In 2012, there were 24,725,000 single parent families in the United States. That accounts for 35% of the families. The vast majority of those families are headed by mom, as nearly one in three children in this country live without a father. While it is not requisite to have a male figure in children’s lives, statistics bear out that life is more difficult for these kids.
Boys without fathers are twice as likely to go to jail. 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes. 85% of children with behavioral disorders live without fathers. Kids without dads have a 71% dropout rate in high school.
I was about four or five when my parents divorced. Mom and I moved to a new state, and she began the process of trying to rebuild a life that got off on the wrong foot with my father. Obviously, I did not know this at the time. All I really knew was that my dad was not around any more.
Like many little boys who don’t know any better and need their father, I put a lot of unfair blame on my mother. I didn’t know my father didn’t send a dime to help support me until I was almost seventeen. I didn’t know my father chose to live away from where I did for personal reasons. There was a lot I didn’t know, because kids just don’t understand some things. I just knew that unlike some little boys, my dad was not around. And it made life a fearful place.
Daniel Beaty summed up what it is like to grow up without a father in his performance piece, Knock Knock. Things that a father should teach his son, but isn’t there to teach. Things that little boys who grow up without a father or male role model must try to figure out themselves.
Things like how to throw a football, that I was fortunately taught by my fourth grade PE teacher, Mr. Greg Sevigny. Things like how to shave, which I eventually mastered by myself. Things like how to be self confident and self assured, that I still struggle with even though I have done more and gone farther than my father ever did.
I was fortunate enough at the age of eleven to have one of the most decent and loving human beings become my step-father. Like many things, I didn’t realize it at the time. I know now that anything good I learned about parenting or being a husband, they came from my step-father, Joseph Lewis. I don’t call him my stepfather anymore though. This man has earned the title of Dad, and that is how I think of him.
This is not a lecture on keeping marriages together, or even on getting married if a man gets a girl pregnant. What I am hoping to accomplish is that more men who have children but may not live with them still take an active part in their lives. And also, don’t make excuses as to why you aren’t going to pay child support. They are your babies, and a real man would work to give them what they need, not justify why they won’t.
My biological father’s favorite was the he was not going to pay my mother for taking me away from him. My mother was taking me away from a man who went straight to the bank from work with his paycheck and cashed it, then went out to the bars. My mother had to start begging friends for grocery money until the friends started avoiding her. She was also taking me away from a man who very often got into fights when he was drunk, or who would drink so much he would pass out wherever he was. This was before cell phones so she had no clue what had happened to him. Finally, my mother realized that no matter how much harder it would be on her own without him, she knew life would still be better than with him.
So, if you are a man who has a child that does not live with you, please do the right things for your children. Give the money they need. Teach them what they need to be adults in this world. Listen to their stories and answer their questions the best you can. Don’t just be an absent sperm donor. Be a real man. Be their Dad.