Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why I’m Proud to Be a Bastard

Reflections from the Dad-less on the Eve of Father’s Day


I consider myself a shameless member of America’s great, unheralded “33 percent.”

Never heard of the “33 percent?” Well, in case you haven’t, that’s the estimated percentage of Americans that have grown up without fathers. It’s a number that’s certainly swelled over the years -- in 1960, our rank was the a not so great “11 percent,” but now? Holy shit, we constitute a third of the freaking nation.

If you want to get technical with the terminology, however, you can actually boost our rank up to about 41 percent instead -- that number, of course, representing the percentage of contemporary births to out-of-wedlock bastards and bastardettes. A majority of black kids are growing up without fathers. Among white children with mommas without college degrees, the “no-daddy” meter rises to about 60 percent. Unless trends somehow find a way to reverse themselves, we’re no doubt facing a sooner than later future where Americans sans padres represent a plurality of the nation.

It’s oft-said that “Father’s Day” is the least celebrated holiday in the U.S. “Everybody has a momma,” one old adage goes. “But only a select few have fathers.” And for an ever-increasing amount of Americans, the whole concept of “fatherhood” is quickly becoming an archaic ideal.

It’s not so much that father absenteeism plays a huge role in American’s contemporary woes as it is the fact that father absenteeism is pretty much responsible for ALL of them. Think I’m joshing you? Check out the following stats, provided by the National Fatherhood Initiative:

POVERTY: Last year, 12 percent of kids living in families with married parents were officially deemed impoverished. Compare that to the number of single-mother households, which stands at 44 percent.

MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH: Kids in single mother homes aren’t just likelier to be more aggressive than kids living in two-parent homes, but evidence exists that when kids have fathers with multipart fertility (meaning, they got some women not named “the kid’s mom” pregnant), they are much likelier to experience more externalized behavior problems.

INCARCERATION: Even with income taken into consideration, kids without dads have significantly higher likelihoods of winding up in jail, with a Department of Justice report from a decade ago revealing that about 40 percent of inmates grew up in single mom homes.

GENERAL CRIMINALITY: The more exposure one has to his or her biological father, the less likely he or she is to engage in criminal behavior. Period.

UNWISE SEXUAL DECISIONS: Growing up without a dad? Then you’re likelier to become pregnant or get somebody pregnant as a teen, marry without having a high school degree or marry someone that doesn’t have a high school degree. For girls, the outcomes are particularly severe; without a father around, studies have shown that they are twice as likely to experience early menstruation and four times likelier to engage in premarital sex.

CHILD ABUSE: Without a dad, you’re likelier to experience abuse at the hands of an adult. Kinda’ goes without saying, huh?

SUBSTANCE ABUSE: No pa around, and you’re much likelier to smoke, drink, or use marijuana than kids with a mother and father in the household.

OBESITY: Not only are kids living in fatherless homes likelier to be overweight and obese, one study found that ONLY the parenting behaviors of the father (as in, like, not being there) were found to be closely associated with a child’s risk of obesity.

EDUCATION: Oh, goddamn, this might take a while. Without a father, a child is a.) less likely to score all As in school, b.) have poorer reading skills, c.) have less developed language skills, and d.) post overall lower vocabulary scores. And as we all know by now, unless you have your neurological shit together before kindergarten, you’re biologically determined to utterly fail as an individual.

At one point in history, being a bastard (I think the gender analogue would be bastarda, but I could be wrong) was something one ought to feel a tremendous amount of shame about. But in our modernized, increasingly dad-less civilization, the term “bastard” is pretty much losing its impact as a pejorative; methinks in a couple of decades, the very term itself may become something of an antiquity, kind of like "toerag" or "ragamuffin" -- ancient language that once held tremendous contextual power, that over the course of time, have been reduced to regional peculiarities that sound about as offensive as a Dr. Seuss pronoun.

It’s impossible to really tally up just how much damage father absenteeism has wreaked for American society. Granted, I don’t think it would have altered things to the point where we would be currently living in a utopian paradise, but still. Lower crime rates, a more educated citizenry, less poverty across the boards; if dads would just do their fatherly duties, there’s no denying that we, as a culture, could put a serious dent in a majority of the social problems that plague America like…well, the blight of father absenteeism, I suppose.

The problem, of course, is that you can’t make people perform such a patriarchal role. For a lot of deadbeat dads, it’s easier to live their entire lives on the lam, or in jail, than it is to raise a kid. As an alternative to childrearing, incarceration isn’t all that bad a tradeoff for a much, much larger percentage of the nation’s men folk than we’d perhaps like to admit. Guys like Charles Murray are quick to point out the myriad social problems wrought by fatherlessness, but there’s really nothing we can do as society to alleviate the problem. And if you’re a kid without one of those “dads” so many conservative blowhards like to rant and rave about? Well, the great game of life has already given you two strikes at bat, and you’re just now a fucking zygote.

I’m not sure just how much not having a dad around screwed me up as an individual, but it’s probably quite a bit. Of course, I could use that as a lifelong excuse for why I never accomplish anything with myself, but instead, I prefer to look on the bright side of being a bastard. Believe it or not, it actually has a few benefits, you know.

For one thing, growing up without a dad makes you a lot more independent. Primarily, because you don’t really have a choice. You don’t have some dude with hairy arms showing you how to fix a car or hunt deer, so instead, you have to pick up all of these “trades” and “skills” on your own. And sometimes, you just skirt all of that typical macho-bullshit altogether and focus on things that are less testosterone-addled, like music and movies and books. Growing up without a father is a terrible way to raise a mechanic or a bounty hunter, but as a means of “making” an excellent poet, playwright or journalist? I can’t think of a better protocol.

Secondly, I think growing up without a dad makes you a way, way less misogynistic person. If you’re a male growing up sans a father, you’re pretty much forced to identify with your mother, and as such, you grow to appreciate more maternalistic traits and qualities. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking here, but I’d argue that growing up with just a mom actually makes you a better care provider as an adult, since you KNOW the kind of effort and hard work and dedication required to raise another human being.

Thirdly, it makes you a LOT tougher. If you’re the only kid on a football team without a dad cheering you on, it goads you into placing a greater emphasis on self-accomplishments. You don’t have anyone out there to “make proud,” so why do you bother doing what you do? Because it gives you self-respect and self-fulfillment, that’s why. You do things not to appease others out of self-insecurity, but because you want to prove to yourself that you have what it takes to do what YOU have elected to do for yourself. It makes you a more dedicated individual, and one that’s more willing to shoulder one’s own responsibilities.

Speaking of self-responsibility, that’s a fourth benefit of being dad-less. You don’t have a father around to fight your battles for you (or bail you out when you’re in trouble,) so what do you have to do? You get wiser, more creative and more self-sufficient. The only person you can count on to take care of you is you -- a quality that creates the best kind of entrepreneurs and artists.

And lastly, I think it makes you a whole more in tune with the real world. If you grow up in a safe, lily white, two-parent home safeguarded from the omnipresent perils that face dad-less kids, you generally grow up to be -- for lack of a better term -- a pussy. Actually, the worst kind of pussy, for that matter, the kind that’s never had to feel mortal fear, or existential dread, or a lifelong sense of self-inferiority, or realizing what the term “alone” truly entailed.

So what can these lowly, fatherless kids go on to do with their empty, utterly trite lives?

Well, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both grew up without their fathers, and they only went on to become the goddamn leaders of the free world. Samuel L. Jackson only met his dad twice, and he still grew up to be Samuel L. Jackson. Jay-Z was abandoned by his dad (as was Kanye West and Gene Simmons and A-Rod) and now he sorta owns his own NBA franchise and got a chance to ruin “The Great Gatsby.” Jon Stewart was raised by his mom, and so was Al Pacino. And putting that old “not having a dad turns you into a pantywaist” mythology to rest forever, you know who grew up without a dad around? Anderson Silva, aka the greatest mixed martial arts fighter in history.

Clearly, none of the above celebrities had it easy as dad-less kids, but what do you know? They all managed to do quite well for themselves, reaching plateaus that it is very unlikely they would have reached had they NOT been raised without dads. That’s because being fatherless grants you certain personal qualities that those that grow up with fathers will never develop.

I don’t want to slight two-parent kids too much, but the fact of the matter is, you’ll never be half the person a fatherless-person is. Anybody can find success when you have dual parental incomes and absolutely zero fear of one’s life spiraling into mayhem at any second, but for someone to grow up without all of that to achieve a swell standard of living? You have to have something downright extraordinary inside you, and whatever factors that make that personal motivator come alive simply cannot be experienced by those with both parents around.

So for all you kids out there prepping for Father’s Day this weekend, go ahead and enjoy it. While you’re celebrating daddy, just remember that only me and the other 32.9999999 percent of the nation will be celebrating our own perseverance instead.

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