I was at a 4-year-old's birthday party when I overheard a young mother. "We call him 'the loser', she said, "but not around Bobby". I cringed. I knew that Bobby was probably aware that the significant adults in his life disrespected this man, and that the man was probably his father. When I hear things like that I worry about children growing up today. One million children in America are involved in a new divorce annually, as of 1997, according to divorcemagazine.com, and The Children's Fund reports that one in three American children is born to unmarried parents (2004 Key Facts About American Children).
E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly, authors of For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, found that "twenty years after the divorce less than one-third of boys and one-quarter of girls reporting having close relationships with their nonresident fathers." And the National Fatherhood Initiative reports "About 40 percent of children in father-absent homes have not seen their father at all during the past year." What kind of role models are we offering our children? With divorced and unmarried fathers currently having the undeserved reputation of "deadbeats", how can little boys grow up proud to be male?
At one time that young mother could have been me. I have made many disparaging comments about my ex-husbands, and I felt completely justified in doing so. All three of the men had let me down in one way or another, and it made sense to place blame when I spoke about my divorces. They weren't my fault; after all, they were always my ex-husbands' fault. That's what I liked to say at least. That's what I needed to believe.
I have experienced a phenomenon within my own family that I have now learned is common, tragic, and very often avoidable. I'm talking about the phenomenon of the fatherless child. Three of my children are in that 40 percent, the kids who never see their dads. They had fathers who it seemed, simply walked out of their lives. The thing to note is that of the four men, it was the three who I divorced, the three who had to deal with the family court system and the state child support enforcement who went missing, not the man who fathered a child with me when we were both unmarried, who wrote a parenting plan with me without involving the court system. I've successfully co-parented with that man for 18 years.
So what happened to the men I married and divorced? Why were they the ones who walked? It wasn't like they were never in their children's lives. These were the men who attended childbirth classes with me, who walked the floor, changed diapers, and played with our babies. We were thrilled to have children together and co-parented successfully while we were married. What exactly had happened during the divorce? Everything changed. The relationships between my children and their fathers disintegrated.