There was a lot of excitement two years ago when Clive Owen's movie The Boys Are Back, based on the true story of a single dad, was released. A lot of single dads -- and single moms -- were eager to see a film celebrating single fatherhood.
We love involved dads. We get all warm and fuzzy when we walk past fathers playing catch with their sons or pushing their giggling daughter ever higher in a swing. There's something about a man raising his kids that seems noble. That's why the story of blogger Matt Logelin -- who became a single dad when his wife and high school sweetheart died suddenly shortly after giving birth to their daughter and whose book, Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss & Love will be released in April -- tugged at the hearts of the single parent blogosphere and Oprah. A dad, learning to raise his daughter, all by himself!
But there's one thing that Owen's sportswriter character and Logelin share in common. Actually, it's something many single fathers in movies share in common -- the mothers are either dead (The Holiday, Love Actually, Jersey Girl, Sleepless in Seattle, Finding Nemo, Must Love Dogs, The American President) or conveniently missing (Three Men and a Baby, The Pursuit of Happyness, Definitely, Maybe). Few are single dads because they wanted to be custodial fathers -- or were able to be.
And that makes a difference. A huge one.
As much as we may love the story of a widowed dad raising his kids, we do not seem to love the story of a divorced dad raising his kids. Because that would mean that the mom either skipped out or was unable to care for her children, and we generally don't like those stories, either.
There are some 13.7 million single parents in the United States raising 21.8 million children -- a little more than a quarter of all youths under 21 -- according to the Census Bureau's Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2007
No surprise that the overwhelming majority of those single parents -- 84 percent -- are moms, of which 45 percent are divorced or separated. Just 16 percent of custodial parents are the dads, nearly 58 percent of them divorced or separated, and fewer than 1 percent widowed (but you'd never know that from Hollywood). And about 82 percent of those paying or receiving child support had joint custody or some sort of visitation with the noncustodial parent.
So what's so wrong with a divorced dad who wants to raise his kids?
According to Warren Farrell, the author of numerous books on men's and women's issues, including Father and Child Reunion, kids raised by single dads do better academically, socially, psychologically and physically than those raised by single moms. But he's quick to point out that it doesn't mean men are necessarily better parents than women: "Single fathers usually have more income and education, tend to be older, and are more self-selected, thus more highly motivated," he says.
Which is, of course, what many career women look like nowadays, 10 years after Farrell's book was published, and many of them are choosing to be single moms by choice, either by adoption or sperm bank -- no dad in the picture at all.
And, despite Hollywood's dismissals of mothers, most moms don't disappear if a father has custody, Farrell writes.
"To moms' credit, they are more likely to stay involved; to dad's credit, dads are more likely to facilitate mom's involvement than mom is to facilitate dad's. In brief, the child living primarily with dad is more likely to live in conditions that come closer to the intact family than is the child living primarily with mom."
But if Hollywood isn't quite ready address men who willingly choose single fatherhood, fathers are -- just ask actress Halle Berry and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, both of whom are in nasty custody battles with their children's dads. Or ask Larry Birkhead, who fought for and won custody of the daughter he had with his late girlfriend Anna Nicole Smith, Dannielynn, and has been raising her solo ever since.
At the same time, many Americans don't think single moms are doing such a great job, according to a new Pew poll.
If we truly love single dads -- not just the idea of them, but the reality -- we shouldn't be surprised that more want to raise their children nor should we question why. And, we shouldn't have to kill off the mothers or make them disappear, either. Now, wouldn't that be a happy Hollywood ending?
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