This 14-letter word is loaded. Loaded with meaning, loaded with punch and loaded with blame.
It's also become a political tool of late, with our stellar ex-vice president Dan Quayle voicing his insightful opinions on the declining American family. Candidates are duking it out in TV commercials trying to prove who's the toughest kid on the political playground and a general feeling of helplessness.
Some, like Quayle, originally placed the decline of our moral fiber on the shoulders of single mothers (remember the "Murphy Brown" shenanigans? At least we know he watches TV), and most recently slammed "deadbeat dads" and absent fathers for the wretchedness of their children's morality.
As much as I hate to have anything in common with Dan Quayle, he sort of has a point. Parents are responsible for instilling values of trust, honesty and respect in their children.
But it's a two-way deal. In order to teach respect to children, the parents have to receive respect from society. But with single mothers being hung in effigy as either fat welfare queens churning out babies to earn a profit, or as neglectful mothers if they dare to work outside the home, single mothers are caught in a Catch-22.
Many women try to eek out a living for themselves and their children, with or without the assistance of the state. Single women in the underclass face a dual prejudice from society. They are not only poor, and therefore a drain on the public, they are trying to raise kids alone, and apparently failing miserably. Or so the political rhetoric goes.
We hear the same rhetoric again and again that a male child without an adult male role model is apparently unable to learn values from a mere woman. Or that a boy needs a man to teach him, otherwise he'll end up being a wussy mama's boy or a criminal wreaking terror on his neighbors.
Every child needs good role models, but gender is not paramount. Growing up to be responsible, respectful and thoughtful people is more important than teaching children how to fulfill gender roles. Yes, boys can learn from adult males, but women should not be ridiculed for not supplying their little boys with an in-house male role model.
On the other hand, single fathers are regarded as almost heroes. They're in the trenches, juggling family and work, managing to get the tots to piano lessons and learning how to cook. Their shortcomings are somehow forgivable because they're men.
Just think of the nightly primetime TV line-up. Shows like "Full House," "Blossom," "The Nanny," and even more new shows feature the comedy of clueless dads straddled with the duties of parenthood. I can just hear the pitch for the sitcom, "Just imagine a single dad. He's a hip guy, but he has to feed his family, keep his career on track, and try to be a role model for his daughters!! Think of all the zany possibilities!! In the first episode he has to explain menstruation!! Now that's comedy."
Of course the father can never be single by divorce, only by the unfortunate death of his wife. Or some quirky circumstance where a floozy woman couldn't figure out who fathered her child, so she leaves her daughter in the custody of two men (remember "My Two Dads"). Ha, ha, ha, ha.
This double standard is obvious. Yes, there are shows like "Grace Under Fire," where a single mother is trying to scrape by, that have gained popularity. But apparently the idea of men being responsible parents is still considered unusual and funny.
The easy thing to do is to stand away from the problem and preach that parents must be more responsible. Yes, they should be more responsible. But a mommy and a daddy does not make a family. A man and a woman under the same roof does not create a network of love, caring and respect suitable for raising children.
That is the responsibility everyone has to live up to. Not just parents, but schools, friends, churches and the community in general is responsible for children. It sounds trite, but it is true. Kids don't learn only from their parents' actions, but from the world around them.
Sarah Garrecht is Wildcat editor in chief and a journalism senior.
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