Where’s Poppa?

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

October 15, 2004

Lorie and I walked to high school every morning for four years, but of all of the mornings we walked and talked, one morning stands out.  As usual, I knocked at her front door, and we walked together back toward the sidewalk.  This morning, however, she was noticeably quiet and serious.

“I guess I can finally tell everyone,” she started.  I began imagining all the possible announcements she could make to explain the pain in her voice and the hurt in her expression.  “My parents are getting divorced.”

Divorced?  Impossible! Neither of us knew anyone who lived in a home with a divorced parent.  In the 60s, divorce was frowned upon.  And it was rare. 

Leave it to another smaller child to describe with poignancy the arrival of divorce and single-parenting in modern American culture.  In Anne LaMott’s All New People, Nanny, a brave young girl, observes with remarkable clarity that suddenly she is living in “1963, the year the fifties ended, and the fathers in our town were leaving…. It was our collective great fear, that our fathers would leave us, start new families with younger and prettier children; we had seen it happen before.”

No-fault divorce.  Initially heralded in as an enlightened approach to deal with unhappy and hopeless marriages, divorce has overtaken the modern world.  The Internet gives easy access to websites calling out:  No Fault Divorce Made Easy.  In Arizona “rapidlaw.net” hustles the unhappy:  “Easy & Fast to Divorce. Great Prices – Start Here!”

Adults are free to come and go without recrimination, making and breaking bonds of “unconditional love.”  Yet, as we grownups speed out of our marriages and into happier waters, we leave pain and suffering in our wake.  David Poponoe in his book, Life Without Father, explains:

The decline of fatherhood is one of the most basic, unexpected and extraordinary trends of our time. Its dimensions can be captured in a single statistic: In just three decades, between 1960 and 1990, the percentage of children living apart from their biological fathers more than doubled, from 17 percent to 36 percent. By the turn of the century, nearly 50 percent of American children may be going to sleep each evening without being able to say good night to their dads.

No one predicted this trend; few researchers or government agencies have monitored it; and it is not widely discussed, even today. But the decline of fatherhood is a major force behind many of the most disturbing problems that plague American society: crime; premature sexuality and out-of-wedlock births to teenagers; deteriorating educational achievement; depression, substance abuse and alienation among adolescents; and the growing number of women and children in poverty.

Little did we expect in the 60s that no-fault divorce would be only the beginning.  Today, our willingness to abandon marital vows has evolved into an aversion to marital vows in the first place…and to a movement to redefine marriage to mean anything but.

While counselor Joann Condie doesn’t recommend women stay in abusive marriages, she warns that the pain of divorce is significant.  “It’s interesting to me as a marriage therapist,” she tells Citizenlink, “to find out that divorce is hurtful to the children even if they are adult children.”

Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, asks the obvious question.  “If the effects of family breakdown are indisputably calamitous, why are we so intent on accelerating the breakdown?  Whether it’s the refusal to treat two-parent families as normative in textbooks, an increasing problem, or the deconstruction of marriage inherent in the campaign for same-sex ‘marriage,’ the effect is the same.”  Marriages fracture…and children suffer.

Children suffer…yes.  And for so many children the common unhappiness flowing from the breakdown of marriage is the absence of their father…daddy…poppa.

Poppa?  A fortress of strength we all long to hug…he’s gone the way of a marriage abandoned, a temporary fortress built of sand.  The current debate over marriage is controlled by adults:  legislators, gay activists, psychologists, all of them championing their special path to adult happiness inside…and out…of traditional marriage.  But where are the voices of our children?

In all the debate about marriage, there is a tragic absence of attention to the most significant problem facing us today.  There is no greater question deserving our attention as we talk about marriage than the question coming from our children…where’s Poppa?

The Power of a Father

June 18, 2004:  Me Jane, You Tarzan

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