You know, I was hopeful. LaShawn Barber wrote a piece declaring (I thought) that fathers abandoning their children is a form of abuse. As the child of a single mother with a father who ran out, there was a constant, lingering doubt about my own self-worth that always played around the edges of my psyche, every so often wondering what was wrong with me that he left.
I should have known that would get blown out the fucking window.
As a 25-year-old, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing wrong was that he was and is an asshole. It is, however, a hell of a way to grow up, in no small part because there’s always the assumption on the behalf of others that something had to have been wrong with your mother, that something’s got to be wrong with you. True to form, this is exactly where Barber goes.
Despite what selfish and shameless adults think, children want fathers. They need fathers. They need masculine men in their lives who love them and would do anything to protect them, men who live with them, raise them, and sacrifice for them. Millions of children grow up without being loved or care for by the men who sired them. It makes me angry, bitterly so.
Oddly enough, most fatherless children aren’t the result of selfish and shameless adults, they’re the product of selfish and shameless fathers. Hence the “fatherless” aspect of the argument. Children of absentee fathers are not broken, simply hurt. We are not deficient, we are not flawed, and we manage to become perfectly functional, rational adults – we’ve even about to have a president to our advantage. The critical point in Barber’s argument, of course, isn’t about the abdication of responsibility – it’s about the lack of vital masculinity in the home. Quoth Barber from another paternalist, James White:
“As I stared at the picture [of two ‘married’ women with a child between them] I could not help but see only one thing: the selfish, self-centered abuse of a beautiful little child by two people committed to the fulfillment of their own desires. I once again immediately thought of the comments of Rosie O’Donnell. She was asked about her ’son,’ and she said he has asked about where his daddy is. O’Donnell’s response is the very essence of self-centeredness: ‘I tell him Mommy only likes other Mommies.’
In any “nontraditional” home, the people who provide the stable, caring, healthy environment in which the child is nurtured and grown cannot be said to be abusive. It’s not shocking, but still thoroughly disappointing, to see a child told that the very structure of love and attention that makes them who they are is inherently abusive – not because of anything denied to them, but because their family structure is allegedly inherently lacking.
This goes to a larger point about the conservative fixation on “saving the males”. Barber’s view of masculinity, much like Kathleen Parker’s, is so thoroughly emasculating that I’m surprised they don’t suggest men be chained by collar to workbenches, given demure wenches to snarl at and receive beers from. The masculine identity is so fragile, so easily lost that the male-savers feel compelled to launch a crusade to save it from the acidic clenches of the Vagina Monologue-chanting hordes of wannabe single moms and lesbians.
As a male, I find this anti-feminist position the most insulting and degrading thing imaginable. I don’t need to be saved from According to Jim, I need to be saved from people telling me that I have a fatally flawed gender identity because my dad ran out. I don’t need to be saved from a culture that says it’s okay for two women to raise a child, that child needs to be saved from the people telling it that it’s damaged because there’s no male in the picture. Our culture doesn’t need to be saved from single mothers and the athletes, hunters, builders, and bakers they raise, those children need to be saved from the constant denigration of their families by people too fucked up to see anything but an imaginary, gaping hole in their souls.
I’m a man. I managed to become that way without a father, because I had a loving household in which I was allowed to become who I was, to pursue my dreams, to not worry for food or shelter no matter how tight things got. Was it ideal? No. But the next time you want to tell me that my mother and grandmother abused me by loving me as much as any two people could love another one, you can kiss all three generations of our asses.