By Megan Berketis (guest author)
I spent my childhood in the presence of a loving mother who happened to hate my father. When I was a school girl I would say “I don’t have a dad.” When I hear children say that today, I cringe at the very words that used to flow from my mouth so carelessly. Everyone has a father. One cannot come into existence without one; it’s simply science.
I never really knew my dad as a child. By my first birthday he had moved out, and I don’t remember anything at all from that first year. He did try to maintain a relationship with me and my siblings for some time. But, around my sixth birthday he surrendered to the war that he never would have won anyway.As a teenager I blamed him. From my perspective he had given up; he could have kept fighting. He should have lost his wallet and his mind battling a flawed family court system, or that is what I used to think. Such expectations are unjust.
My mother was relentless with her hatred towards my father. I cannot recall even one time that she referred to him by name; through my whole life my mother has referred to my father as “Sh*thead.” We lived in a small town, everyone we knew also knew my dad. They too started referring to him bythat awful nickname, as if it is just another name; as if name calling, among adults, is okay. My mom and dad were high school sweethearts who got married rather than go on their senior skiing trip. From what I have gathered they had a pretty good relationship, until they didn’t. I don’t know the reasons for my parents’ divorce, but they were married for ten years and had three children. My brother and sister were 9 and 10 when ourparents split up. They spent their first decade in the presence ofa father and then were expected, by their mother, to hate him because she decided that to be her course of action. Such expectations are unjust.
My poor brother, having been so close to Dad, spent his youth flip-flopping between custodial parents because he wanted to be with his siblings and his father. He would be living with us and say something either positive or comparative about Dad and Mom would drive him to my dad’s and leave him in the front yard. Any time a fight with my mom came to the point where she ran out of valid arguments she would say “go live with your father and see how you like it.” Throughout my entire youth she kept me veiled in this competition. I loved my dad and I wanted to know him. Any desire of that nature had to be kept holed up in the bellows of my soul for fear that I would crush my mother.I was not permitted to love my father. Such expectations are unjust.
My mom remarried. My stepfather swooped right in andbecame my father. He is a great man. He couldn’t replace my dad, but he could keep my mind off the fact that out there somewhere my dad was breathing the same air that I was. They were married for 20 years. When they decided to divorce I was married with two children of my own. Suddenly, after 20 years, I was no longer allowed to utter his name to my mother. She spoke the dirtiest, most vile, untruths of him, and I was supposed to nod my head; “yes, Mommy Dearest.” I didn’t know my father very well, but my stepfather- he was my softball coach, he was my homework help, he was…well, he was my dad. I don’t necessarily blame my mother for the way she acts regarding my stepfather; society has led her to believe that such behavior is acceptable. I, however, am an adult. I can make my own decisions based on logic and/or emotion. I do not talk about my relationship with my stepfather to my mother, but I do have one, and that will not end because their marriage did. Such expectations are unjust.
As I see it, for fathers, it is becoming a challenge to fulfill a job that was endowed by nature, not society. A father, seen through the current court system, is guilty until he can show he has enough money and grit to prove otherwise. Society shows us continuously, through media and its ever-flawed institutions that mothers are not only the primary caregivers for children, but the only sex adept for the task. When a married parent dies leavingthe other to care for children society never doubts the living spouse’s ability to continue playing his or her natural role. Yet,when divorce is the driving force of spousal separation the “non-custodial” parent commonly gets his (or her) natural position revoked – this seems counterintuitive and illogical. The sentiment that children should be raised equally by both parents is not antifeminist or intended to disenfranchise women or motherhood. On the contrary, it portrays the importance of both parents as intended by nature. The creation of a society where children are raised solely by mothers, or even the acceptance of absent fathers, is an antifeminist trite. A society in which womenneed to struggle for equality in the workplace should not also expect women to take on child rearing single-handedly. Such expectations would be unjust.
My utmost concern is what the future implications of thecurrent path will be. The behavior that is supported by our court system is sending the wrong message to our boys! When our boys are raised under a skewed perception of child rearing theycould easily take on the notion that they should not put forth all of their efforts in raising their future children. Being raised under the shadow of a “single” mother, who gets both sympathy and praise, shows boys that their future natural parenting role is unnecessary. Parents of every son, undoubtedly, wish their son to someday become a great father. Such expectations do not reflect our practices.
Children need both parents. If a person does not get along with his coworker he takes the problem to his boss. Well, in this case, our “bosses” (the court system) are not taking care of the issue. While it would be phenomenal for change to happen overnight it is not going to. But each of us can still be a soldierfor the war. We can be vocal; talk to your friends and family. Delicately explain to your friend that, although she hates her ex, her children do not. Encourage your cousin to keep fighting his battle to maintain a positive relationship with his kids. And, please, let’s do away with the term “single mom;” my kids only have one mom, does that make me a single mom too? The connotation of the phrase “single mom” has become one of suffering, hardship, and assumed sympathy. For every “single mom” out there struggling there is also a lonely suffering single dad. Let’s help everyone out by removing the negative veil that consumes life after separation, and let’s replace it with positive reinforcements that ensure our children know that both parents are important. Such expectations are just.