Thanks to Court TV, most of use can define the term “Deadbeat Dad.” We know the dismal reality that over 50% of single moms do not receive the financial support they are owed by their children’s fathers. Our country is united in the belief that fathers must support their children, financially at least.
However, there is another kind of deadbeat dad that doesn’t get the seamy TV coverage. In fact, our country tends to glorify these fathers. They hide in plain view as our neighbors, husbands, fathers and idols. We elect them as presidents of our country and cheer for them on football fields and basketball courts. They run our major corporations.
I’m talking about Elite Deadbeat Dads. When you picture a deadbeat dad, it’s pretty rare that your imagination puts him in a suit and tie. These fathers ooze money, and are much sought after as husbands because they are so-called “good providers.”
True enough they have money — but on the time and attention scale, they shortchange and sometimes cripple their children and wives emotionally in ways that are just as serious as scofflaws who disdain caring for their offspring financially.
Let me clarify before the Stay-at-Home Dad movement eggs my house: I’m talking about SOME dads. Certainly not all of them. Men, in general, are becoming more and more responsible to their children with every generation. Dads today spend more than three times as much time with their children on a daily basis as their own fathers did, according to University of Maryland time-diary research.
And of course, there are Elite Deadbeat Moms as well, wealthy women who neglect their children because of work or social ambitions, and wound their children with voluntary inattention. (Although most of our country’s most illustrious working moms, women such as Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, either had no children or only had one child.) But for the most part, the perpetrators here are men who, in my view, could take the gift of fatherhood more seriously, to everyone’s benefit.
I have a mom-friend whose husband leaves their home every morning before their three children wake up – because he needs to get in a quick work out to stay fit and alert before hitting his law firm desk by 7:30 a.m. He rarely gets home before 9:30 p.m. and he travels every week. She works full time too. They had to hire a special AM nanny to help get the kids ready for school, because my friend was running herself ragged getting herself ready for work and three kids to three different schools by herself five days a week. This employee works every weekday from 6 a.m. – 9 a.m. and then comes back on the clock at 3 p.m. when the schools let out.
Fortunately this couple has the money to hire help – but I wonder if their children would agree on the “fortunately.” I bet they’d rather see their dad in the mornings instead of someone paid to pour their Cheerios, even if that meant a smaller house, car, and college fund. Any kid will tell you that money is no substitute for love.
As for me, I’m surrounded by these guys. My dad was one. I went to business school with hundreds of them. I tell you, this type of man is easy to like — before they have kids. Their ambition, without collateral damage, is much admired in our country. Perhaps rightly so.
But I’ve seen the dark side. Logically, ambitious men are attracted to and often marry equally ambitious women. They then start families without considering who exactly will raise their kids, or assuming wifey will do all the child-raising. Quite similar to the assumptions made by stereotypical deadbeat dads. Many refuse to let fatherhood change their lifestyles; they don’t look for more family-friendly jobs with less frequent travel or employers who allow flextime to parents with children. Under the guise of being good providers and successful achievers, they justify working insane hours; their new children and new wives are expected to magically pick up the slack. Or even worse: they don’t think about their new wives and new children at all.
Are these parents truly heroic achievers providing for their families? Or narcissistic workaholics? You know there’s something wrong if a society doesn’t delineate the difference between the two.
Adding to the damage, these are often the successful, powerful men who set corporate and government policies regarding daycare, flextime, funding for public schools, and gender discrimination, without understanding what it takes to truly balance work and raising children themselves.
So many Mommy Wars conflicts are perpetrated by men’s disdain for women and children – but we rarely hear about dads’ roles in parenthood and child raising. It’s almost always the moms who get the research, the finger-pointing and blame, especially when we’re talking moms with enough economic security to “choose” to stay home with kids. (How much choice do you really have when your spouse works 80 hours per week? Did Laura Bush or Michelle Obama have a real choice about the impact on their families when their husbands decided to run for president?)
I think it’s time we pointed the spotlight on the choices made by men leading our country, our government agencies, and our largest corporations. How often was Mitt Romney home for dinner with Ann and his five boys while he was running Bain Capital? Does Paul Ryan know his kids’ pediatrician’s phone number? Did Steve Jobs ever help his three children with their math homework? Do you think Michael Jordan ever attended a parent-teacher conference during the NBA season?
Fatherhood is a weighty responsibility. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, by our country’s most – or least – ambitious men. Once you become a father, involvement with your children should not be optional.
Women and children, as well as elite deadbeat dads themselves, would be better off if we expected as much of our country’s elite dads as we do of the deadbeats. Then maybe we all will have a shot at finding true balance between working our jobs and raising our country’s kids.