A Father’s Day Rant

As a child welfare attorney, I’m familiar with the statistic that boys raised exclusively by their mothers tend to fall into a lot of bad categories:

More likely to have a juvenile record

More likely to end up in jail

More likely to drop out

More likely to become a father prior to age 18

More likely to be arrested for non-support of their children.

More likely to end up needing in-patient psychiatric services

More likely to need drug rehab…

Well you get the point. If it’s a bad outcome, then boys raised by their moms are more susceptible to it. Of course, there are lot young men coming out of female single parent households who do just fine, and better than fine, but the deck is stacked against them.

It’s tempting to conclude the deck is stacked against them because single moms are inadequate parents.

If you come to that conclusion, I will hunt you down and shake my finger personally in your face. Unlike a lot of single moms, my earning capability wasn’t hampered by my gender, I only had the one kid, and my family was behind me 100 percent (and still is).

After a divorce, everybody’s standard of living drops. Two households are more expensive to maintain than one, particularly when, in this economy, the equity in the family home cannot be tapped to smooth any transitions. The studies show that five years after divorce, Dad’s standard of living has pretty much rebounded. Mom on the other hand, often never rebounds, not unless she remarries and takes on all the issues and burdens inherent in the blended family situation.

The kid raised by mom is thus being raised in the poorer household, for starters. That doesn’t help, but it’s hardly definitive of all of life’s outcomes. What I think condemns that child to a greater probability of bad outcomes is not Mom’s best efforts to make a home and provide for the necessities, but Dad’s absence.

People rise above poverty in this county. It isn’t easy, it usually isn’t quick. I’m not sure a kid ever rises above being rejected by their father. From an evolutionary standpoint, Dad is the source of safety, he’s the guy who will slay the tigers and chase off intruders. When he walks away, even if money doesn’t become an issue, it sends a visceral message that for all Dad cares, his offspring might as well be left to the wolves.

It’s Father’s Day. My dad stuck. He never once turned his back on the responsibility of being the sole provider for himself and eight dependents. He never disappeared, he never told himself the kids would be fine without him, and they’d understand when they grew up. He never quit, he never blamed his children or his wife for making his life difficult.

I’m grown up now. I understand a hero when I’m raised by one, and if you know a dad who’s wobbling, a dad who’s going down for the third time, a dad who has that look of banked desperation in his eyes, help him. Support him, listen to him, lighten his load any way you can. If it’s your inclination, pray for him.

On his shoulders rests the fate of many, more than even he knows.

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10 comments on “A Father’s Day Rant

    • Thanks, Lori. A dad is a terrible, awful, horrible, unforgivable thing to waste. The absence of a functional dad goes a long way toward keeping our prisons, rehabs, homeless shelters, and juvie halls filled.

  1. On the other side of the coin, sometimes an absent father is better. Providing food and shelter is not balanced by dealing out abuse (physical and mental.) This leaves scars that, unfortunately, last a lifetime.

    • That is an excellent point, Bonnie. No father (or no mother) is sometimes an improvement over what the genetic cards have dealt a child. One of the hardest things I see in my job is that the the instinct of a child to protect their care providers trumps that child’s survival instinct.

      When kids end up in those bad situations, teaching them that family of choice can take precedence over family of origin is a long, slow, process. This was part of the dilemma I tried to allude to with Lady Maggie’s book, but a lot of people haven’t the frame of reference to see the connections–a lot of lucky people.

    • Larisa, it does get wearisome, but not because of my clients and their stories. The kids are wonderful, but the other professionals–particularly the lawyers–can be a challenge. I’m lucky to work with good judges and a good Dept. or Social Services in a community with a lot going for it, too.

  2. My father disappeared from my life when I was two and reappeared when I was eighteen. I can’t say our relationship was ever perfect but he brought with him my beloved step-mother and for that alone I could forgiven him anything.

    I, in turn, became a step-mother to two daughters and played it forward. They gave me seven grandchildren.

    Too often the word step-mother (or step-father) has an ‘evil’ connotation but there are wonderful non-biological parents out there who ‘step’ forward and become a lifelong blessing to children they don’t share a single chromosome with.

    Grace’s books have a number of terrific examples of this. St. Just and Maggie who were raised by Her Grace. Douglas who is raising Victor’s daughter Rose and St. Just, who played it forward himself, with Emmie’s little Winnie.

    It takes more than genes to make a parent. So here’s to the step-fathers out there who have stepped up!!!

    • Anne, you raise more good points than you know. For one thing, remarriage was expected in Regency days. The idea of “one and done” was highly unusual, the province of people who had a lot of money or no children to raise. The blended family is not an modern invention by any means.

      And yet, the blended family is a tremendous challenge in its present incarnation. The primary reason second marriages end in divorce? Blended family issues.

      Which says that it’s work to be an effective step-parent, which anybody who has tried that role well knows. And yet, I was a shirt-tail cousin for much of my adolescence in my god-parents’ family, and they were my salvation, plain and simple.I owe them more than I can ever say, much less repay, and they already had six kids to keep track of.

      There’s family of origin, which is the genetic luck of the draw, and then there’s family of choice.

  3. I can’t help but think of all the children who had to grow up without their dads because of the war. My dad is one of them, having lost his father in WWII when he was 5 or 6 years old.
    My brother ones told me that those boys (this generation), having grown up without their fathers and therefore (any) male influence, developed certain/special abilities (qualities that are rather female characteristics) and are very special because of this.
    Of course, this is different from dads deliberately leaving their children. Just wanted to say, it definitely forms children whether they have a dad or not and I think every child should have one. Mine is the best (to me).

    • Conny, I think even a small child distinguishes between a dad who can’t be there–he’s off saving the world, he’s deceased, he’s mentally ill–and a dad who just doesn’t feel like making a parenting effort. Any parental absence is bewildering to a child, but the moms and dads who have the chance to parent and choose not to are the heartbreakers.