Fathering

[Tony Woodlief]


It's striking that when one hears of someone being "mothered," this evokes the image of caretaking, but "fathered" simply means, to most of us, that someone has successfully spread his genes. The sociobiologists have explained this in the language of costs and benefits, which suits everyone just fine, I suppose, except that at the end of the day we are left with the reality that a man who fathers children and then does not subsequently care for them really is not much of a man.

The statistics are undeniable and well-rehearsed by now -- children abandoned by their fathers are at considerably greater risk for poverty, crime, abuse, and perhaps worst of all, repetition of the sad cycle that has helped reduce the title to denoting the remnant of a sex act. It's something we associate with the lower classes, though I've seen too many wealthy executives do something similar, abandoning their children not financially but emotionally. More than one retired captain of industry has confessed to me, with the quiet sadness of someone who knows there is no redemption, that his success wasn't worth it.

It's easier to achieve acclaim in the workplace than the home, however, and so we fathers gravitate to the places where our cleverness or hard work will find reward, and abrogate our duties at home, and imagine that we are doing this all for our families, when really it is because we are cowards. The most intractable business problem, after all, is infinitely more solvable than a wayward teenager. And so do we become failures as we grasp for accomplishment.

My prayer is that fathers will turn their hearts back to their families. Not in a sentimental way, but in the hard things that are always the true measure of the heart, in the sacrifice of ourselves for these children who did not ask to be here but who are with us, and who need us, and who deserve for the verb "father" to mean something richer than it has come to mean.

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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