In between showing off her gymnastic skills - the splits, a tumble here, a cartwheel there - 8-year-old Brooke Marie Bruno blurts out: “In Brownies, they used to say, `All moms sit in a circle.' Now they say, `All moms and dads sit in a circle,'” said the precocious little girl, who will enter the third grade at Sylvan Elementary School in the fall.
Her father, Steve, a 32-year-old electrician, watches, sitting quietly in an armchair in their comfortable apartment near McCord and Brint roads. Mr. Bruno is a single father, one of a growing number of men raising children solo.
Mr. Bruno is what the courts refer to as the sole custodial parent of young Brooke, which means his daughter lives the majority of the time with him, but spends every other weekend and arranged days with her mom.
In response to his daughter's comments about her Brownie activities, Mr. Bruno admits, “I'm the only man ever at Brownies - I found out [the mothers] call me `the token man.'
“Many of the [Brownie] moms are homemakers, and they're always all nice and clean, and I come to activities straight from work, all muddy and dirty,” Mr. Bruno chuckled, adding that sometimes parents there are given gifts loaded with “smell-goods and personal care items” geared toward women, which he doesn't use.
According to a 1998 Father's Day report from the U. S. Census Bureau, there were 20 million single fathers in 1997, 50 percent more than in 1990, and triple that number from 1980.
Father's Day was started in the early 1900s by a young woman, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Wash., who wanted to honor her father, who had raised her by himself after her mother died.
Mr. Bruno doesn't look at his situation as special; in fact, he downplays his single-father status, and states that he and Brooke Marie are a normal modern family. “We just don't live with a mom.
“It's not really hard raising her; it's normal to me. You just do it,” he added.
Still, as evidenced by Brooke's Brownie meetings and activities, if Mr. Bruno and other single fathers are sometimes viewed as rare, his daughter does not seem to think of her living arrangement as unusual. The two have a tiny goldfish, which Brooke calls Jessica. They enjoy going to Brooke's softball games, and do a lot of “girl stuff” together, said Mr. Bruno.
“He's nice,” said Brooke, who quickly added, “Sometimes he's tough, but I still love him. He takes me to fun and exciting places like COSI, the [Toledo] Zoo, and Cedar Point.”
To celebrate Father's Day, the two said they plan to have a casual dinner at the Village Inn, a Sylvania eatery near their apartment. Mr. Bruno said he enjoys cooking for the two of them. Homemade pizza, soup, and spaghetti top their list of favorite meals. “I love his food,” said Brooke. “And, sometimes before bed I get a good snack or a bad snack. A good snack would be watermelon, but a bad snack would be a fruit roll-up,” said Brooke.
Mr. Bruno said he has had custody of Brooke since 1997, when he and his wife divorced. Brooke was 4 at the time.
He said they both decided that it was more feasible for their daughter to live with him. When his daughter is away with her mother, Mr. Bruno said, with a smile, “I relax, and have no purpose in life.”
Quick to correct her father's answer, Brooke gives her dad a devilish grin and gives her version of the truth, giggling, “Nah, he goes on a date!”
Mr. Bruno said his only regret in being a single father is not knowing more about females. “I was raised with three brothers, and I have no idea about combing Brooke's hair. But, I have learned a lot about the importance of shopping. At this point, Brooke is really into shoes; she is a typical girl.”
Keeping a steady routine in Brooke's life, between work, and her softball games, Brownies, and summer school is important to Mr. Bruno. He added that his employer, Infinity Electric, is sensitive to his single status, and allows him to adjust his schedule or have days off if Brooke gets sick at school.
“I've been lucky that it's never been a problem to care for her,” he said.
He is quick to admit that his taste in clothes sometimes doesn't match his daughter's eye for style. “I was dressing like a boy,” said Brooke, who is never at a loss for words.
The solution? “I had to go out and buy her a lot of new dresses. This is another new phase we're going through,” said Mr. Bruno.