It's been eerily quiet around our neighborhood today - no din from grumbling lawnmowers or whining gas powered trimmers, no screeching from the tree chipper two doors down. Not even the repetitive thump whump from the teenaged basketball boys behind us. It's Father's Day, and I think all the men in the neighborhood are taking advantage of having a day to loaf.
Our neighborhood is rather old fashioned in that most of the families are "intact" - mother and father living in the same home with children. That's probably more than a little unusual here in the Detroit area. In his column today for the Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom quotes a statistic that one in three children lives in a home without a father in it, a number that doubles in African American families. It shouldn't come as any surprise that in those homes children are more likely to do poorly in school, in health, and in life in general.
I think men underestimate the power they have on their family, not just in terms of their personal relationship with their children, but also in terms of their relationship with their children's mother. Having a father at home is important, but so is having a stable home environment with a man and woman who love and respect one another. Kids need to see that in order to know how to love and respect their parents, their siblings, and themselves. Men sometimes have the notion that it's enough to show up at soccer games and birthday parties, to put in an appearance every weekend and holiday, especially if Mom is the main caretaker or custodial parent. "My kids know I love them," they'll say, passing Junior a $50 bill or new video game before driving away.
But do they?
One of my co-workers is a single mom with a five year old son. Her divorce was bitter and acrimonious, and the ex-husband seems to use their child as leverage to "punish" her. When her son comes home from the obligatory "visitations" with his dad, he's either angry toward her or clinging to her every move. "It takes about two days for him to get back to normal," she sighs. "Sometimes he'll hit me or tell me I'm stupid. Other times he'll cry and want to crawl into bed with me."
Having kids is a lifetime proposition, and men who don't know that need to learn it. The term "baby daddy" turns my stomach. It means nothing more than the word "stud" in the world of animal breeding, and totally denigrates the importance and accountability of a father's role.
"It is time to stop this," Albom continues in today's column. " And while I would like to appeal to the men, it's pretty clear that isn't working. So it may be time to appeal to the women. Do not accept this burden. Do not accept this as "the way it is." Refuse to get involved. Refuse you-know-what. But refuse. Because we as a society need to refuse this pattern. We are destroying our future."
I'd like to think that the silence in my neighborhood today means there are lots of dads enjoying "quality" time with their kids - watching a ball game on tv, out playing golf or at the beach, riding bikes or picnicking in the park.
Those are the fathers who who deserve a day to call their own.