I used to know a woman who did parent education with low-income, teen moms. One day we were talking about teaching basic nutrition and moms putting soda in baby bottles (something which is simply unimaginable to the sort of moms I hang out with). She explained to me, “usually she is trying to be nice to her baby. She likes soda. She’s a teen so she thinks everyone is making a big deal out of nothing if they say soda is bad. And really, she just wants to give the baby something that they will enjoy having. Then the baby is quiet and she feels like a good mom.”
And I thought about it and kind of nodded my head. Obviously, we’re talking about mom-kid who is fatherless and has probably been abused. Her own mother who was probably the same. There’s actually a developmental point where a baby who wants to share starts to understand that what she likes isn’t always the right thing to offer to someone else. But that happens in toddlerhood. And then for a little while I decided that these girls must be really messed up to think it was just being nice to let their babies drink cola. Until I reminded myself that I regularly let my kids drink out of my coffee mug and will even make them their own mini-cup as a treat. Um, maybe they are just adolescents with really bad taste and a teenaged perspective on life doing what many parents do sometimes? Many people do say that adolescence and toddlerhood are pretty much the same thing after all.
At the same time, I was probably correct that this hypothetical girl who gives her baby a bottle of soda had almost certainly been raised without her father and had been abused – either sexually or physically or both. Just like the young moms I have known in my own whitebread area over the years often were. When we humans suffer childhood traumas like abuse and fatherlessness, it does just awful things to us. And we have few good answers for it at the moment. The people who find themselves raising kids alone just have to buckle down and do the best they can. In the meantime people bicker and fight and judge and condemn and use teens putting their kids in nikes and giving them bottles of coke as a sign of a degenerate culture rather than really stopping to see the very real person who has been hurt in ways you could never survive.
I really believe it goes back to fatherlessness. I won’t even go into the statistics about fatherlessness, which are appalling. Google’s a wonderful thing. But the research is very clear. Of all the things you can do to damage a human being, growing up with a father blasts away any competition. Even sexual abuse doesn’t come close to triggering the sort of long term emotional damage, behavioral problems and dysfunctions that being raised with out a father can do. In fact, that’s the central argument of man-boy love groups: “research shows that approximately 65% of people who suffer sexual abuse don’t wind up mentally ill, addicted or committing suicide. That means they like it!” Really. That’s their argument. The consequences of fatherlessness can be even more damaging and are even more widespread among fatherless people than among the victims of sexual abuse. Yet, we would never see sexual abuse treated the way we fatherlessness is – like it’s just something that happens. And we don’t need to be too concerned because we can find people it didn’t destroy. People just need to buck up and get over it.
When I volunteered at a juvenile prison outside of Chicago, the worst story I ever heard was a kid whose uncles started giving him drugs at age 5. They thought it was funny to see a little kid stoned or tripping or whatever. He was explaining to me why at age 14 he didn’t write very well. “I’m sure I’ve been brain damaged,” he told me. I’m sure his mom let him hang out with her brothers, thinking he needed a male influence in his life.
I met my husband at the liberal arts college I attended. Part of what was intriguing about him was the fact that he was in college and not in jail. (Which has to be the very worst reason possible to date someone: “he’s not in jail, Mom!”) But when he told me his story, it was very familiar. I heard such stories every time I went to the prison. But I’d never heard that story from a man in college. I thought there must be something very different about him.
It’s not my story to tell, but what the ex and his siblings had been through was somewhere between Antwone Fisher and Precious. Between the ages of 7 and 11, I know of three occasions where a person was murdered within blood spatter range of him. Obviously he has really screwed up on the way. (Perhaps you’ve read my letter to my stepson? Or read that my other stepson played a pivotal role in the ex’s decision to leave me with 5 kids because I’m a sub par housekeeper?) But even from where I’m sitting right now with a very clear view of his every failing, I promise you that I don’t know anyone who could have put up a better fight or gotten more right than my ex did on the way had they had to live his life.
Yet, as much respect as I have for what the ex has overcome and accomplished, I am also quite certain that if he didn’t have a freakishly high IQ at his disposal and more natural talent in his pinky than many people have in their life, he would be just one more scary guy we’re glad to have off the streets. But even that’s not enough. Out of all the humans on this planet I have a hard time bringing myself to pray for, the ex’s mother is the worst. Yet this woman also left an abusive relationship at 23 with her 6 kids of questionable parentage in tow and wound up with two masters degrees and enough money to support a man with a cocaine habit who abused her children instead of her. You can be smart as hell, work your ass off to overcome and still be so broken that 3 of the boys you raised have either killed or tried to kill someone. Yes, the culture may be degenerate, but that’s like walking up to a house that a tornado destroyed and pointing to the peeling paint still evident around the windows as evidence that the house wasn’t properly weather-proofed. Nevermind that the windows are now hanging from a tree branch. Such things are bound to happen when you don’t properly weather proof, right?
We Christians follow a God who identifies himself as “Father to the fatherless”. That same God in human flesh said that if we love someone unlovable, it’s like loving him. We need to take this issue much more seriously. George Will has a great column up today about fatherlessness and the work of some very good men who have suffered things no human child should be put through. You should go read it and consider that these horror stories involve real people who God created to bear his image into the world. We need to admit that we don’t really know how to love the fatherless or recover from the traumas we’ve experienced. It’s OK not to have the answers. God does. Just do what he says – seek first the kingdom – and let him put things in order. It may not seem like much, but you only need a little yeast to make the bread rise.
Tomorrow (I hope) I’m going to get up a follow-up to this one which explains what I think Christians have a moral obligation to do in response to the problem of fatherlessness. It’s almost certainly not something you’ve ever thought to do before. You should go subscribe to The Upside Down World so you don’t have to remember to come back. If you “Like” The Upside Down World on facebook, new posts will even show up on your wall! It’s like magic!