While I normally agree with my friends over at Esquire magazine, I’m forced to disagree with them on this particular statement. At least I disagree with the sentiment that being a father is irrevocably binding. Frankly I think that’s a crock of shit, though I agree that sex and marriage are pretty lax these days.
Fatherhood is not binding.
Fatherhood is also not for everyone, and I think true fatherhood – the absolute meaning of being a father, you know, truly being there for your child through hell and high water – is something very few men can do. As boys fatherhood is what many of us aspire toward. As boys we are shown that fathers teach their children, their sons, manly things. This is how you change your vehicle’s oil, this is how you throw a football, this is how to build a campfire, this is how to tie a tie…these are all classic stereotypes of a bond between father and son.
The appeal of fatherhood is not that it binds you to another person. For many people, most people even, the idea of being bound to another human being for life is frightening. Men are often portrayed as solitary beings, and in many ways we are. Very few of us can say that we will marry and die with our high school sweethearts, you know?
An apt analogy would be that fatherhood is similar to a student loan. In order to be viewed as a successful man, you have to have a family (this is apparent in how we pick our politicians, when was the last time you saw a bachelor become a congressman?) and a college degree.
Men want to be successful in whatever it is they do. Whether it’s working on cars or selling stocks on Wall Street, men desire both emotional and financial success. In order to obtain our college degrees, we take out loans. Repaying these loans is often an uphill battle, one that stretches on and on for a fair portion of our respective lives. It drains you emotionally, but you’re still glad you took those loans out because now you have a degree…now society won’t view you as a failure.
Men have children, too. What is a child if nothing more than another lifelong loan? Diapers, school supplies, car insurance, so on and so forth. Raising this child can be an uphill battle as well, but by the time the kid has moved out and is living on their own, you can hopefully look back and be proud of the fact that you helped shape this being. Because you have a family, society won’t view you as a failure.
Fatherhood, like student loans, can be scary. But saying that fatherhood binds you to another person is a generalization, especially these days.
1 in 3 children in the United States grow up without a father. For whatever reason, 15 million children in this country are raised with little or no contact with one half of their responsible creator. These children are not bound to their fathers, nor are their fathers bound to them. This trend often leaves single mothers and their children in poverty, forced to live off of government assistance or court-ordered child support while they themselves work endlessly to keep the family afloat.
I am one of those three.
My father attempted to pay my mother off to not have me. His reason behind doing so was that he just didn’t want another child (he had already had one previously with another woman), and even though doctors had previously told my mother that having me was nigh impossible, he didn’t want the responsibility.
Thankfully she declined and had me regardless. Here I am 20 years later studying to become a journalist, and I’ve never once felt the desire to meet my biological father. How does one muster up the desire to meet a man that wanted him aborted?
The truth is that plenty of kids don’t even get child support. The truth is that more than a handful of men desert their kin for next to a plethora of reasons, I won’t pretend to know all of them. Children around the nation – the world, even – are left to the care of mothers or other relatives, and they miss out on the things that the classic fatherhood stereotypes tend to offer.
I’m 20 and I still can’t change my own oil. I only recently learned how to throw a football. I hate camping. I can, however, tie a tie (that was self-taught). I missed out on a lot of things fatherhood could have taught me, but I’m not bitter about it, and I’ll tell you why.
My father’s wanton abandonment and blatant apathy toward my existence allowed me to view life in a more realistic way. My brilliant mother kept us afloat and, no matter how difficult things got, was always sure to remind me that she loved me. I missed out on learning how to drive stick, sure, but I gained an appreciation for hard work and integrity.
To say that fatherhood is binding is almost insulting to the more than 15 million children in the States that grow up without fathers, either because their fathers passed away or because they flat out abandoned them.
However, my being raised without a father lit beneath my own ass a desire to be a better man than my own dad ever was. From an early age, I knew that my children would not suffer the same situation that I did, even if I believe I’m a better man today because of it. I know that I will instill within my own children the same principles that my mother instilled in me, and they in turn will hopefully turn out as okay as I did.
Fatherhood is not binding, though it should be. In a perfect world, fatherhood would be an earned right of passage reserved for those who are ready and willing to be bound to another human being for the rest of their life.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
Rather, we live in a world full of trial and hellish error, and the best we can do as men is learn from our mistakes and – when the time comes, when ready – pass on the values we learned from those mistakes to our children in hopes that they turn out better than we did.