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Political Physics: A Father’s Day Reality Check

Father’s Day is always a hard day for me. Fatherless

I guess you could say that I am “estranged” from my father. He and my mother separated when I was two years old. I cannot say that I don’t “know” him. I mean that while I have spent time with him over the years and I know where he lives, he has not been much of a father. Mostly because he suffers from addiction issues and has found himself in and out of prison since as long as I can remember. So he has spent much of his life and mine stealing from and hurting the people around him, including me, my mother, my grandmother, my brother, his other children, etc.

So I guess “estranged” is probably the best description of our relationship.

Now Father’s Day has begun to take on a whole new meaning for me since the birth of my son. I think I always knew that my husband, Brian, would be a good father. It is one of the reasons I married him. Words cannot express how much I love watching him interact with our son. So now I celebrate my husband on Father’s Day… but there is still a bit of longing in my heart.

So it was that longing on Sunday that got me to thinking about how many other children might currently be experiencing that longing and what is the potential impact of not having a father in your life. I mean beyond the emotional issues which I am all too familiar with.

According to Answers.Com, “one out of every two children in the US will live in a single-parent family at some time before they reach age 18.” And, according the United States Census Bureau, in 2002 about 20 million children lived in a household with only their mother or their father. This is more than one-fourth of all children in the United States. Answer.Com also noted that “the reasons for single-parent families have also changed. In the mid-twentieth century, most single-parent families came about because of the death of a spouse. In the 1970s and 1980s, most single-parent families were the result of divorce. In the early 2000s, more and more single parents have never married.”

The most common type of single-parent family is one that consists of a mother and her biological children. In 2002, 16.5 million or 23 percent of all children in the US were living with their single mother. And this number grows significantly when categorized by race. In November 2007, NBC News with Brian Williams aired a five-part series entitled, “African-American Women: Where They Stand.” In that series, they said that “70% of Black children are born into single-parent, female-headed households.”

But the large amount of children growing up in single-female headed households is only the beginning of the story.

The United States Census Bureau reported that, in 2002, twice as many single-parent families earned less than $30,000 per year compared to families with two parents present, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, only 17% of single-parent families earned more than $75,000. But economic indications are only one issue.

And the links between growing up without a father in the household and a myriad of risk factors is well documented. According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, these children are at risk for the following:

* lower levels of educational achievement
* twice as likely to drop out of school
* more likely to become teen parents
* more conflict with their parent(s)
* less supervised by adults
* more likely to become truants
* more frequently abuse drugs and alcohol
* more high-risk sexual behavior
* more likely to join a gang
* twice as likely to go to jail
* four times as likely to need help for emotional and behavioral problems
* more likely to participate in violent crime
* more likely to commit suicide
* twice as likely to get divorced in adulthood

Now let me be clear: indicators of risk are just that indicators… not an unavoidable certainty. That does not mean that every child who is being raised by a single mother is destined to be a high school dropout or end up in jail. Both my brother and I managed to avoid jail time. I have a master’s degree, make a pretty good living, did not have my son until I was 30 and am not addicted to anything but my iPhone.

And let me also add that I respect and applaud the single mothers out there raising their children on their own. And to those women, like my mother, who are both mother and father to their children, “Happy Father’s Day” to you!

However, the data does indicate that there is a cost associated with children growing up without their fathers. If these indicators are overblown, and they actually only bear out in a small percentage of the population, it still has ripple effects on our economy, our society, our culture, etc.

The cost of “fatherlessness” is significant. And it is born by all of us.