In fact, Springer recently bought a boat, which he and the children are refurbishing. "Then we can go out fishing more," he said.
Realizing that, as the children get older, they will want to participate in other activities, Springer says: "Basically, you just do the best you can. You try to schedule the time and go with the flow."
One thing he has learned from his job is to "prioritize things and do them as they come." His children are his first priority.
There have been adjustments to make. Springer wanted to attend law school, "but that's not in the picture right now." Instead he studied criminal justice and will return to school this fall to begin work on his master's degree.
Eventually, "when the kids are grown," he hopes to pursue that law degree.
Springer's employers also have learned to make accommodations. When the children are ill, he faces a problem _ telling the boss he needs time off. He found that there are differences between male and female supervisors. His current boss is a woman and "she's fantastic about letting me have off." On the other hand, a previous male supervisor wasn't "as compassionate. He wanted to know, "Why can't the ex-wife take care of them?' "
While Springer usually has holidays off at work, during summer vacations and other free time, the children are frequent visitors to the home of Arthur Springer, their grandfather, who lives in Brooksville.
"My father's great! He's a good man," Springer says enthusiastically. "He loves it as much as they do. They'll bicker back and forth, but he really enjoys it. They (the children) have a really good rapport with my father."
Still, Craig would like to have dad spend "just a tad" more time with them.
While Jennifer thinks of dad as a giant, Craig feels he's more of a monkey. "He's always eating bananas," Craig says with a laugh. Not to be left out, Springer points to Craig, calling him a "laughing hyena. He laughs all the time." Jennifer on the other hand is a "chimp, because she gets into everything!" he says. Then they all laugh.
What is Springer's secret to success as a single father?
"It takes a whole lot of patience. You have to give the kids lot of love." He also feels that it's important to "spend time with your kids because they grow up so fast."