On the one hand, I'm very concerned about boys and how they're getting the wrong messages, and why so many of them grow up to be shitheads who think shooting up schools will solve their problems. Like a lot of modern dads, I take the weight of my son's mental and emotional health on my shoulders. Any time he's even vaguely unhappy, my first thought is, “Oh fuck, I’m like Don Draper. My inability to fix his emotional needs is going to turn him into a psychotic, misogynistic, self-loathing mess!” (There's plenty in The Boy Crisis
to fuel those fears, including lines like: “The more your son sees the hopelessness of his dad's life, and fears that could be him someday, the deeper his emotional abyss—the deeper his purpose void.” Jesus fucking Christ. I can't finish that sentence without wanting to pour myself a bourbon, listen to Harry Chapin's “Cat’s in the Cradle” and have a good, long cry.)
But as much as I can relate to The Boy Crisis
—and there's much here that rings true, from how old-school masculine archetypes are damaging to how fatherhood can be as simple as remembering to roughhouse with your kid—there's also just enough to make me a little uncomfortable. Probably because it's the kind of book that's already been embraced by the far right to justify the argument that the problem with all the school shootings isn't guns but the lack of fathers. “Liberals are now fanatically pushing for fatherless families,” one conservative site recently warned
. As someone living in a very, very liberal community, nothing about that is even remotely true. I happen to know several lesbian parents who don’t think my son would be better off if I was out of the picture. But where's the right balance between “Let's discuss how fathers, although no more or less essential than mothers, can have a positive influence on a child's life” and “Maybe the problem is that your kid is a spoiled shithead who's just upset that the world doesn't revolve around him”? Both ideas can exist simultaneously. We can (and do) live in a world where dads are important, but also fuck your (and my) sense of self-importance.
I called Dr. Farrell and asked him about the things that don't have black-and-white answers, which is what makes parenting so frustrating and terrifying and fascinating.
PLAYBOY: Dad deprivation doesn’t feel like a new phenomenon. Haven’t dads been ignoring their kids for most of human history?
DR. WARREN FARRELL: Well, it depends on which time frame you're looking at. In the 1800s, after a divorce the children were primarily given to their dads. Nannies were oftentimes the everyday interaction, but the father was in charge. During the 20th century, we increasingly moved away from that idea, and children were given to their moms.
So it’s the moms who kept dads away?
There are a number of things that happened. The feminist movement did a huge amount of good in terms of expanding options for women. But it came with some damage to fathers. When I was on the board of NOW (the National Organization for Women) in New York City in the ’70s, they were getting a lot of pressure from women going through divorce who wanted to be in total control of deciding what was best for their children. And that meant taking away equal rights from their fathers. They put a lot of pressure on legislators to make divorce settlements more one-sided, which was kind of ironic, because it was a “I want to have my cake and eat it too” mentality. They wanted to have traditional sex roles questioned, while also reinforcing the traditional roles, where moms raised children and men made money.
We’re equal, except when kids are concerned, and then mom knows best?
Exactly. But another dimension of it was defining the economics of fatherhood. It became about their dime being more important than their time. The evidence now is, a father’s time is much more important than his dime. If a child has to choose between not having money from dad and not having time with dad, he suffers far more from a lack of time with dad. The ideal is to have a father who is not caught up in the father catch-22, where he works so hard for the love of his family that he has to always be away from the love of his family.
A “Cat’s in the Cradle” paradox.
When the dad really wants to get together soon with his son, but he prioritizes his work and the son grows up, and then the lyrics get really sad and everybody cries.
It’s not a happy situation.
Just thinking about that song makes me want to quit my job.
I don’t think you need to go that far. What we were able to determine is that when fathers work full time, that’s fine. But they need to make their children a priority the rest of the time. With activities like roughhousing, and teasing, and hanging out. Even if it only happens on the weekends, it needs to be consistent.