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Single fathers have a tendency, more than single moms, to "feel incomplete" without a partner in the house, so they risk rushing into a new relationship that may not be right, said single dad Armin Brott, author of several books on fatherhood including "The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting Without a Partner" (Abbeville).

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It means not underestimating your kids' intelligence when you try to pull off sleepovers on the sly.

"Every kid I interviewed, at least those 10 and older, told me a story about how their dad had this person stay over and they were supposed to believe she was sleeping in a separate room," Fisher said.

Leave the sneaking around to teens, she said, and don't have a girlfriend sleep over while your kids are over, particularly when the relationship is casual and short-term.

As a single dad wading back into the dating pool, Daniel Ruyter was surprised how many women lost interest when he revealed, always in the first conversation, that he had a son.

"At first I took it personally," said the Orlando, Fla., information technology analyst, who was 32 when he divorced and got joint custody of his then 5-year-old son.

"I found it very arbitrary that before they got to know me, they had decided against me." But as Ruyter cycled through "close to 100" first dates and a few long-term girlfriends (a scheduling feat, considering half his week was devoted to his son), his romantic standards heightened in ways they may not have pre-fatherhood.

He broke off one relationship because her dream of a downtown condo didn't fit with his need for a yard and swing set.

"I think sometimes the women I dated didn't realize that single dads still have parenting obligations that, for me, came first," said Ruyter, now 36, who maintains the blog "Memoirs of a Single Dad" (memoirsofasingledad.com) and recently self-published the book "Memoirs of a Dating Dad." Changing landscape As fathers grow more engaged in child rearing, and courts more willing to grant them custody, single dads increasingly are dating with kids in tow — in heart if not in hand.

Some 2.8 million single dads live with their kids, up 27 percent from 10 years ago and nearly double the number in 1990, according to Matthew Weinshenker, assistant sociology professor at Fordham University, who analyzed 2010 census data.

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