By: Veronica De La Cruz
As someone who takes pride in being a loving, doting mother, I find the very idea of a parent walking away from their own child as mind boggling as it is heart breaking. At nearly five months of age, my son has still never met his father.
The short version of the story goes like this: I was in a one-year, committed relationship. One day, my son’s dad was there, and the next (after sharing the news we were pregnant) he wasn’t. A variety of attempts to involve him in his son’s life proved futile. A box of cigars exclaiming, “its a Boy!” still sits in the corner of the apartment gathering dust, along with all of my ex’s belongings from our days sharing the same space. Like I said, one day his father was the only person in my life and the next day, he simply disappeared. Even though we now share a son, he refuses to act as though his child exists.
Unfortunately my story and my son’s predicament are not unique. The Census Bureau estimates that one out of every three American children is being raised without a father.
On Oprah’s Life Class just a few weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey interviewed a number of fatherless sons and opened the program with a mind jarring statistic: 29 million American kids are growing up without their dad. The numbers sickened me. I sat and watched the episode with a box of tissue, holding my baby tight.
What would I tell my son someday when he asked about his absent father? How do you explain to someone that they were abandoned by their own flesh and blood? How would I explain that, regardless of how hard I tried to get his father to be a part of his life, he refused – never coming to a doctor’s appointment, never wanting to see an ultrasound, never even showing up to the hospital the day our son was born?
Yes, I know. Not every situation calls for a father in the home. Some fathers are abusive; some are mentally unfit, while others suffer from addiction. But some fathers are perfectly able-bodied and capable of making a decent living to support the child they brought into this world. The issue arises when these men flat-out refuse to be there for their children, electing to abdicate their role as a father and evade all of the responsibilities that come along with it, as though abandonment is a perfectly viable option.
I started a single mother support group and came across such a situation just the other day. I spent hours on the phone with the city trying to help a single mom find shelter for herself and her children. She had been cleaning houses to get by and sleeping on the floor of a friend’s home with her baby, while another family kept her older twins until she could get back on her feet.
Her story broke my heart because I knew that somewhere behind this single mother was an absent father that did not help, leaving her to support an entire family on her own. An alarming 87 percent of women in poverty got there thanks to a non-supportive, absentee father who let their kids down by failing to provide child support. I’ve also encountered men who have seen the damage that an absent father can do. Art Alexakis, the lead singer for alt-rock band Everclear, wrote the hit song “Father of Mine” about his own experiences growing up without a father. He then testified before Congress in support of a “Deadbeat Dad Bill” (formerly known as H.R. 1488), saying, “The fact that song went to #5 on the charts and went double platinum tells me that there are millions of kids out there who are angry with their parents and forced into poverty because of non-support. We have to stop this cycle of abuse. Now. We cannot let another generation of children grow up thinking that it is acceptable not to support your children.”
And this is how the problem of fatherless homes in America has gotten worse — society’s seeming acceptance that is okay for a man to abandon his duties as a father to children he helped bring into this world. Of course, it isn’t okay, but the escalating scope of this crisis all too often sounds a chord of resignation or inevitability in the communities it most deeply affects. Collectively, we must not stand idly by while more young children are raised in an atmosphere where either parent can be seen as optional or we risk compounding those statistics with each generation. Now is the time to stand up and be counted, to make a change in our laws, and in the way we – as citizens and community members – regard men who chose to flee rather than father their own children.
The great Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” That statement alone should ask all of us to reflect not only on the state of our own families, but also on our country’s future should we continue to look the other way when it comes to absent fathers.
Do something about fatherless homes by joining Art Alexakis of Everclear as he pushes for Responsible Fatherhood. Sign the Stand Up, Man Up! petition today.