Absentee Dads

I’m knee deep in summer camp nonsense right now, so I must be a neglectful blogger today. I do have one post in me…

Earlier in the week, we discussed the differing issues and needs that face women from different income groups. I think that the costs and adequacy of childcare is one of the top issues facing women of middle income and below. It’s an issue that deserves a lot more attention. There are plenty of other issues, but childcare should be on the list.

So, what’s a big issue facing women with less financial constraints? Certainly, they face sexism and other obstacles as they compete for positions at the top of their firms. That’s a biggie.

Another issue that I hear batted around at PTA meetings and book clubs is the fact that these women often have a hundred percent of the childcare responsibilities, because their husband work 80+ hours. The dads show up for a soccer game on the weekends, but that’s about it. The kids interact with their dads for two or three hours a week. Even if the women work full-time, they are still responsible for managing the nanny and picking up the take out meals for dinner. I’m not sure if this should be a feminist issue or if there is a policy remedy. I’m just pointing out that this is a common complaint.

I follow the social conservative research on the impact of divorce and single motherhood on children. They often point out the devastating statistics in terms of education and long-term development. These UMC women, like the single mothers in these reports, are also raising their children without the support of a husband. But the kids of the wealthy, absentee dad families have a much better outcome than lower income, single mothers. So, are those studies missing the point?

26 Thoughts on “Absentee Dads

  1. A much more plausible explanation, to me, is that a dad who works 80+ hours a week and comes to soccer games on weekends supplies a much more positive role model and inspiration for the children than a man who impregnated their mother but does nothing for the family.

    Also, it seems like rather missing the point to say that the problem of the poor families is not lack of a father, but lack of money. The dads who work 80+ hours are the source of the money, n’est-ce pas? If the attempt is being made to separate the role of fathers as financial supporters and fathers as psychological inspirations, then I reject that dichotomy. It’s like trying to draw a distinction between hugs and love.

  2. My nerves are frazzled; I just got out of an IEP meeting (my daughter will be moving on to high school in the fall, and while a part of me wants to fill the combox with a long and healthy rant on navigating the wonderful world of disabilities and IEPs in an impoverished school district as a working class mother with 2 jobs just to get all that out of my system….not really up for it right now). In the meantime, I think there’s a couple of issues being conflated in this post.

    Working class men with children who are working more than 40 hours a week are not doing so by choice. Full stop. They, like their female counterparts, are doing so out of necessity. Conversely, they may be working out of town or a long distance from home (not just military working class families do this!), which in effect makes everyday family operations function like a single-family home. This is different from how the upper middle class handles separation; choice and/or alternative options and/or the time-frame/knowledge of permanence of these situations makes all the difference in the world.

    On the other hand, number-one-with-a-bullet on why absentee fathers exist in my world is substance abuse. Substance abuse brings any number of other dysfunctions along for the ride, but there it is. This isn’t limited by SES, but I never hear women of higher SES talking about domestic violence or substance abuse except as something that happens to those other people.

    Platitudes from well-meaning feminists on how “men just need to step up to the plate re: parenting” are falling to the ground untouched in my world because it ain’t gonna happen. Because of the two scenarios above. Or say you get lucky and you’re both still together and you both have 40 hours at home. You’re still working for employers that don’t have paid leave, so parenting is something that has to wait until after 4:30 (or whenever). Upper middle class parents are completely opposed to school days that match the workdays, and/or year-round school, because they can supplement with extracurriculars (and have all the time in the world for the transportation all over hell’s half acre). Working class kids are either going home to a whole lotta nothin, or maybe gangs and drugs instead.

    Frankly, it comes down to who is and who is not valued in America. Feminism adopted the values of the society that it used to challenge. That’s not something I can use; not where I stand. And I’m not alone.

    Also, since this is a blog that discusses children with disabilities, it’s worth a mention on how many men are willing to stick around after that.

    • I meant to say “single parent home”.

    • Tulip on May 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm said:

      The failure to call schools to task for not adapting to working women is one of the major failures of the feminist movement.

    • AmyP on May 8, 2014 at 2:48 pm said:

      “Upper middle class parents are completely opposed to school days that match the workdays, and/or year-round school, because they can supplement with extracurriculars (and have all the time in the world for the transportation all over hell’s half acre).”

      I’m UMC and I’m opposed to a 9-5 school day because (speaking realistically) the kids would still need to do their homework after that. If the kids are home by 4, they’ll will be fresher and smarter and have an extra hour to work.

      We don’t do any weekday extracurriculars that we can avoid, as I believe in the sanctity of a family dinner, I think doing sports + McDonald’s is dumb, and I don’t believe in hauling three kids around town so two kids can watch one kid do something.

      Also, we have the whole summer available to pack with summer camps and classes.

  3. Laura on May 8, 2014 at 12:43 pm said:

    La Lubu, my IEP meeting is next week. They torture us even in this middle class suburb, too. But I know that you’ve got it much worse. Sigh.

    When Ian was three and I got thrown into the dealing with special ed nonsense, I asked other mothers on a listserv about how families with less resources than ours dealt with it all. At that time, we were still struggling economically and I was working, but we had the advantage of my education and our support system. The other mothers told me to shut up and just worry about my kid.

    Maybe I’ll do an open thread next week for parents to rant about their school districts, while I’m at the meeting.

  4. Jen w on May 8, 2014 at 12:55 pm said:

    I just don’t think you can compare actually having a father who lives with you, even if you don’t see him during the week, to a father who you see maybe a few times a year and definitely not regularly and when you do its full of tension with your mother.

    Plus there’s the money issue.

    I get frustrated when my husband goes away for a week and I have to work, cook, clean and get the kids to school and commute….but i know it will end! and I could totally spend the money on extra help if I really wanted to.

    I appreciate La Lubu’s thoughts on the school year. I wonder how I would feel about full time school…I do know my kids need a break and so do the teachers. But if I could pay higher taxes for full time school/camp/ etc…that would be different.

    I also agree that childcare is an issue. However, I will say that I have always had my kids in non-profit child care situations and honestly, no one is making money on this. I also know the for profit ones are about as expensive. Since we also know that childcare workers make very little money, how, reasonably, do we solve this? I don’t know! But to put a baby in my current childcare (thank god my kid is in preschool there now and it is cheaper and we’re almost done!) is close to $1700/month. Yes, I live in an expensive city, but this is not really outrageous.

  5. scantee on May 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm said:

    number-one-with-a-bullet on why absentee fathers exist in my world is substance abuse.

    Scratch the surface of a lot of UMC communities and you will find a staggering amount of substance (i.e. alcohol) abuse.

    Fathers are very important but the obvious difference between a working-class truly single mom and an UMC “single” mom is the mom. The UMC mom just has so much more time, energy, support, and other resources to devote to her children. That is supposedly the benefit of such an arrangement: that dad works crazy hours to make crazy money so that mom can make it her job to raise the kids. Working class single moms have no such luxury.

  6. Laura on May 8, 2014 at 3:03 pm said:

    Over the years, I have periodically argued for a 12 month, 9-5 school year. I had a ton of trouble finding childcare for a special needs kid, when I was teaching. I had to pay triple the costs of a normal daycare. And then there were all those weeks off during the winter time. Steve used up all his vacation time watching kids during breaks. One time I took a sick Jonah to school with me and he threw up in the hallways of the college in the middle of my theory class. Oh, I have a lot more stories like that.

    In the past, I have gotten a lot of pushback on the 12 month school year proposal from teachers and from parents like Amy P. It’s a political non-starter anyway, because local towns can barely afford their 180-day schools. There’s no way they would agree to a 12 month school year. Teachers unions would NEVER let it happen.

    Our town just recently voted to take away one of the two week-long breaks over the winter. A lot of parents opposed the plan, because they like to go to Vale twice during the winter time. Eye roll.

    • Tulip on May 9, 2014 at 7:51 am said:

      It isn’t just a 12 month school year – it is also scheduling of conferences and expectations of volunteering. All of that also assumes that at least one parent is available for those activities. Why does the elementary school concert have to be scheduled at 2:00pm on Thursday?

      • AmyP on May 9, 2014 at 9:38 am said:

        “It isn’t just a 12 month school year – it is also scheduling of conferences and expectations of volunteering.”

        Those parent responsibilities are one of the reasons why the 12-month model is unattractive. It’s nice to have a 2.5 month break from having other people schedule your life for you.

    • Aaaaanndd, there you have it. Ever wonder why the rhetoric about the 1% never took off? Because the top 10% are more of an everyday problem. The 1% don’t even live in my state (for the most part); while the 10% are making sure that the schools on their side of town have all the amenities while struggling students on my side of town can’t even get tutoring after school. We’ve got money so the rich suburban kids can have Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Prairie-Style quartersawn oak wood bathroom dividers (in an elementary school, no less!), but we can’t afford the services that actually make a substantive difference in the lives of average families, the ones whose children don’t go to Vail?

      It’s a political non-starter anyway, because local towns can barely afford their 180-day schools. There’s no way they would agree to a 12 month school year. Teachers unions would NEVER let it happen.

      Yes, schools are underfunded. But they don’t have to be. We just don’t value education in this country. Period. I’ve got a great solution in mind, and the teacher’s unions (AFT and NEA) would be completely on board with it: start paying newly-minted schoolteachers what we pay newly-minted journeyman electricians, pipefitters, and plumbers. Boom. Here in central Illinois, starting salary for a new teacher (including benefits) is less than half of the starting pay for a journeyman (not including benefits).

      Again, this is a policy choice. We could easily, effortlessly, afford to emphasize education in the US. We just choose not to. And then bitch about the results.

      • AmyP on May 9, 2014 at 9:48 am said:

        Bear in mind that one of the crucial things making the nice school nice is that the suburban mommies are making it as nice as they can. It’s in some ways a sort of co-op. The niceness is not entirely tax-funded or created.

        If you had just the nice facilities but with lower middle class kids, it wouldn’t be the same thing–you wouldn’t have the extra resources (donations in cash and kind) and the womanpower to really make it sing.

        Nice schools (public or private) work the parents like galley slaves.

        “I’ve got a great solution in mind, and the teacher’s unions (AFT and NEA) would be completely on board with it: start paying newly-minted schoolteachers what we pay newly-minted journeyman electricians, pipefitters, and plumbers. Boom. Here in central Illinois, starting salary for a new teacher (including benefits) is less than half of the starting pay for a journeyman (not including benefits).”

        I think the salary scale for teachers should be flatter, but you do have the problem that a freshly-graduated new teacher is pretty useless for the next two years. The salary scale as a whole should be flatter though, because while there is genuinely a huge bump in teaching ability between a teacher with 0 and 10 years experience, between 10 and 40 years, it flattens out.

      • Teaching should be run like an apprenticeship; earn while you learn, and graduate ready-to-go with no debt.

    • Aaaaanndd, there you have it. Ever wonder why the rhetoric about the 1% never took off? Because the top 10% are more of an everyday problem. The 1% don’t even live in my state (for the most part); while the 10% are making sure that the schools on their side of town have all the amenities while struggling students on my side of town can’t even get tutoring after school. We’ve got money so the rich suburban kids can have Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Prairie-Style quartersawn oak wood bathroom dividers (in an elementary school, no less!), but we can’t afford the services that actually make a substantive difference in the lives of average families, the ones whose children don’t go to Vail?
      It’s a political non-starter anyway, because local towns can barely afford their 180-day schools. There’s no way they would agree to a 12 month school year. Teachers unions would NEVER let it happen.
      Yes, schools are underfunded. But they don’t have to be. We just don’t value education in this country. Period. I’ve got a great solution in mind, and the teacher’s unions (AFT and NEA) would be completely on board with it: start paying newly-minted schoolteachers what we pay newly-minted journeyman electricians, pipefitters, and plumbers. Boom. Here in central Illinois, starting salary for a new teacher (including benefits) is less than half of the starting pay for a journeyman (not including benefits).
      Again, this is a policy choice. We could easily, effortlessly, afford to emphasize education in the US. We just choose not to. And then bitch about the results.

  7. Louisa on May 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm said:

    My husband was active duty army for the first ten years of our marriage so I was a de facto single parent for a fair amount of my kid’s lives. This is going to sound really petty but as you have so often pointed out on this forum, lots of times what makes the difference for a family is having some sort of safety net, financial or otherwise.

    Before my husband deployed, we had the resources to buy a lot of extra groceries. We stocked the house with things we thought we might run out of — like that milk that keeps forever on the shelf, cases of cereal, cases of diapers, etc — so that I didn’t have to drag sick kids out into the snow because we were out of groceries. We had a functioning car, unlike a lot of single moms. And if worst came to worst and I really couldn’t cope, my family had the resources to send in reinforcements, like my Mom being able to come to Germany for a week when I had horrible morning sickness and the flu and two kids under the age of two. We had really awesome health insurance. I hired a babysitter one evening a week when I thought I was going to lose my mind (that was when we had three kids under the age of four), even though I didn’t work.

    That isn’t to say that UMC kids that get raised for long stretches of time without a parent — and these days in the military it can as easily be a mom as a dad — are not still somewhat damaged by the experience. My kids honestly didn’t even know my husband that well in the years after 911 when he worked at the Pentagon. He usually left the house when it was dark out and came home when it was dark out. It wasn’t until he left the miltary that our home life normalized, but honestly my dad was a doctor who worked insane hours and my home life was pretty much the same way. EVen now, my heart melts a little when my kids complain about their weird overprotective dad having to know where they’re going all the time and who they’re going with, because my dad never did that.

    • Tanya on May 8, 2014 at 8:41 pm said:

      Unions would resist, but many teachers themselves would rather not have to find summer work. Perhaps 12 months is not an impossibility. After all, administrators are full- year…

  8. (sorry. I got an error message the first time. You can delete the duplicate comment! I thought it didn’t go through!)

  9. Laura on May 9, 2014 at 9:11 am said:

    No worries. Alright, I’m throwing the question about 12-month school year + double salary to my teacher friends on Twitter and Facebook. Will report back.

  10. jen on May 9, 2014 at 9:13 am said:

    If kids were in school 9-5, theoretically we’d be able to get rid of all the homework. Put in a study hall at the end of the day and let parents pick the kids up early if they want, that should take care of it.

    I personally believe lots of folks with non-academic schedules view teachers as less professional, and less hard-working, because of that summer off. I wonder what would happen to that perspective if teachers were working year round?

    I also wonder how many teachers would stay through that transition? Many of them seem very invested in their summer off. (And have I mentioned my husband and only sister are both teachers?)

    • Wendy on May 9, 2014 at 9:26 am said:

      I love the idea of getting rid of homework.

      In our school, the month of June is a wash anyway. There are so many field trips and activities that no work gets done. Surely there could be a similar month planned at at a year-round school.

    • I have a completely different attitude about homework than most other people seem to. True, I think others might agree homework is reasonable, not tedious, and not busywork (no coloring worksheets here). The 4th grader in our house does reasonable math/language arts practice sheets at home. They are helping him learn to manage his time and keep track of his schedule (and, that is, I’d say, the main purpose of the HW, which isn’t extensive or difficult). The 7th grader does projects, that would be harder to do in school, the ones that would have required library research back in our day (but that can be done mostly on the computer now). That might work at school if there was 1-1 computer access, but even then, I don’t think she’d be able to do the projects in the depth she does at school.

      In HS & college, most of my learning was done through the homework, especially in math, english, and history, where solving problems, reading/writing were the significant activities. The problems we solved in math class (and in science class with problems, like physics) were long — required hours of concerted thinking and work, and could not be done in a classroom/test setting. In fact, in college, most of our exams were take home, because at that level, the math teachers didn’t think there were any interesting problems they could test in a hour long class.

      So, I see elementary school HW as practice HW and middle school as learning more substantive application of individual effort and HS as getting ready for college. Of course, this presumes the kids actually know how to approach their HW (even if it’s hard) and that they do it themselves.

  11. B.I. on May 9, 2014 at 10:07 am said:

    I typed a longer comment but it “timed” out and I lost it. Shorter point. Lots of countries have very long school days which include meals, study hall, and extracurricular activities. It’s a much more egalitarian way of educating kids, and actually levels the playing field in a meaningful way. In China, many lost gains of feminism are due in part to cutting down the school day. Now parents (aka moms) have to do (and pay for) what schools used to do for free. This is not only hard on women, it also exacerbates class differences. What’s inconvenient or troublesome for middle class moms is impossible for working class and poor moms.

    • THIS. Schools geared to the desires of the UMC ensure inequality. Working class parents already have our lives and money spoken for. To be blunt, we get no 2.5 month break. And neither do our kids. Vacations? What’s that?

  12. B.I. on May 9, 2014 at 10:26 am said:

    shorter answer to the question: $$$$

    Conservative think tanks want to make it about morals to disguise the fact it’s about economics. The first victims of neoliberal labor policies were African-Americans in Northern cities. When industry started to move overseas, they were the first to lose their jobs. The national conversation, however, has made it about crime and a “culture of poverty” when it’s about what happens when you take away all sources of employment and strand people with no money in service-free neighborhoods or cities. The result is not pretty, but there’s absolutely nothing unique to African-American or “inner city” culture about these dysfunctions. You see them or similar things anywhere you have large % of young people with no employment prospects and no hope of employment prospects. People try to survive the best they can: they create black markets for services they can’t get legitimately, find ways of coping (often mind altering substances, sex, motherhood) to make life more enjoyable, and create alternate social structures which provide meaning, order, and hierarchy. Gangs, mafia, triads, whatever you want to call them wherever they occur.* When mainstream society utterly gives up on populations, those populations make due, often in ways not condoned by mainstream society.

    *Joining a gang is not a way to shirk manhood; it’s a way to prove one’s manhood in a world where one is demeaned, thwarted, and treated like crap in almost every other area of one’s life.

    • And if it’s about “morals” then you don’t have to implement any government strategies to make change happen. More of those myths of “anyone can make it” and “level playing field.

      You’re poor? It’s all your fault. I’m UMC? I did it on my own. Neither are that black & white.

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