Every year, Father’s Day brings a rash of newspaper columns. They are usually folksy nods to the father-child relationship.
There are fond memories of playing catch or going fishing with Dad, or tear-jerking accounts of a father who recently passed away. Usually, these well-received columns culminate in an appreciation of the man, something sweet he always did, something wise he always said, some love he always showed.
This is not one of those columns.
Father’s Day has arrived again. But in 2010, we in Detroit – and to a large degree the rest of the country – are luxuriating when we tell baseball and fishing stories. The fact is, we are pretty much down to celebrating fathers who stick around.
According to studies, one in three American kids now lives in a home without a father. Among African Americans, it’s nearly double that. In Detroit, the problem is acute. Fathers walk out. Fathers disappear. More commonly, fathers never come around to begin with.
All those moments that get celebrated on Father’s Day – taking a boy to his first ballgame, giving a girl her first tricycle – these men are not interested. They are fathers only in a primal, biological sense.
They are, in many senses, like ghosts.
Yet like ghosts, they haunt. The byproducts of abandonment
Run a list of bad behavior. You can multiply it if no father is around. Higher chance of committing a crime. Higher chance of getting hooked on drugs. Higher chance of winding up poor. Higher chance of landing behind bars. Higher chance of depression. Higher chance of suicide. Higher chance of violent behavior.
And the worst of all, higher chance of doing the same thing down the road – leaving a family, or walking away from a marriage.
All because a man was plenty interested in having sex, and not the slightest bit interested in the consequences.
In Detroit, we’re in a soul-searching time. Who do we want to be as a city? How do we want to look? Our mayor and City Council debate budgets, staffing, urban planning.
But let’s be honest. Unless more fathers start taking responsibility, none of this is going to matter. Schools can’t replace what a father teaches. Cops can’t stop what a father can. We are trying to fix a city with paperwork, when the real shortage is human direction. Men who actually take responsibility for the children they create.
It makes me furious. It should make you furious. There is no shortage of the activity that creates babies. That’s happening more and more and younger and younger. Just once, you want to blast a megaphone during one of those bedroom trysts and scream, “Are you both ready for 18 years of diapers, doctors, schools and temper tantrums?”
Instead, nine months later, a baby comes along, and far too often, the mother – or an aunt or a grandparent – winds up taking charge, while the father is off to something, or somebody, else. A solution for so many problems
Put a father and a mother in the same home, and our education problems will lessen. Put a father and mother in the same home and the crime problem will become more manageable, the neighborhoods more livable.
There is so much data on this, it will spin your head. Yet we continue the culture of “baby daddy,” where men can be identified as a father but barely held accountable.
It is time to stop this. And while I would like to appeal to the men, it’s pretty clear that isn’t working. So it may be time to appeal to the women. Do not accept this burden. Do not accept this as “the way it is.” Refuse to get involved. Refuse you-know-what.
But refuse. Because we as a society need to refuse this pattern. We are destroying our future. We are sinking our city before we even try to rebuild it.
So, no, this is not the typical Father’s Day column, but in the spirit of those pieces, I guess we can celebrate something. We can celebrate the fathers who, every day, do the simplest but greatest thing: accept, love and protect the children they bring into the world.
It seems so obvious.
So why isn’t it?
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).