Editorial: A father in the family

Photo taken from: writinglives.org

If you are a sentimental sort, you probably celebrated Father’s Day with a special “father” in your life. We use the quotations around “father” to donate the flexible use of the term in today’s modern family. And we use the word modern to describe families because the traditional family is not so traditional anymore.

Many of the ills in society have been blamed on the structure of the modern family, which often is headed by a single parent, and very often that single parent is a mother. There are, of course, single parent families that are run by fathers but the vast majority of single parent households are missing a father.

As we were unable to find statistics on the matter in advance of writing on the topic, we decided to borrow a few from our friends to the North, the United States of America. The US Census data indicates that over 80 per cent of all custodial parents are mothers (82.2 per cent to be exact) and the remainder are fathers. Most references loosely refer to the ratio as one in six single parent households are headed by fathers.

The census numbers also obliterated one of the key assumptions about single mothers; that “most” are single from the outset. That is false. Of the mothers who are custodial parents, 44.2 per cent were divorced or separated and 36.8 per cent were never married. The remainder, in most cases, represents women who have remarried and a small amount, 1.1 per cent were widowed. Of the single fathers, 53.5 per cent were divorced or separated and 24.7 per cent were never married.

Interestingly enough, when we circulated those figures to locals, the general response was that the Antigua & Barbuda ratio of single mother to single father households is considerably higher. The perception is that the vast majority, well beyond six-to-one, are mother-in-charge households. Even more interesting, most people believed that there are more children being raised by grandparents than being raised in a single father household.

As an aside, we did flip through the last census but could not find any statistics related to single parent households. It may be there but the version we have did not have that information. In case it is not part of the census, we would like to suggest that census be expanded to include questions related to this issue.

Be that as it may, the question of absentee fathers is always a hot topic around Father’s Day. Our small, informal poll on the question of why there were “so many absent dads in our society” produced a number of answers varying from the “spite” of the mother to laziness. Without even doing the poll, we knew that these were going to be in the top reasons for dads being absent.

While most reasons for fathers being absent in their children’s lives are beyond weak, the issue of spite is one of the more troubling. Whether it is the man being spiteful to the woman or vice versa, spite should never play a role when it comes to what is best for the children.

If we borrow some more statistics from the United States, we know that just about half of marriages end in divorce (actually slightly more). Add children born out of wedlock and it is easy to see how 26 per cent of children end up in single family homes (about 22 million in the US). If even one of those children end up being deprived of a father figure in their lives because of spite then it is one too much.

In all of the statistics and the finger pointing there are a few messages that must not be missed. First and foremost, all children deserve a father and a mother. Spite should not keep a father from his children.  On the flip side, if you feel that you are man enough to plant your seed all over the place then you should be man enough to live up to the responsibilities of being father. That macho ‘cultural thing’ is nothing more than selfishness and should have long been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Children should be planned and while “accidents” do happen, there are enough education and protection options available to reduce accidents to a minimal number. Children having children affects the lives of many and the repercussions of having an unplanned child, too early in life, are numerous.  In most cases, the consequences fall disproportionately on the mothers.

We may have just celebrated Father’s Day but the celebration for some may have been non-existent.  We know that we have touched on worn-out themes and held fast to some stereotypes but from casual observation, the single parent trend seems to be continuing. We, as a society, must take the necessary steps to ensure that sex education is taught at an early age, and it is not just the responsibility of the schools. We must all ensure that we do our part to foster a society where children have active parents and our children know that there are lifelong consequences to the few minutes of pleasure that they seek.

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