Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bad Dads

Neil Steinberg is a good dad. He's taken for granted. That's probably normal. The wife and kids are used to having him around. I know my family is used to me - and my paycheck - and the occasional tutoring money - and rides when needed - and fixing things around the house - and being the one to be woken up when the kids have to puke in the middle of the night. (I don't know why it was me, but thankfully we're past those days). But that's just me being a dad. Millions of us do it. Other men don't. Steinberg calls them "bad dads." I have other names for them. I end up teaching their children while they're off doing whatever it is the scum of the earth do.
That’s why I feel a certain irrational envy for bad dads. You know the kind — shifty, gimlet-eyed petty criminals in plastic windbreakers who are forever hopping freight trains. Kids worship that kind of dad, mostly in the movies, but sometimes ]in real life. Look at Barack Obama. He was with his dad for what, a week after age 5? And he wrote Dreams from My Father.
All a bad dad has to do is arrive semi-sober at the big game — slipping into the stands at the last second — then give a thumbs-up and a toothless grin of encouragement to junior as he comes to the plate, and all is forgiven, the credits roll, and the music swells. A happy ending.
In a way, Steinberg is right. I've known kids who worship their dad who abandoned them. Sometimes the worship wears off though. I had a student this year, a fourth grader, who told me that he cares nothing for his father. His mother was getting married, and that was fine with him. I had another student a few years ago who was angry at her jailed father. She thought he was stupid. Her step-father was in the picture, so there was a male figure for her. She was happy with him.

I get students year after year, as do all of the other teachers I work with in this "urban district", who spend day after day mourning the loss of something they've never had but instinctively know they should have, a father. Some fathers just leave, or never show up in the first place. Others split at some point because they leave the mother. However it happens, those children are damaged, some more than others, but they all carry their psychic scars.

Situations arise that would never happen to a child in a stable two parent family. My first year of teaching, the music teacher kicked one of my students out of class for some misbehavior. The rest of the class laughed. She tried to calm them down and show them how unfeeling they were by scolding, "Stop it! How would you like it if your mother was a drug addict and you didn't know who your father was?" That didn't help matters at all.

Another time, a little boy was waving goodbye to his father. A little girl standing nearby told us that was her daddy too. The boy's response: "That's only because your momma's a 'ho', and my daddy did her."

I've seen big tough boys cry like babies because their fathers couldn't visit them the coming weekend - again. I've had missing fathers show up after not contacting their children for years in order to establish a relationship. And wouldn't you know it, it's always the mother's fault. Dad tells me about the mother's drug or alcohol use, or endless partying, and he is concerned for his child. And all of that may be true. But there were certain decisions made years ago that placed that child into this situation.

I did have a dad step up to the plate this year after I couldn't contact mom and grandma, who insisted that all of the problems were due to dad. After dad surprisingly demonstrated that he was a responsible parent, mom showed up regularly. Suddenly she was concerned and was going to do everything she needed to do in order for her daughter to succeed. Well, almost everything. It would have been nice had she had her daughter in school more often.

I saw one of my former students with his young son. It was good to see him taking an interest. (Who knows if he still does?) When I taught him, he was tight with two other young fellows. I was not the only one who saw them as Moe, Larry, and Curly. This was Curly. He seemed to have grown up.

I recently found out that another former student knocked up his fifteen year old girlfriend, a perfectly normal occurrence in the neighborhood where I teach. I can't offer any congratulations. I know what's coming.

I know two things about this situation. It's no longer a function of "ghetto culture." It has seeped into the mainstream, and single motherhood is no longer the scandal it used to be. It's almost accepted that "dad" will fade off into the sunset leaving mom with damaged kid - or kids. And the only thing I can do about it is to raise my children to understand that it is proper, acceptable, and the only right way to bring children into the world by first being married.

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At 12:00 AM, Blogger MightyMom said...

To raise your kids like that means a lifetime of swimming upstream.



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