The ironic juxtaposition of three news stories over the last few weeks intrigued and concerned me.
The first story was the news that Nadya Suleman — the infamous “octomom” — arrived at her new 2,500-square-foot home with Noah (Baby A) and Isaiah Angel (Baby C) to a frenzied throng of paparazzi and reporters.
Ms. Suleman seemed to be enjoying the attention, even inviting one of the weekly TV entertainment shows inside her home to film the first meeting between her newborns and other children.
Touching, huh? Yes, she is “working it,” as evidenced by the fact that she initially turned down an agency’s offer to provide $135,000 per month of around-the-clock services of skilled neonatal intensive care nurses because the agency would not allow her to film a reality show in the home.
The second story was the report that in 2007 the United States experienced a baby boom of post-World War II proportions. More babies — 4,317,119 to be exact — were born than in any other year of our nation’s history.
That’s good news because, unlike many of our European friends, the U.S. population is replacing itself at a healthy pace. However, the not-so-good news is that we had a record number of births to unwed mothers. Forty percent of all births were out-of-wedlock, and more than three-quarters of these moms are 20 or older.
My sense is these women did not come home to paparazzi, just like their children didn’t come home to papa.
The third story was the announcement of a plan by the Obama administration to help the nation get out of the housing crisis, which was triggered by the subprime lending mess. Specifically, the plan is to allocate $75 billion to aid up to 9 million homeowners at risk of losing their homes. Without a doubt, addressing the unintended consequences of lax credit practices and stabilizing the housing market is central to our nation’s overall economic recovery.
So, how are these three stories connected? As with the subprime mortgage craze, there will be many unintended consequences of our nation’s growing acceptance and, too often, celebration, of creating single-mother families. We are moving toward an era of the “subprime” family, with fathers as optional as an adequate down payment.
But with families, like mortgages, structure matters. Indeed, in each of the mortgage-backed investments that are now deemed toxic, the underlying assets had value but the structure made them more risky.
So too with families: The underlying assets — moms, dads and children — have intrinsic value individually and in relationship to each other. However, reams of social science research show that when a culture is indifferent to family structure, kids are more likely to be at risk for a variety of social ills. And single-mother households tend to be the poorest, despite the federal government spending more than $100 billion annually to support them.
Like folks who signed up for teaser mortgage rates and distant balloon payments, Ms. Suleman and the millions of new single moms, raising kids without dads may seem like a “good deal at the time.” However, life is full of vicissitudes that can be difficult to handle financially and emotionally.
For example, when Ms. Suleman was asked how her six older kids are dealing with the new family structure, she said, “Externalizing their anger, internalizing it. … They become more withdrawn and get a little more sad. One of my kids for a while, I noticed he didn’t want to deal with the reality of what’s going on. I noticed some tears coming down his face. I held him for 10 minutes, and he held me back and that’s all he needed.”
Good fathers are not just an extra pair of hands that can be replaced by a legion of helpers, as Ms. Suleman seems to think. Indeed, money can buy a sperm donor but it can’t buy a kid a dad. And as the Beatles reminded us, money can’t buy you love.
No, good fathers are an extra and irreplaceable heart that kids need beating with theirs. Children have a “hole in their soul” in the shape of their dads, and when a father is unable or unwilling to fill that hole, it can leave a wound that can’t be filled easily by a 10-minute hug.
After the lights, cameras and helpers are gone, Ms. Suleman’s children and millions of others will have to reconcile in their heads and hearts what all this means. I grew up without my dad, and I still struggle with what it means. For some kids, the question will be, “Why did Mom choose to give me half of who I am as if the other half did not matter?” For others, the question will be, “Why did Dad choose to give me life but not love?” In both cases, I doubt the answer, “Well, it seemed like a good deal at the time,” will provide much solace.
• Roland C. Warren is the married father of two sons and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). He can be reached at email@example.com.