The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 15, 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all the ‘fathers’ out there

It was an overheard conversation. Two old friends run into each other in a waiting room and catch up on what’s been going on in their lives. One man asks how the other man’s children are doing, and the father takes a moment or two to brag about baseball and dance and straight As. The other asks if they see their mother at all, and the father shakes his head. He asks how the man managed to get full custody of the children in this day and age, when many say the courts are stacked in favor of mothers when it comes to custody issues.

“I gave her my house, my car and almost every penny I had, and she gave me the kids,” the father says. “And it was worth it all.”

I remember that often. I always have a hard time putting myself in the shoes of the mother, who would be willing to trade getting to spend day in and day out with her babies for any amount of money or property. And I always internally cheer that dad on for realizing the precious value of his little ones and giving up every possession he had to have them in his life.

There are deadbeat dads. I know several women who struggle and live paycheck to paycheck to support their children with no assistance from the men who fathered them. But there are moms who walk away, too. I know a few men who stepped up to raise their children in a single-parent household whether it be because of death, divorce or drugs.

We have this image of the dad who drops off the face of the earth, runs off with his young secretary to start a new life and raise a new family, and we demonize that stereotype. It just isn’t always the case.

On Father’s Day, I think about those dads who learn how to braid hair and cut the crusts off PB&J sandwiches because they have to, and more importantly, because they want to. I also think about the dads who live for every other weekend, which is far too long to wait to see a little one. And I think about the dads who are struggling through the court system, fighting for a chance to raise their kids and be a parent of equal standing as the mother of their children.

Five million children in this country are living with their single fathers.

Happy Father’s Day to those men.

And I think about single mothers on this day, too. It is so very difficult to raise a child without a strong male role model. When a father walks away, not only is it a financial burden, but it is an emotional one, too. Having to play the part of both parents means that there is this whole generation of boys out there who aren’t quite sure what a father should be like — and they will be fathers far too soon trying to figure it all out from scratch. In the meantime, they have strong women in their lives who cheer them on from the bleachers, are willing to toss a baseball into an obliging glove, and do everything they can to fill that void.

Fifteen million children in this country are living with their single mothers.

Happy Father’s Day to those women.

And there are a whole group of “parents” who have to fill in for both moms and dads. Grandparents or extended family members are sometimes put in the situation of raising young ones long after their parenting years, after they’ve raised their own children. They open their hearts and their homes to the little ones who need so much more than just love and a warm, safe place to sleep at night. They take on anxiety, hopelessness and low self esteem of the children who are collateral damage of failed relationships, substance abuse or immaturity. There are 19,000 children in West Virginia who are living with grandparents, extended family or friends.

There’s no possible way that these guardians can fill in for moms and dads, and especially the idealized version of those moms and dads. But they try.

Happy Father’s Day to them, too.

To every single person who is there for a young child, helping guide them through the sometimes rough waters of childhood against all odds, whether it be in one of the 27 million single-parent homes, in a picture-perfect family with a mom and a dad and a house surrounded by that white-pickett fence, or a grandparent who forgets about aches and pains and climbs the dozens of stairs of the bleachers to get the best seat for the game, happy Father’s Day.

Misty Poe is the managing editor of the Times West Virginian and can be reached by email at mpoe@timeswv.com, by phone at 304-367-2523 or on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV.

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