Cal Hogan is parenting his adopted son Josh, back in his small hometown of Sourwood, New York. Cal had trained as an actor, but he didn’t have quite the “look” casting agents wanted, being a bit of bear. He’s now using those skills as a voice actor, and working at the Market Thyme grocery full-time to keep health insurance. Cal’s a solo gay dad, though he has some compadres that make up a “Single Dad’s Club” that meets from time to time for moral support. Cal makes ends meet, mainly by stretching himself thin, and fourth-grader Josh is showing signs of falling behind his classmates in terms of socialization, as well as his schoolwork.
Despite Cal making friends easily, picture-perfect single gay dad Russ Ettinger is not Cal’s pal. Widower Russ is hyper-focused, hyper-vigilant, and uber-awesome at all the tasks of an upstanding member of the PTA. Cal has been frustrated by Russ’ constant amazingness, and easy acceptance into the parent cliques at the elementary school. Russ’ son, Quentin, is in Josh’s class at school and it’s shy Quentin who invites Josh to join the Falcons, a mixed-gender scouting club that Russ leads. It seems like becoming a scout is going to be yet another situation where Russ excels and Cal fails, but a lack of a co-leader gives Cal the chance to exert his own agency. Much to Russ’ chagrin, messy, tardy Cal is the only volunteer to co-lead. It seems as if they will clash every Tuesday night, but Cal resolves to be the best co-leader possible and this gets Russ’ grudging respect. Their diverse leadership styles actually mesh, with Cal pushing fun into Russ’ regimented safety-oriented, survival-skill learning plans.
And, well, this weekly connection allows Russ to see that while his life and Cal’s life are different, neither is necessarily better or worse. As single parents, they share common challenges—as well as those of being single gay men with kids. I loved seeing Russ extend an olive branch, offering to watch Josh some afternoons, so he could do his homework with Quentin. He recognizes that Josh and Quentin are good pals and that helping both boys connect also helps Quentin, who has his own interpersonal issues—and his dad’s smothering parental style doesn’t always help. Russ still grieves his husband, who was killed in a traffic wreck, and tends to be extremely cautious with Quentin, as a result. It’s only more frustrating that Cal is so appealing, since he’s not the natty, put-together type of guy he’d like to fall for.
Cal is such a fun-loving guy, but his gregarious persona definitely shields a tender heart. He feels the bruises of the catty PTA society, and wants Josh to be a well-adjusted, well-liked kid. He’s not too proud to accept help in this effort, and the friendship that blooms between Josh and Quentin helps to foster a friendship with Russ. Their one-upmanship dissolves as they spend more and more time in each other’s company. And, hey, the Falcons are learning great survival skills, and having fun doing it! The Single Dad’s Club embraces Russ, and having male friends who can empathize with him is a boon. But, best of all, he finds that Cal is more than the messy, disorganized dad he’d eschewed years ago. Instead, the steadfast, loving person he’s come to know is one who could make his stable and sterile life something enjoyable and worth living every day.
This story features a fun and frisky odd-couple, enemies-to-lovers romance with appropriate focus on the dad part of life, and great development of the growing friendship and later attraction between Cal and Russ. I kind of felt the Single Dad’s Club was a side piece to the main story until late in the story. This book is the first in the series, and each seems to follow a different single dad finding a partner, so I expect I’ll get to follow Russ and Cal in cameos going forward. For now, Russ and Cal begin in enmity and end in love. It’s sweet, and a little sexy. Especially the contortions to which they go to ensure they won’t have any prying scouts figuring out their sexy shenanigans while playing hooky or out camping.