Something happens when a mother gives birth to a child. In an instant, her entire life changes.
A few months ago, I gave birth to a beautiful little boy, Hartley Eric, and I must admit, it happened to me. Suddenly, everything seemed a little brighter and my world made perfect sense. Today, I can honestly say I have never loved anyone in the same way I do my son. I finally understand what it means when a parent says they would do anything for their child, even if its throwing themselves in front of a bus to keep their child out of harm’s way. There isn’t a doubt in my mind I would do that for Hartley; for every time I see my son, my heart fills with a love that I could have never imagined. As his mother, I have so much love for him, it baffles me that his own father does not feel the same. My son is now more than three months old and he has never met or seen his dad.
The short version of the story goes something like this: I was in a one-year committed relationship. One day, he was there and the next (after sharing the news we were pregnant), he was gone. Attempts to involve him in my son’s life proved futile. A box of cigars exclaiming “It’s A Boy!” still sit in the corner of my apartment gathering dust along with all his belongings from the days when we shared the same space. Like I said, one day he was the only person in my life and the next day, he disappeared. Even though we share a son, he has never acted as though he exists.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique and my son is not alone in his predicament. The Census Bureau estimates that 1 out of every 3 American children is growing up without their father. On Oprah’s Lifeclass just a few weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey interviewed a number of fatherless sons, opening up the program with an unbelievable statistic: 29 million American kids are growing up without their dad. The numbers sickened me. I sat and watched the episode with a box of tissue, holding my baby tight.
What would I tell my son someday when he asked about his absent father? How do you explain to someone that they were abandoned by their own flesh and blood? How would I explain that, regardless of how hard I tried to get his father to be a part of his life, he refused - never coming to a doctor’s appointment, never seeing an ultrasound, never showing up to the hospital the day on that day our son was born?
In my quest to make peace with a painful situation, I’ve been looking for answers. I started a website, a non-profit and a discussion with a myriad of people. Single mothers, men who had been abandoned by their own fathers, women who had grown up without their fathers and fathers wishing their children were still in their lives. I’ve been speaking with politicians and leaders in our community in hopes that someday, together, we will be able to stem the tide of fatherless homes.
Yes, I know not every situation calls for a father in the home. Some fathers are abusive, some are mentally unfit, while others suffer from addiction. But some fathers are perfectly able. They are able-bodied and capable of making a decent living in order to support the child they brought into this world. The issue arises when these men flat out refuse to support their children, choosing to abdicate their role as a father and evade all of the responsibilities that come along with it. In my work with my single mother support group, I came across such a situation just the other day. I spent hours on the phone with the city trying to help a single mother find housing for herself and her children. She had been cleaning houses to get by and sleeping on the floor of a friend’s home with her baby, while another family kept her older twins until she could get back on her feet. Her story broke my heart because I knew that somewhere behind this single mother was a father that didn’t want to help, leaving her to support an entire family on her own. An alarming 87% of women in poverty got there thanks to a non-supportive absentee father who has left the children and let their kids down by failing to pay child support.
In a search for answers, I also encountered two men who have seen the damage that an absent father can do. Art Alexakis, the lead singer for alt-rock band Everclear, who wrote the hit song, “Father of Mine” (Everclear – Father Of Mine) about his own experiences growing up without a father, and then testified before Congress on the “Deadbeat Dad Bill” (formerly known as H.R. 1488) saying “The fact that song went to #5 on the charts and went double platinum tells me that there are millions of kids out there who are angry with their parents and forced into poverty because of non-support. We have to stop this cycle of abuse. Now. We cannot let another generation of children grow up thinking that it is acceptable not to support your children.”
In May, as I was curled up on my couch with my baby watching Oprah’s Lifeclass Presents Fatherless Sons, I learned about Kyle McMahon, who spoke of a father who abandoned him and was never there, only to have nothing to say to him the one time they did come in contact. Both Alexakis and McMahon have made the pledge to work with my support group, And Then There Were Two, to help make a difference.
My brother Eric passed away in 2009. He was in need of a heart transplant and unable to secure proper health insurance with a pre-existing condition. While he was with us, I did all I could. I tried to move each and every mountain to make sure he would survive. I loved my brother immensely and I would do anything for him. While Eric was sick, I was his advocate and, now, I vow to advocate for my son. I would do anything for Hartley to make sure he is fully supported.
Every child has the right to both parents. So on this Father’s Day, hug your dad and tell him you love him. Remind your husband that he is relevant. In this day of Super Moms, we should not stop talking about the importance of fathers in the home, because they are needed and play an important role.
But if you are among the many who doesn’t have dad at home, hug your mom today instead and do it twice. She plays the role of both the mother and the father in your household. Single mothers are raising a third of the nation’s children on their own and that is something that deserves to be recognized and honored.
By Veronica De La Cruz
Do something about the issue of fatherless homes by joining And Then There Were Two and Art Alexakis of Everclear as we support Responsible Fatherhood. Sign the Stand Up, Man Up petition today. For more information and help for single moms, log on to And Then There Were Two: www.AndThenThereWereTwo.com.
Veronica De La Cruz is a television news journalist and family and health care advocate. She founded the Eric De La Cruz Hope for Hearts Foundation in memory of her sibling, who passed away in 2009 while awaiting a heart transplant delayed by insurance denials. www.
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