Can Girls Benefit From Absent Fathers?

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Here’s more empowerment and encouragement for single moms and their daughters.

Remember my post about alternative narratives? If not, read it here. I’m revisiting the idea of alternative narratives because I know people have firm beliefs about the negative effects of growing up without a father. The media has so effectively distributed a single story about children raised without fathers that people miss the whole, evident truth. This is such a complex issue, and I admit, there aren’t many (if any) studies on what I’m about to say. I’ll address the lack of academic/scholarly/scientific study in another post, but first, let me offer some possible, even if a bit contrived, benefits of growing up without a father. Forgive me for focusing on girls, but as a female, it’s what I’ve thought about the most. If you want to read some of my ideas about boys with absent fathers, go here.

Many people say that girls have issues because they don’t have a father to tell them they’re beautiful.

The problem I see with that belief is that validation is still external and still from a man. It reinforces the idea that a man has to validate your beauty, whether he’s your father or not. One thing girls without fathers have the opportunity to learn, is that no man, not even a father or father figure, should be the determining factor in how you feel about yourself.

Another belief perpetuated especially by conservative thinkers is that girls raised without fathers won’t know how to interact with adult men, and thus won’t make good wives.

I think what these people are really saying is that these girls won’t know how to be submissive to adult men. I split my argument two ways. 1) If this happens, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being strong and assertive can be excellent qualities when done correctly. 2) It might be that the girl can be submissive to an adult male, but only if she really wants to, only if he’s deserving, not just because he’s an adult man. Submissiveness is about humility, and anyone can learn to be humble with a father or not.

Then there’s the story that girls without fathers will end up in abusive relationships, often with older men (meant to replace their missing fathers), and engage in a vicious cycle of self-destructive love affairs.

Well another story we could tell is of the girl who sees her mother as an example: a mother who is single because she refused (and refuses) to be in an abusive relationship, because she expects and demands love and respect, not just romance. I like to tell this story because it is my own. My mother’s example is the reason I was okay being single, therefore not falling into the trap of trying to fill a void with unhealthy relationships with men.

Remember that these are additional/alternative stories. They are by no means the limit. What stories do you have to share about girls growing up with absent fathers? Any of them counter to the usual mainstream narratives we hear? Please share them with us!

Peace and Love from Sarah L. Webb

What’s in your hand?

For Single Moms: The Elephant in the Room

I don’t know where the cliché originated, but it’s especially fitting for my topic today. Around the web, there’s mention of an insightful documentary about adolescent male elephants going on wild rampages, demolishing anything in their paths. What cures these elephants of their adolescent rebellion? Why, the only thing that can keep any male adolescent in line—older males.

I haven’t seen such a film, and none of the sites which use it to support their beliefs about the absence of fathers mention the name of the film or where to find more information on it. Therefore, I won’t make arguments about the film or their interpretation of it. I will, however, pose a few questions.

  1. Was the purpose of the documentary to teach about the influence of mature male elephants, or was it merely a segment of a film that discussed something broader or something else all together?
  2. Does the film explain where they got the older male elephants? Were they specially selected, or rounded up at random?
  3. Does the film explain the absence of males as the cause of the deviant behavior, or was the presence of males merely an anecdote to a problem caused by other factors?
  4. Does the film mention that it’s typical of adolescent male elephants to break out of reserves and go on rampages when they’re in musth (heat)? [Rampaging bulls controlled by female love calls.]
  5. Does the film mention anything about the role of adult and/or adolescent female elephants?

Hmmmm. . . What other questions could be asked before accepting reports about this film as outright proof that men are the solution to all social ills?

Regardless of potential or actual answers to my questions, I will make one general statement that’s as hard to ignore as an elephant in the room:

We are not elephants.

We have levels of agency only seen in humans. Elephants cannot logon to a computer and conduct a search for parenting support groups, or a children’s therapist. Elephants do not publish helpful hints in magazines, books, or blogs. They do not apply to teaching programs in foreign countries. They do not stay up all night studying for exams so they can graduate from college and provide a better life for themselves and their offspring. So . . . even if adolescent elephants can’t behave without adult male elephants, that doesn’t mean humans are bound to the same sociology.

I’m not trying to deny research done on elephants by credentialed professionals. [Teens need male parents] The issue is much deeper and much more urgent. As one of the bloggers who blogged about the elephant story says:

“There are many ways fathers leave their sons. They are poached by a ruthless work-ethic that insists on winning at all costs and making money as the highest forms of success.  They leave through alcohol, drug abuse and television. They leave through marital strife and divorce.  They exit through doors maintained by an educational-corporate-socio-economic system which declares that men should not feel.” [Elephant rampage helps explain teen violence]

This quote reflects the basic idea behind my use of the catchphrase, “It’s not quantity. It’s quality.”

Most individuals trumpet the overly simplistic belief that women, children, and teens just need men in their lives. That’s it. We just need a man. Any man will do, as long as it’s a man. They do not bother to differentiate between types of men. They do not bother to differentiate between positive male influence and negative male influence. They do not differentiate between abusers and nurturers. They do not acknowledge that just as some children in single-parent homes will grow up to be hugely “successful,” some children in two-parent homes will grow up to be tragic “failures.” Men are not master keys to success. Sometimes they open doors, sometimes they don’t. Let me say it plainly:

A single-parent home is not guaranteed a bad outcome, and a two-parent home is not guaranteed a good outcome. More than the quantity of parents, the quality of parenting has more to do with success or failure. 

Let me also say that many individuals succeed despite poor parenting, and many fail despite decent parenting.

We should stop comparing ourselves to elephants and realize that we are responsible for our own lives. Let’s stop wasting energy blaming absent fathers or settling for male replacements that do more damage than good. Let’s take the focus off of what’s missing and focus on what still remains. In the end, we cannot do anything with what we don’t have, and while we waste time mourning the absence of fathers, we miss out on the opportunities we DO have. Those who feel the greatest impact of a missing husband or father are those who spend so much time complaining about the lack of a male presence that they don’t invest in themselves, don’t harness available resources, and don’t cultivate their own strengths so they can make it in spite of. A lot of times it’s not the absence of a husband or father that leads to failure; it’s the attitude or belief that you can’t make it without a husband or father that leads to failure.

Use what’s in your hand.

With Love, from Sarah L. Webb