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A Fatherless Child..Just Not the Right One

I grew up in Mississippi a fatherless child. But something tells me State Auditor Shad White’s “fatherless” report wasn’t talking about me.

For ten years in Mississippi, I was raised by a single mother who didn’t have a paying job. We got by thanks in part to government assistance from Social Security. Yet, no one cites studies that show how my future was predetermined by my fatherless soul. No one worried I was lacking discipline at home and would pay the price by funneling myself to prison. No one fretted over my certain fall off the virginity wagon into teenage pregnancy. No one lauded my exceptionalism when I escaped my destiny, graduated high school, and went to college then law school. 

Why not?

If this statement seems like a no-brainer — of course you’re not the “fatherless child” we’re talking about, then — again — why not? 

My father was absolutely gone during my formative years. He died when I was three, and my mother only remarried when I was in the 7th grade. So if this myriad of problems attaches to fatherless households, why didn’t they attach to me? Could it be the problem doesn’t lie with the lack of a father but the lack of something else?

My Life as a Fatherless Child

Here’s what I knew when I was a child: I had money in the bank, I just couldn’t get to it. You see, I had a grandfather with enough money to create a trust for his dead son’s young daughters. We didn’t have many of the things my friends had — new cars and vacations — but Mother was able to buy us a house, and we belonged to River Hills Tennis Club. Mother may have counted our lunch money into tin cans, but we never doubted we’d get braces if our crooked teeth needed straightening. We were not poor.

Despite the “no dad” thing, people had expectations of me. Family and teachers expected me to be smart. People expected me to go to college (reasonable given that trust fund.) I wove these expectations into high hopes and lofty goals, which others routinely discouraged not because I was fatherless, but because I was penis-less, a whole ‘nother story. 

How We View a Child

Truth is, we construct all kinds of lens to view success through: money, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, able-bodiedness, attractiveness, perceived immigration status. For those on the other side of our views, we flatten expectations.

When my mother remarried, I gained a new daddy whom I adored. So who knows? Maybe if he hadn’t come into my life, I would have wound up a pregnant shop-lifting juvenile delinquent. But I doubt it. Not because I was the exception that proves the rule, but because no one expected that of me, and we had financial means to make those expectations real.

Is the Problem Fatherless-ness?

Why am I writing about this now, almost fifty years since I was a child? Because the Mississippi State Auditor recently released a report on “fatherless” families. Shad White examined these kids through the lens of their cost to taxpayers. (White is kind of making my point by equating “fatherlessness” with children who might cost the state money, but I digress.) He called the families of these children “broken homes.” I’m sure if we spoke, he would say he wasn’t maligning my family. But if the denominator is “fatherless,” I was fatherless. If I’m not in the conversation, perhaps the problem lies elsewhere.

Auditor White did offer a “solution” to his perceived problem. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his office increasing opportunities for kids in mom-run families to reach their goals. Nope, he suggested we drive kids into the junior military. I can tell you, if you wanted to make sure I wound up a pregnant juvenile delinquent drop-out, just tell me I had to join JROTC.

I’m sure Auditor White’s heart was in the right place. But if his report can’t include me, maybe the problem doesn’t lie within the ”fatherless” families. Maybe it lies with us, those who view the family a certain way. If so, exactly who needs to change?

The mother who raised us fatherless children
My mother, who raised us fatherless children until Mr. Van Hecke became our new dad

fatherless child report, fatherless children, fatherless children in Mississippi, State Auditor Shad White

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