More recently, Gordon Marion reviewed Mark Kram Jr.’s “Smokin’ Joe,” a biography of the late heavyweight boxing champion, and 3-time Muhammad Ali foil, Joe Frazier. Among the notable details was the fact that five different women gave birth to his eleven kids, an occurrence not uncommon among celebrities: Ali himself, actor/director Clint Eastwood, comedian Eddie Murphy, et al.
This dynamic has been on my mind since I learned that recent San Antonio mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse has four children with four mothers.
It goes without saying that the ideal arrangement for children is that they live with both of their biological parents 24/7. When two people accept the duty that comes with parenthood, no one else has the same vested interest in the health, well-being and success of their children.
Life happens, though.
Some spouses commit acts of inexcusable betrayal, or maybe worse; perpetrate a crime. Intractable clashes of principle can also make continued cohabitation untenable. Some relationships break down over time, and marriages are not immune.
None of this necessarily erodes parents’ childrearing abilities, or absolves them of the responsibility they have to the children who depend upon them.
Spending enough quality time with each child is enough of a challenge when just one father and one mother are involved. The logistics of trying to pull it off when there are greater multiples of parents are difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, irrespective of the particular situation, one parent usually gets primary custody while the other ends up paying child support.
What’s worrisome about these arrangements is that children typically spend only a quarter to a third of their time with the non-custodial parent. According to a U.S. Census report, as recently as 2016 mothers accounted for 80% of custodial parents.
The mother may be the best one a child or children could have. That does not however, diminish the equivalent importance of a father in a child’s life. Moms and dads tend to occupy different roles.
While a mother generally has a softer touch, the father is usually more stern. As mom is imparting manners and etiquette, dad is being a goofball. As mom is advising that care be taken before climbing into a treehouse, dad is saying “go for it!”
It gets more serious as time progresses.
The authenticity with which dad speaks to the machinations of young boys is second to none; he was one after all. He can caution his son(s) about the ramifications of being hotheaded, before the latter encounters a bigger fish one day and learns the lesson the hard way.
Also, not only can he convey to young men the importance of treating girls with respect, he can also lead by example via how he treats their mother, and his spouse if he’s remarried. Daughters can get the same lesson, but dad can show them more directly via date nights: opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc.
It should be no surprise then what tends to happen when dad isn’t around. It’s been well-documented that educational achievement is lower, drug/alcohol use is higher, as is criminal activity. Arguably the worst manifestation of the latter is the direct link shown between mass shootings and the fatherlessness of the shooters.
Dads need to step up.
Kids aren’t just a “check,” as I once heard a father infer. Regardless of the nature of the demise of their relationship with the mother, they have an obligation to their children, and society as a whole, to fulfill their parental responsibility. They and moms need to set aside any residual hurt feelings and commit to more equal involvement in the lives of the children.
Forunately, the tide is turning for the better.
More states have sought to reform custodial laws so as to address each case from a position of co-equal parenting, most recently in Missouri. Some celebrities have exposed their fatherless childhood wounds in an public effort to break the cycle, including none other than James Hetfield, frontman of the legendary metal band Metallica.
All this is not to say kids are absolutely doomed in the absence of one parent. Examples to the contrary exist, as do instances of children who persevered through the presence of bad parents. Regardless of the situation, once a child is conceived, parents need to accept that demands on their time have necessarily changed, and that the importance is 50/50 between the two.