A Greater National Tragedy...
Today as we sit in front of the television and heave a sigh and a collective "tsk-tsk" about Hurricane Katrina, an even bigger drama is being played out behind the scenes. While we learn about the "tragedy" of rednecks who were too dumb to get out of the way of a Category 5 storm with five days warning, losing their homes, and sometimes their lives, there is something equally distressing, and certainly more important than a flooded street in New Orleans looming on the horizon, and it hits with just as much force as Katrina.
I'm down in Florida staying with a dear friend who has an annoying habit (more like routine) that revolves around appearing at or calling courthouses three times day, it seems. When she's not engaged with the courts, it's various state agencies and sherrif's departments. She's harried, but determined, and continues to bang her head against the wall of monumental legal and governmental stupidity for a very simple reason:
She has a deadbeat ex-husband. Actually, two of them. And two daughters.
What's worse, is that neither sperm donor (and that's what they are, because they are simply NOT fathers), despite all the pressure brought to bear by the mighty coercive state, despite the arrest warrants issued, the wages garnished, the begging and pleading of their own relatives, has seen fit to perform the job they volunteered for: being a father.
Perhaps it is because I grew up without my own father that I have a romantic (if that's the right term) idea of what a father should be. He should be strong, a good role model, a defender of his family, he should try to do the right thing and look out for his own, even when it hurts him. He should be responsible, interested, a source of guidance and advice when life's little molehills seem to ballon into Everest.
But it seems that this is not the case. A father nowadays is merely the person who left his gametes, a name on a birth certificate, a random personality who having gotten his rocks off, can see fit to ignore the responsibility that attaches to another life he helped create. If he's lucky, all of the annoyances (ex-wife, kid, state agencies hounding him) will just go away and leave him be.
I've been watching this little drama play out for the last few days (and hearing about it for far longer than I care to remember) and it always comes back to the same thing; no matter what means you use, you cannot get through to these guys. No ethical, moral or legal argument available to you can penetrate the dense armor of selishness. No action by the state can coerce compliance with what should be a primal instinct (rearing your own offspring and supporting them).
It's not just about money. How about calling your kid once in a while to see how she is? Is school okay? Are you feeling well? Is there anything you need? Can we just shoot the breeze? Can I see you?
Three million years of human evolution has hard-wired the instinct to see our children survive to propagate the species has gone down the toilet, somehow. Granted divorces are often messy and nasty affairs (my mother's had two of them) and very often parents take an active dislike to each other, but is this an excuse to ignore your own children? What happened to that instinct? How did we reach a point where it no longer functions?
We have, in the name of "protecting the children" turned much of the apparatus of actual child care over to incompetent state agencies who do little more than issue little bits of paper, shuffle them between offices and then sit on their hands. These are merely jobs programs for people who cannot find gainful employment in the private sector --- they don't have to show results or produce anything useful in order to get paid. You can issue warrants for arrest, but police forces have better things to do than enforce the law, like making sure that everyone is wearing a seatbelt or protecting rural town with populations under 300 from terrorist attack (never know when Mohammed might find it necessary to blow up the grain silo in Scratchyerass, Montana).
In the meantime, we have millions of children who are going unsupported (in more than financial terms) by their actual parents, and it's hurting them in ways that want to make you scream at the tops of your lungs. It's a crime. I feel like solving the problem myself with my trusty crowbar.
I know that solves nothing, but this is a situation that calls for drastic action. Where that action comes from or how it's mobilized, however, is beyond me. I do know one thing for certain, we do need to redefine fatherhood as quickly as possible, and preferably, we should fall back on the older, understood concept of provider and nuturer instead of this new-fangled ATM-machine-under-guidance-of-the-state concept. It doesn't work. All it produces is more angst for the parents and a kid who has to beg for the slightest acknowledgement from her father.
And this is being repeated all over the country. So while we look at he same pictures of flooded streets in the French Quarter, and the politicians continue to do their job of filling empty suits, and the flapping rectums on the news present yet another fluff piece on on "What's Hot This Fall!", another kid is wondering what he or she did to deserve a father who is heartless and irresponsible. We won't even get into the damage (emotional and mental) that this sort of behavior causes in your children, it should be self-evident.
This is the greatest tragedy of all.