When Fathers Refuse to Be in Family Picture

By Donna Britt
Friday, June 24, 2005

The thirtysomething woman complaining at the beauty shop was gorgeous and eloquent, the type that folks once called "a catch." Yet her words suggested that all she's caught recently is hell.

Of course, she was talking about a man. Her ex.

The father of her two children, she said, is a handsome police officer who pays child support sporadically, breaks dates with his kids, lives with his mom and misses his daughter's school activities and his son's everyday triumphs. Although in his late-thirties, he "says he's trying to get himself together," she said.

Days after hearing her gripes, I wondered:

What kind of Father's Day did this guy have?

Father's Day is over. On Sunday, millions of awful neckties were smilingly accepted, countless Home Depot gift cards pocketed and favorite dinners consumed by the dads they honored.

This column is for the fathers -- the baby-daddies and the husbands-long-gone -- who missed it.

You know who you are. Some of you eschewed the holiday and its offerings with barely a shrug; others felt happy to receive a token card from your offspring -- or from their still-hopeful mother -- despite your failure to be as fully a part of their lives as you coulda-shoulda-woulda been.

Others know who you aren't . Single dads doing their utmost to give to -- and to receive from -- the children who don't live with you: This column isn't about you. Keep up the hard work.

Listening to the woman in the shop made me want to scream -- I've heard, seen, been exasperated by her too often. In some ways, I am her: One of millions of divorced or unmarried moms whose kids love an oft-disconnected dad.

Unconnected -- and often unwed -- parenthood is an American cultural phenomenon that transcends economics, race and social status. Svetlana Khorkina, the haughty Russian Olympic gymnast, now lives in Los Angeles and is eight months pregnant by a man she won't name. Often when I hear of a Hollywood starlet opting for single momhood, or pass a baby-faced pregnant teen, I realize:

It's easy to judge the woman.

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