Monday, June 17, 2013


A tasteless joke always surfaces around this time every year: "Father's Day: the most confusing holiday in the ghetto." It's tasteless because it's technically true and hopelessly tragic. Fatherlessness knows no racial bounds, but it's a striking problem in the poorer black community. Some places, such as Southeast D.C., come within decent striking distance of 100% fatherless homes. I believe I speak for all concerned when I say: holy shit.

I'm more inclined to give props to a "two-parent" home; that is to say, I think that a stable family life needs two parents, even if they're both men or both women. That being said, the illegitimacy rate amongst poor people in this country (not just blacks, either), and the subsequent fatherless homes, are self-evidently a heterosexual problem, so it seems appropriate to address it thusly. So far as I know, lesbians aren't having children out of wedlock in record numbers.

It's not that big of a deal to some, though. Writing in the New York Times (where else?) a few weeks ago, Michele Weldon espoused the view that fatherless homes aren't really that bad at all:

The myth [of fatherless homes] is personal to my family, because I raised my sons as a single mother. And they are not doomed because of that. Now men at 24, 22 and 19, I talk to them about successful men who have grown up without a father: President Obama and Bill Clinton, for two easy examples. I could also mention Aristotle, John Hancock, Gerald Ford, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas, Stephen King and a fraternity of other historical heroes … but I don’t want to overdo it.

Whoa, pump your brakes, lady. The bulk of her examples aren't that bad [aside from Jefferson the galloping misogynist and slaveholder], but Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? Clinton is a slimy philanderer who got blown by a twentysomething intern and then lied to his wife about it, to say nothing of his numerous other extramarital affairs. Barack Obama is evidently a faithful husband and a good father, but his "success" is couched in being a warmongering drone warrior and the figurehead of a clutch of devastating national scandals involving a government run horribly, terribly amuck. Who wants their kid to grow up to be Barack Obama? In any case, one of his re-election campaign's greatest accomplishments was a fictional woman who is also apparently a single mother. Talk about perpetuation.

(Also, I don't know how much Stephen King she's read, but before he sobered up, the man was a raging alcoholic and drug addict who has confessed to having feelings of intense anger and hatred towards his wife and children early on in his marriage. I was glad he got over all of that, but how many fatherless children will grow up to be millionaires who can easily afford the necessary treatment and psychotherapy?)

Anyways, Weldon's self-referential example is largely irrelevant. Good for her for raising good kids as a single mother, but the experiment just isn't working for the lion's share of fatherless homes. It's remarkable that she turns such a blind eye to the plight of the poor by boasting about her own accomplishments. In making some obscure point, she proceeds to cite perhaps the best scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as Will Smith laments his own absent father:
I'll get through college without him, I'll get a great job without him, I'll marry me a beautiful honey and I'm having a whole bunch of kids. I'll be a better father than he ever was. And I sure as hell don't need him for that, 'cause there ain't a damn thing he can ever teach me about how to love my kids! [Pause, crying]: How come he don't want me, man?

 "There is no possible answer to that question," Weldon says. But of course using the Fresh Prince in defense of fatherless homes is sort of bizarre---Will's fictional self spent the entirety of the show's run in a two-parent mother-father household in which he thrived. How many single mothers could fall back on something like that?

Fatherless homes with illegitimate children are unalloyed bad things, but some people just don't want to accept it. "Children," writes Jane Mattes, "are wonderfully talented at weaving a tapestry for themselves with threads from various influential people in their lives...they can make a beautiful life, regardless of whether their biological father is one of the threads." Sorry, but a child's biological father is inextricably "one of the threads" in a child's life; it just matters if he's there or not.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite bloggers, Megan Thompson, is grateful for her father's contribution to her anarchistic sensibilities: "Thanks for making me an enemy of the state, Dad!" she writes. Thank you indeed, Megan's dad, and Happy Father's Day!

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