In the classrooms of my childhood, almost every other kid around me was crafting something for their dads in June. Painting photo frames for desks, decorating hammers and making pretend ties; all pretty cliché objects for kids to create in order to hand over to their Dads on Father’s Day. With one or two other kids, I would be self-consciously making my mother her second craft in as many months. Despite how ubiquitous single parent households are now, they were far more uncommon in my neck of the woods in the mid-1990s. Teachers didn’t have alternative plans for kids like me; my mother sent me with a few ideas, and soon, just let me play hooky on the days my friends would be crafting for their dads.
Somehow, my single mother managed to turn Father’s Day into something fun. On hooky day from school I chose the activity: usually a movie and a lunch out. On Father’s Day itself, she chose the agenda, out doing girly things like getting manicures so that we wouldn’t run into other families who were celebrating Father’s Day. We remade it into our own day: Mother-Daughter Day.
But as anyone who has bought a knock-off purse in Chinatown can tell you (we did that one year for Mother-Daughter Day too on a trip into New York City), a Prada bag is very different from a Praza bag. In this analogy, Father’s Day was the Prada bag, and Mother-Daughter Day was the Praza. Just because the day was remade into something fun doesn’t mean I was happy being without a Dad, or that I didn’t notice what I was missing out on.
What was I missing? Now that I’m married and have three children of my own, I know. My husband is the parent who lets our kids crawl and climb all over him. He’s the parent who spends an entire Saturday trying to make an elaborate track throughout the apartment so they can play with Matchbox cars. He’s the parent who boxes with our son and plays house with our daughter (he’s always the husband). In so doing, he’s teaching our son about being a man, and our daughter about the kind of man we want her to bring home one day. That’s the role of a father: to model appropriate male behavior for kids.
Don’t get me wrong: My mother did an amazing job as a single mother, and I was served far better being away from my father than having him in my life. She knew that by isolating me from his influence, the chances of me bringing home a man like him were drastically reduced. That was a good thing. Her hard work doing the job of mother and father the best that she could paid off: I became a strong woman like she was, and I married a man completely the opposite of my father. For that I’m grateful, and my kids should count themselves among the lucky ones.
As uncommon as single parent households were in my hometown growing up, they’ve now become the norm. Most of my childhood friends have had children and perhaps a handful ended up marrying the father of their child. The relationships usually fizzled out and now the vast majority of their kids are being raised by their superhuman single mothers. The odds of these children perpetuating the cycle of out of wedlock births, in addition to poverty and poor education outcomes, are now greatly increased. The data is clear: having a dad in the home increases a child’s chance of success as an adult in all areas of their life. Personally, professionally and educationally the children of two-parent homes perform better than their single parent household peers.
Every year, fewer American kids are celebrating Father’s Day in their homes. Sadly, we refuse to recognize this as the tragedy it is. As the child of a single parent household and a parent in an intact family currently, I know what a difference having a Dad in the home makes for the happiness and well-being of the kids inside it. Despite being glad that in my particular circumstance we were celebrating Mother-Daughter Day in my home growing up, I’m grateful beyond measure my children never will.