Received a nice note from a reader that’s worthy of discussion:
I stumbled upon your website. Being that I am a single mom (sole parent) and a member of our neighborhood single mom’s club (which is really play dates involving wine), it was refreshing to read some of your articles and how you actually spend time with your children and take care of them, and most importantly love them. Most of our group’s ex-husbands do not take care of their children at all, either monetarily or emotionally. Heck, I don’t even know where mine is! It’s always games or court battles or absenteeism and it’s hurting the kids! My kids mean the world to me. I guess what I am saying is the women I am surrounded by would like to know where real men like you are! That’s right, real men….men that will go to the ends of the earth for their children to help raise them into decent human beings!!! Applause!!!
Of course it’s flattering to get this sort of email, but it’s troubling too as I know so many men who are devoted fathers, whether they’re single dads or in a relationship. Heck, one of my circles of friends are Stay-At-Home Dads, who have chosen to remain at home and nurture their children while their spouse or partner is off in the workforce earning the income they need to stay afloat.
And yet the statistics don’t lie either. My friend Ryan at the National Fatherhood Initiative writes that fully 1/3 of children grow up in the United States without a biological father in their lives. And in some ethnic communities, the statistics are far worse, as shown in the accompanying graph from the National Center for Fathering.
There are just a lot of men who walk away from their partner and children, as if this is a primitive society and once the male imperative of seeing their seed implanted in a woman has been accomplished, they are free to go on to the next conquest. But that’s not quite right, because I think that it’s a more subtle issue and that rather than disinterest or the desire for another woman, a whole lot of men vanish out of fear.
I’ve talked about this before, but our culture is broken on the parenting side, as is visible when you watch how children are enculturalized: girls are taught and encouraged to be nurturing with dolls, doll houses and babysitting while boys are taught to be more competitive with sports, video games and a culture that leads to the horrible “no means yes, they’re just playing hard to get”. Empathy? That’s a girl’s emotion, and yet it’s a critical ingredient to being a good parent. Boys never learn how to be fathers, but girls are in training to be mothers almost from their first conscious breath.
Worse, we humans are an extraordinarily judgmental bunch and there’s nothing more judged than parenting, whether you’re in the market and some stranger tells you that how you’re treating your child or even talking to your child is bad for them, or how parents gossip about how other families are raising their children and how all the ills in the world are due to problems in nurture. As if. And us Dad bloggers aren’t immune either: I write about anything to do with my parenting or children, and it’s predictable that mixed in with the support and suggestions are stark criticisms of my choices and approach.
Put these together and we have a recipe for disaster: Men never learn how to be fathers, their relationship with their fathers is too often damaged, and they are then harshly judged by the women in their live about their ability to nurture and parent their own children. It’s no wonder men throw in the proverbial towel and resign themselves to being less of a factor in their children’s lives. And then it goes around again as the next generation has grown up believing that Moms are critical and Dads are optional in the parenting journey.
In some ways, it all might have been easier 100 or 200 years ago when the male/female roles were more clearly differentiated. Women ran the household and raised the children and men ran the kingdom and fought the wars, never really expecting much more than to have their children give them a hug and say “nice to see you sir” on occasion. But we live in enlightened times — a good thing, don’t get me wrong — but a time when we’re still trying to figure out how this all fits together.
So yes, there are men out there who are devoted fathers even in the face of ceaseless adversity from the mother of their children and even as they realize they haven’t learned much about how to be a great father and are making it up as they go. In fact, some of us even band together and are trying to define the new man, Dad 2.0, and even go to conferences to compare notes and enjoy the camaraderie of other men with a similar perspective and passion towards parenting.
But there’s still a long way to go, and as with many conflicts, it’s sometimes beneficial when you see a challenge to ask yourself what am I doing to make this better? What am I doing to make it worse?
Because you gals aren’t completely innocent in this mess any more than us men are completely to blame for what is happening in too many households in America and throughout the world.