'We've come a long way': Single Calgary oilpatch dad balances kids, job search and future hopes

Nothing stays tidy in Orion Fike’s home. The moment his nine-year-old son comes home from school, boxes get opened, clothes get tossed on the floor and stuff gets moved around.

CBC Calgary profiles one family dealing with disability and job loss to learn what it means to be a father

Orion Fike, 45, with his children Paige, 14, and Graydon, 9 at their Marlborough home in Calgary. Graydon is diagnosed with severe autism and ADHD, and did not utter his first words until the age of four. (Falice Chin/CBC)

Nothing stays tidy in Orion Fike's home. The moment his nine-year-old son comes home from school, boxes get opened, clothes get tossed on the floor and stuff gets moved around.

"He seems to thrive in chaos," is how the single father of two describes Graydon, who's diagnosed with severe autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"There's a lot of sensory issues with him," says Fike, 45. "There are certain fabrics he can't wear. He's very sensitive with his hearing. He was nonverbal — he didn't say his first word until about four."

'I want to get the paper'

If an object — however small — goes missing, Graydon throws a tantrum. On this day, it was a piece of paper.

"I want to get the paper! I want to get the paper!" Graydon shouts, clearly upset.

Fike's older child, Paige, helps out around the house. But like most teenagers, she finds a way to be alone now and then.

"Sometimes I get overwhelmed," says the 14-year-old. "But when that happens I just go to my room and put on my headphones."

Maintaining routine despite job loss

The family sticks to a strict routine, which includes hiring a helper to pick up Graydon from school every day. Even after losing his job, Fike maintains the same schedule and commitments so as to not disturb the daily order.

"Routine and stability," says Fike. "I'm trying to keep that all in place. Yes I'll be home, yes [the helper] will pick you up."

There are good days and bad days. Fike has lost count of how many times he's had to talk to the cops, neighbours and strangers about noise, broken things, his son touching stuff or even going missing.

"I turn my back and he's gone. Then I have to canvass the neighbourhood looking for him, and that happens pretty much daily," he recalls.

Graydon Fike plays with the garden hose. He has a very good memory, which can cause problems when he notices an item, however small, has gone missing from the house. (Falice Chin/CBC)

Like many people in Alberta, Fike was laid off during the economic downturn brought on by low oil prices. The demands of single fatherhood means he can't be far from home or gone for long.

"Reading between the lines, I was replaced by someone with the same skill set that had more time," he says.

"It wasn't uncommon for me to have to leave work because one of the kids is sick or had an incident."

Full custody of 2 kids

But things weren't always this way.

Fike used to work in the field as a servicing manager, overseeing oil and gas operations in California and Alberta. He made three times more in his previous job in Calgary, but gave it all up when he gained full custody of both children in 2014.

The fallout with Graydon and Paige's mother involved a breakdown, and social services being called. Ultimately, Fike, his family and the court agreed he should take charge.

The demands of single fatherhood means 'it’s not your time anymore, says Fike, who stands next to colourful lights favoured by his son. (Falice Chin/CBC)

"It's not your life anymore — nothing is the same," says Fike, who doesn't begrudge his role as a single father.

It's just different.

Even his teenage daughter understands.

"He really tries really hard at everything that he does," says Paige. "He's just a great person and I love him a lot."

'I drive her because I love fighting traffic'

At nine years old, Graydon is 95 pounds and growing quickly.

Between looking after his son and keeping him out of trouble, Fike worries he's neglecting Paige. That's why he insists on driving her to school every morning, even though it's only a few blocks, in order to squeeze in a few minutes of father-daughter alone time.

"She could probably walk — she looks pretty capable," Fike jokes. "But I drive her because I love fighting traffic."

"He always tries to find time for me even though there isn't a lot because Graydon takes up a lot of his time," says Paige.

'He’s just a great person and I love him a lot,' says Paige Fike about her father, Orion. (Falice Chin/CBC)

When asked why she thinks other teenagers don't share her enthusiasm for spending time with their parents, Paige says, "I guess they just don't appreciate them and they don't see how much time and effort it takes to be a parent and to love your kid. They don't appreciate them for whatever reason."

These are the moments that make it all worthwhile for Fike. He calls it his "yin and yang."

"We've come a long way," he says. "When I first got [Graydon] full time he was still in diapers. He hasn't put one on since he's here."

The single father says while parenting Graydon has gotten easier in some regards, he knows there are still plenty of challenge ahead for them.

"He's like a hundred pounds! I'm going to be in a lot of trouble in a couple of years," he joked.


Falice Chin

Executive Producer, CBC Ottawa

Falice Chin is the executive producer of news at CBC Ottawa. Before moving to the capital, she worked as the senior producer of the Cost of Living -- CBC Radio's national business and economics show based in Calgary. Her international work has appeared in the Financial Times, the National Post, Zacks Investment Research, mergermarket and elsewhere.