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Reflections from an Un-father

[1]

It's been said that every dog has his day, and certainly if any "dog" deserves his, it would be the fathers. Once again the time is drawing nigh for their special day — Father's Day — and here I sit once again, an "un-father." For me, this is truly what kids from a past generation called a "downer." You see, I've never had the privilege — and yes, I do mean privilege — of being feted on this day by one of my very own. Oh, I've tried to ingratiate myself into the lives of some youngsters, as somewhat of a "pseudo-father," but it really doesn't work. They still belong to someone else — and I'm still an outsider in the field of fatherhood.

Regret eats away at my heart each year when Father's Day rolls around. I've always dreamed of sharing things like scouts, ball games, PTA (where I could expound on the inadequacies of the education being offered to my child), and arguments over the car. I would trade my organized and orderly existence "in a heartbeat" for the clutter, smelly tennis shoes, noise, and worry over where they're going to be in fifteen years. I'd love the opportunity to start my stories with "Now when I was a teenager …" and end with "… so you see how much better you have things than I did!"

I know there are many fathers who say I must be crazy. "Fatherhood isn't really all it's cracked up to be. How would you like to sit up till the wee hours of the morning, waiting for your son or daughter to come in from wherever they're 'supposed' to have gone, wondering what kind of friends they're running around with, worrying if they're in trouble or had an accident?" Well — I guess I'll never know … but I sure would like to.

You see, there isn't a human alive who really appreciates what they have, but rather longs for, in the words of that old tired axiom, "what's on the other side of the fence." I'm sure that many of these fathers look at me and think, "Wow! He's really lucky! He is a successful doctor with all the money he'll ever need. He can go anywhere he wants, do anything he wants, and never have to worry about who'll take care of the kids, or pay for braces, or music lessons, or class trips, or repairs to the family's nine-old car because his teenager 'sort of' didn't look where he was going, or any of those nagging problems." Well, you're wrong.

[2]

I'm the fellow who is so often seen as lucky, and with whom so many fathers want to trade places. Well, try getting up every morning with nothing to look forward to except work, and when that's over, coming home to an empty house. Sure I have no financial worries, and I don't have to ask anyone if I can do something. Big deal! Fathers have someone to pass on their experience to and share their hopes and dreams with (you bet: "successful" doctors have dreams, too — they don't stop when you make money). What I would give to be able to say to my very own youngster, "You can be whatever you want to be, and I'm here to help you."

I think it would be great to get up in the morning and look for my favorite shirt and find that my teenager (boy or girl) has "borrowed" it to wear to the basketball game (from which it never seems to return). It would be great to "nag" my son to cut the grass or take out the trash … or my daughter to clean her room or get off the telephone. Things that drive some fathers nuts would be manna for this crazy, lonely old fool who has no one to pass anything on to. I know the phrase is trite, but it's one I use frequently — "the other side of the coin." Just like the grass on that other side of the fence, you don't know what you have unless you don't have it. So you fathers go ahead and gripe, but remember you have someone to celebrate with you on Father's Day (even if it is late or rushed).

They say mothers have the best of it — I don't know. I see that they get to clean up the messes their kids leave, pack lunches ('cause the food at school is awful, Mom!), sew up socks, and nag about baths and brushed teeth. Now, on the other hand, Dad has the power! Dad gives you the keys to the car, his credit card for the gas, money for "going out," cheers you on at games, and gives an excuse to your Mom when you don't take the garbage out! What a wonderful position of power!

Sometimes I've thought it would be a terrific idea if we "un-fathers" could serve as a substitute for the real thing and relieve parents of their children for the afternoon on Father's Day. That way we could share in the pleasure given by kids on this "day of days" — and the Dads could take Mom someplace really nice without the kids, and have a day all to themselves. Those of us who have been denied the pleasures of parenthood could stay and act out our fantasy by being "fathers for a day." (You pick your fantasy, and I'll pick mine!)

I don't have any children to share this special day with, and I never will, now. I know what I've missed, and it is my one big regret.

However, there are organizations that offer terrific opportunities to kids without a dad. These kids need someone to fill the void left by the absence of their very own father. Maybe this year I can help by filling that void for some lonely boy or girl … and if you are like me with no children to fill this void, maybe you can offer some mutual help. I don't have a child of my own, but if I can help a child who doesn't have a father to share Father's Day with, I'll be helping both of us. It's something we could all think about this year. We can make it a happy Father's Day for someone else!


Daddy Stats

According to David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values in New York City and co-founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative:

• Forty percent of American children currently don't live with their biological fathers

• Seventy percent of juveniles in state reform institutions grew up with one or neither parent

• Forty-three percent of adult inmates grew up in single-parent homes, mostly without dads

• Thirty percent of children living with never-married mothers and 22 percent with divorced mothers repeat a grade, compared with 12 percent of those living with both biological parents

"The Lost Art of Fatherhood," March 1996, American Demographics

The new stay-at-home dad of the early 1990s may have been more than just sensitive — he may have been out of work. The share of fathers providing child care was probably linked to the health of the economy, according to the Survey of Income and Program Participation of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The share of fathers in married-couple families who provided at least some care for their preschool-aged children while mothers worked rose from 23 percent in 1988 to 30 percent in 1991, the nadir of the early 1990s recession. But in 1993, as the economy recovered, the share declined to 25 percent.

The share of fathers providing child care probably rose in 1991 because the recession put husbands out of work and in the home, according to the report. In addition, declining incomes may have prevented parents from hiring child care, requiring more fathers to pitch in. As the economy took an upturn, more fathers found jobs, and fewer were available to bring up baby while mother worked.

"Bad-Time Daddies," April 1998, American Demographics

 


 

Parents, Teens, and Sexual Morality

New polling and years of research suggest the key to reducing teen pregnancy isn't a program or a condom but a parent, say advocates working to reduce the rates, according to an April Associated Press report.

"Parents matter much more than they think," said Isabel Sawhill, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which, according to AP, is working to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy by one-third by 2005.

The campaign released a review of research over the last two decades and concluded parents can influence whether teens have sex. Nearly every study on the topic has found teens who are closer to their parents are less likely to have sex and more likely to use contraception if they do. Teens who are supervised more closely are less likely to have sex.

"Step one is to debunk the myth that by the time kids are teens it doesn't matter anymore," said Robert W. Blum of the University of Minnesota, who helped review the research. "Most families have the basis of providing effective guidance," Blum said.

The campaign also released a guide for parents with teen-agers. Tips include talking "early and often" about sex, including questions about relationships and pressure to have sex; discouraging early, frequent, and steady dating; and becoming closer to teens by listening to them, supporting their interests and building their self-esteem.