Fatherless homes need strong hands, hearts
Tuesday August 12, 2003 Grand Junction Free Press
(c) Copyright 2003, Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall, All Rights Reserved Grammy's Axioms, Special to the Free Press
By Marilyn MacGruder Barnewall
A recent Men Against Domestic Violence Survey says children who come from fatherless homes represent:
...85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders;
...71% of all high school dropouts;
...75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers;
...70% of juveniles in state operated institutions;
...85% of all youths sitting in prisons;
...80% of rapists motivated by displaced anger;
...90% of all homeless and runaway children.
That means children from fatherless homes are 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders and 9 times more likely to drop out of high school. They are 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances. Children from fatherless homes are 20 times more likely to end up in prison and 10 times more likely to commit rape. They are 32 times more likely to run away from home.
I often think about the negative impact on my children of their father's desertion. Forty percent of the children of divorced parents haven't seen their dads for the past year.
My kids went years at a time without seeing their father. Then he would come and take them out to dinner. They were thrilled! He did not have to correct them... all he had to do during his brief encounter every few years was take them out to dinner and charm them.
It took me a long time to figure it out... why kids blame mothers because they do not have a dad.
Kids are not present during all of the fights, the visits (in my case) to the prison in which their father was held... or the difficult time on parole. They do not know about the stress of being the family's total support because "he just could not face the public."
Then he decided I had to stop working so he could support his family. He had to regain his self-respect and when I worked, he said, it diminished him. That, in his mind, was why he could not succeed at anything.
When the Lion's Club brought a box of food into my home so we could eat, it was the final straw. We had no money, no food. I went back to work and got a divorce.
The kids were protected from these events... and many more.
No one (including me) sat down and told the children what an irresponsible and (from my perspective) cowardly parent their father had been. All they saw was the charm every few years. Until they were older and began asking questions, I said nothing to them about him.
Not having a father in the home causes hurt and resentment children carry into adulthood. Dad was cool when he visited. Mom made them do dishes, clean up after themselves, and do homework. And, kids never stop and think that maybe the reason mom's in a bad mood today is that she is exhausted from doing the work of two people, year after year.
Because single parents do not want to be bad guys all the time, the kind of discipline required to make children into balanced, healthy adults is often avoided. It is one reason we have so many undisciplined kids running around today.
Is the cool distance that exists between me and my children today because of childhood resentments worth the price of being a disciplinarian? You bet your sweet socks! It's why they are happy adults today!
How do I know unreasonable resentments exist? One experience explained the entire thing to me. Before my son left for his tour of duty in the Navy, we had a long conversation about how it would be necessary for him to find male traits he admired in adult males and learn to emulate them. After all, there had been no male around to set an example for him.
My son and I watched hundreds of football games together. We shot baskets together. I taught him to swim and play tennis and made sure he learned to ski. Teaching him how to develop male-based competitive instincts was not the problem. It was how to be a man. I don't care how smart you are, that is something no female can do.
After he was married, one night he called and told me that because he'd had no male image to emulate as a child, his father-in-law was very important to him.
Since I had never said anything to him one way or the other about his father-in-law, the comment came out of left field. I was shocked. And then I became angry. I was being blamed for something that was not my fault.
I was not the one who deserted him. I was not the one who got sent to prison. I was not the one who refused to adjust to society after confinement. Yet, from my son's perspective, it was my fault he had no male image to emulate as a child.
Since this conversation took place 18 years after I divorced his father, I know children carry resentments into adulthood caused by childhood hurts. If it sounds like I feel sorry for myself, I do not. Raising my children was the greatest privilege I was ever granted.
Thirty-six percent of children, close to 30 million, don't live with their biological father. By comparison, in 1960, just nine percent of children lived with only one parent.
The number of live births to unmarried women increased from 224,300 in 1960 to 1,248,000 in 1995, while the number of children living with never-married mothers grew from 221,000 in 1960 to 5,862,000 in 1995 -- an increase of over 26 times the 1960 number. Those number are going up, not down.
A National Fatherhood Initiative analysis found that of the 102 prime-time network TV shows in late 1998, only fifteen featured a father as a central character. Of these, the majority portrayed the father as uninvolved, incompetent or both.
But for the kids who have them, good dads make a vast difference.
Girls aged 15 to 19 who are raised in homes with fathers are significantly less likely to engage in premarital sex.
Children with involved dads are less susceptible to peer pressure, are more competent, more self-protective, more self-reliant and more ambitious.
Involved dads make an irreplaceable contribution to the lives of their kids. Those who are not involved do irreparable damage...and the mom's who raise these children get blamed for everything that was wrong with their childhoods.
When I read this kind statistical data, it partially explains to me why my healthy, employed, never imprisoned, non-smoking, non-drug involved kids who have never had out-of-wedlock children are not close to me, their mother.
My role was not that of charming them every few years. My job was to protect them... even from themselves when they went through periods of self-destructive behavior. Raising my kids was not about me. It was about them. I made mistakes... a couple of huge ones. But I never stopped trying.
During the years I was a single parent, I did not think about how I was the only one handing down discipline. Then, I began pondering why my kids sometimes resent me. I worked hard to provide a good home, a happy home where everyone felt safe and secure.
Where I went, they went. When I won two first class tickets to Honolulu, did I take a boy friend and spend some time away? Of course not. I took my kids. When I spent two weeks in Ensenada, Mexico, did I "get away from it all?" Of course not. I took my kids.
Interestingly, while on the Ensenada vacation, I sent my son out on a fishing boat with other tourists. I untied apron strings... and had the chef at our hotel cook the fish he caught (for an outrageous cost!). I was trying to teach him about things men do... that being a provider was appreciated. He was 15 at the time.
It sounds like a success story. When they were young, we were very close.
For single moms who read this, take heart. Raising your children -- alone or otherwise -- is the most important job you will ever have. Teaching them discipline is the most important lesson you will ever teach. And, the example you set will largely determine how happy they are as adults. Raising children is not about you. It is about them.
The resentments children have towards parents for correcting them become hurts they carry into adulthood. I see no way to avoid it -- at least, not if you want to be a good parent who avoids all of those statistics about fatherless homes.
When I read these statistics about the importance of fathers, I feel better about the single parent job I did. Both of my kids are wonderful parents. It took me a long time to realize it is because they had a good example... and it was not their father. Arrogant? No. Facts are never arrogant, just true.
I hope every man who reads this article will re-read the above statistics before touching that zipper and taking the chance of fathering an unwanted child.
I'm sorry a marital mistake I made caused my kids to be raised without a father in the home. I'm not sorry for raising them, for disciplining them, or for loving them enough to do both.