In the age of the “deadbeat dad”, the idea of a single father, actively engaged, even raising his own children has become somewhat of a myth. When speaking of single parenthood, the image of the valiant struggling single mom, left behind to raise her children while the heartless father happily goes on about his business, free from all responsibility, is often evoked. While this image may have some validity, it does not tell the entire single parent story. It is an undeniable fact that the numbers of single mothers do overwhelm the numbers of single fathers. Custodial single fathers, however, are the fastest growing segment of the single parent population.
The 2000 Census tells us that homes headed by single fathers rose at a rate of 62% while single mother homes rose by 5%. The 2010 Census will probably reflect a similar trend. Why the increase? A variety of factors such as the increasing numbers of judges who award custody to single fathers and the rising numbers of mothers choosing careers or furthering their education over custody can spur this rise. Some single fathers hope these rising numbers quell the voices that suggest that men neither want nor care for their children. They hope that the increase shows the opposite; that not all fathers abandon their kids. Many fathers do in fact want to take care of them, be active in their lives and provide for their needs.
For the record, they would also like it known that often they need as much help and support as single mothers, although they are far less likely to ask for it. Part of this is simply because they are men and given the choice, they would prefer to figure things out for themselves rather than to seek help. Another reason, however, is single custodial fathers often live in the shadow of fear. They live with the fear that if the mother returns to the scene, she will automatically be awarded custody simply because she is the mother. Therefore, they try not to draw attention to themselves, quietly going about the business of raising their children alone, and often not even seeking child support.
Some argue that when single dads are recognized, they are given accolades and attention while single mothers are stigmatized. This article is not about that. It is not about whether their condition is better or worse than that of a single mother. It is simply to acknowledge their existence, and recognize their struggle.
Responsible single fathers are not a myth for the nearly five million men raising their children by themselves. It is also not a myth for the non custodial fathers who play an active and responsible role in helping to raise their children. While the numbers of deadbeat dads may now seem to overwhelm the numbers of responsible fathers, the tide could in fact be turning. As the numbers of single fathers continue to rise, along with the numbers of responsible and active non custodial single fathers, the day when the “deadbeat dad” has become the myth may not be far away.