“Congratulations on your wife’s pregnancy,” I said to an acquaintance I ran into in the parking lot at the grocery store.
“Oh, we’re getting a divorce. The baby is her thing, not mine. Doesn’t have anything to do with me,” he replied.
“I don’t understand,” I said to him. “Your child is going to need you whether or not you love his mom.”
“Look. I didn’t ask to be a father so it’s all on her,” he said as casually as if he were talking about the price of bread.
There was nothing more I could say, especially to someone who was so matter-of-fact and distanced from what he was telling me. But it certainly got me thinking about the consequences of that kind of attitude.
It’s not new information. For almost two decades, father absence has been growing to crisis levels in America. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of three children in the U.S. are not living with their biological father. That’s over 24 million kids.
Research also suggests that around 40 percent of American kids are now born to single mothers — some to teenagers but also to an increasing number of women who have become discouraged about ever finding Mr. Right. They are heading to the sperm bank or are settling for pregnancy by a good friend or a one-night stand. The fellow I was talking to doesn’t see his behavior as abnormal because it isn’t. But it’s a sad and disheartening trend.
As a society, father absence is not something that we should get inured to. Study after study concludes that children in father-absent homes are likely to be poorer than their peers and even poorer than the father. They are more likely to use and abuse alcohol, tobacco, and street drugs, fail at school, have an early pregnancy, and be abused. Adolescent boys are more at risk of becoming involved with the law. Girls don’t do much better. Approximately half of the imprisoned women in one study grew up without a dad. Girls whose fathers distanced from them post-divorce often search to reclaim the intimacy of the father-daughter bond well into their adult years, often resulting in a series of unhealthy relationships with men who are older or who seem to be more powerful than they are.