Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everybody Needs Nobody?

In this article, Bill O'Reilly comes down hard on Jennifer Aniston for expressing her opinion on being a single mother by choice in today's society. O'Reilly claims that Aniston's opinion that women have more options these days and don't have to forego having children because they don't have a husband, are socially destructive. He appears to think that Aniston's comments are an assault on the family unit, particulary, on fathers. He claims that this begs the question: do fathers matter?

This is a complex issue and deserves to be looked at from many angles.

On the one hand, what is a father and what is their role in a child's life? They're traditionally providers, male influences, a second opinion when mom says no, that person who gives the living room couch that special warm groove, and the one who magically makes garbage bags disappear from the house. As we get older, there are issues, political debates, fatherly advice, and those occasions when you need to talk to dad for money.

Is all this essential to a person's existence? No. Arguably, mom's influence is much more vital to our survival, as she is the womb, the provider of life, the provider of food and essential services like being driven to soccer practice, and an endless source of both informaion and unsolicited advice. Your mother is generally the person who cries at your milestone events and hangs your ugly kindgarten photos on the fridge. For many, they grow up in homes where mom rules the roost and makes the big decisions.

One can easily make the argument that dad is not essential in this scenario as long as mom has the time, money and support network needed to cater to her child's needs. Many of the single mothers by choice out there are affluent older women who have successful careers and substantial egg nests. It can be argued that they have no need for a secondary income or for someone to fill out that spot on the couch.

Unfortunately, a lot of these single women don't have the time to stay at home with their children if they're still actively working. So they hire a supporting cast of maids, nurses, nannies, cooks and all the of the rest, to help them raise their child. This child's needs are covered, but not necessarily by mom herself. So if dad is unnecessary, maybe in this case, mom is, too.

And what about those children who lose their parents at a young age? Their caregivers can range from a group of family relations, to adoptive parents, to foster care homes, to a large network of friends who basically are family to them. There's a wide range of options for raising a child, and they don't have to be the typical traditional family unit of mom and dad.

So if nobody actually needs parents, does anybody need anybody?

Following this logic, Bill O'Reilly's comments are entirely unfair. One loving parent who truly wants a child may be just as great a parent as two negligent parents who are resigned to their situation. But what about the fact of having a father? Is it important to have someone to call dad, or can a child simply rely on male figures like uncles, brothers and Clint Eastwood films?

Daddy issues make for great entertainment in JJ Abrams films, but they can have detrimental cross over effects in real life. Children lacking a male influence may grow up with mixed feelings about men and how they should behave. This may lead them to take their cues from questionable sources or accept certain behaviors that they may not otherwise know are wrong. This is not to say that all children without dads are screwed up in their relationships with men; but the absense of a strong male father figure can be disruptive to some.

Then there's the test tube factor. It's hard to say how children will react to being told that their father is an anonymous sperm donor who may have been collecting some extra cash one weekend. It can make a child feel that they're not rooted to someone, that they don't have a shared lineage or history and can affect their sense of identity. They will never have the opportunity to blame their father for a physical attribute that they hate like their nose or the size of their bum, nor will they be able to blame their neuroses on their father.

While it's unfortunate to be faced with the reality that you may not have those experiences, they're not exactly detrimental to our survival. What would be detrimental to our survival is a lack of food, water, shelter and a zombie apocalypse. Either way, though, people do need people while growing up, whether it's a traditional family unit, a paid supporting cast of servants or an impromptu support unit of friends. We need people to support and guide us, and the more of those people, the better. They don't need to be 'mom' and they don't need to be 'dad'. They don't even need to be family, really. They just need to be there when it counts.

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