The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why Not You?

In response to my recent comments saying that I object to women deliberately getting pregnant out of wedlock as much as I disrespect men who do not take responsibility for the children they make, there were comments that I was blaming poor people for being poor, or denying poor women the same right to get pregnant out of wedlock that rich women have, or insisting that children need a two-parent family, or whatever. That if you aren't healthy enough to have a relationship with another adult human being, you aren't healthy enough to raise a child.

Well, Duh. What the living hell do you expect someone who is fanatical about balance, who has spent decades healing the wound of an absent father, who was willing to trash his own career to be a father to his daughter...what do you expect me to think and say? That doesn't make me right, but don't my comments seem right in alignment with my stated values? And to a degree, that's all this blog is about: what does the world look like to someone who tries to live his life in alignment with the values of balance, personal responsibility, and steadily increasing energy?

So let me look into these charges, specifically.

1) Blame poor people for being poor? Blame, no. There are circumstances that have nothing to do with your effort or capacity that can place a person in grinding poverty from which it is horrifically difficult to extract herself. BUT, (and this is a Big But) you ARE responsible for finding your way OUT of poverty, or living with the awareness that you have limited resources.

2) Denying poor women the same right to be unwedded mothers that wealthy women have? Did I ever approve of those wealthy women acting irresponsibly? Hell, no. And those who are in the public eye (actresses, singers, etc.) I consider horrible role models, in a context in which they know damned well that part of their huge salaries has to do with the fact that people idolize them, not merely the objective amount of talent and ability they bring to their roles. In my world, such adoration demands responsibility...if you are an adult. "The student becomes the teacher", remember? But responsibility does come in there. If you have a leaky rowboat, it makes no sense to complain that you can't go as far to sea as an ocean liner. Wealth provides a safety net. You can act like a fool, crash cars, steal from stores, and sometimes even murder your spouse, and have a MUCH better chance of getting away from it.

Complaining that it "isn't fair" is what a child does. Adults say: I have no shoes. Best I not play in the snow.

3) Am I saying I believe that children are at greater risk in single-parent homes? Well, again, Duh. I'm saying that it is easy to amass fantastic amounts of both anecdotal and statistical evidence suggesting that this is true. Correlation does not prove causality. Yep. But when there is a debate where the cost for being wrong is the welfare of children, I'm going to err on the side of caution. Every time. I was at Cliff Stewart's (my Silat instructor) birthday party last Saturday, and they told a story about a gigantic young man who wanted to train in the UFC. He began his relationship with Cliff by trying to cold-cock him. Bad move. Short nap. He had a reputation for going to different martial arts schools, and beating up their instructors. The sober assessment of this young man was that he would end up dead, or killing someone.

I didn't even need to ask if the kid had a father. And of course, he did not. Why was it so obvious? Because young men push everything around them, seeking their limits. Jason tries to beat my ass every day. And when there is no male energy, they will seek it wherever they can find it. They want to know that there is something in the world stronger than they are--it is the only way they can relax and accept knowledge and guidance. And if they don't find it, they expand until they DO find it...usually in the form of something like the military, or the prison system. The structure of a gang. It is grotesque to watch this play out, again and again.

And for girls? I'm not as clear, but every nerve in my body said that if I wasn't there to raise Nicki she would end up seeking affection from other men, the same affection she should have gotten from her father. One case does not a study make, but she says she is the ONLY girl in her entire circle of friends who has not had a baby. She was the last virgin standing.

This doesn't "prove" anything. But I will stand by my decision.

4) What about relationships? I say it clearly, and you can disagree with it if you want: healthy people can find, and maintain, healthy relationships. If you can't, the problem is in the mirror, not the statistical tables. And kids raised by parents with nightmare or non-existent relationships have no freaking idea what an actual healthy relationship looks like. And will pass that on to their children. Disagree with my conclusions, but you shouldn't be surprised by them. I've lived my entire life seeking answers to the question: how can we live healthy, balanced lives? I won't back off my conclusions because it makes someone uncomfortable.

5) Is there a limit to personal responsibility? Sure. But I don't know what it is, so I take the position that most of us take far too little responsibility for our lives, not too much. In the triad of body, mind and spirit, body is the easiest. You NEED no one else to cooperate with you to have a healthy body. You may WANT it, but when it comes right down to it, YOU, if you are an adult, are responsible for everything you put in your mouth, and every movement you make with your body. You can walk away from any relationship that tries to damage your body, and many many people have. You need ONE person...yourself.

Relationships are twice as difficult. You need a minimum of TWO people. Can't make a relationship work by yourself. But you have hugely more control over a relationship than you have over finances.

Finance/Career demands the cooperation and interaction with dozens, if not hundreds, of different people. Every dollar you get comes from other people. Do you see where I'm going here? If you want to learn to juggle five chain-saws, start with a single scarf. Be certain you understand clarity, focus, discipline, honesty, and passion applied to the creation of your own body. Move from there to a healthy relationship, the basic unit of human life. And from there, you can build an existence to be proud of.

What am I asking poor people to do, really?

1) Not have unprotected sex. Is that really so hard? And yet I hear all the time that some guy wouldn't have sex with a woman with a rubber, so she HAD to do it. Do that, and you lose the right to be surprised when you get pregnant, or catch an STD.

2) For women to acknowledge that they are the ones who get pregnant. They are the bottom line. No, they can't be as sexually promiscuous as men without it having a differential effect on their own lives. I DISPISE men who make babies and do not commit to raising them. But it's your body, ladies. I didn't create that reality. If you act as if that's not true, you can't then say "you did everything you could." No, you didn't.

3) For women not to CHOOSE to get pregnant without a partner. Gay, straight...I don't care. But someone totally committed to that child. And talking about "extended family" is great in a world in which people live and die within ten miles of where they were born. But expecting uncles to substitute for fathers is crazy. Yes, there are cases where they do, and bless them. But if they move away to get better jobs? Have their own families? To EXPECT them to fill that breech is acting as if 21st Century America is a village society. It is not. And if your brothers, uncles, or grandfathers can't step into that breech, it is YOUR fault for expecting them to. Now, that said, yes marriages can fall apart. Partners can die, or abandon you. Tragic. But if you don't START with the most stable situation, the strongest safety net, the deepest mutual is the child who suffers. I have totally lost count of the women I know...too many of them black women...who were raised by single mothers, had their own out-of-wedlock babies while still in their teens, produced children who see absolutely nothing wrong with imitating the same behavior.

For middle and upper class people, this is sick. For poor people, it is suicide and genocide. Poverty doesn't make men abandon their children, or women have those children without actual relationships with their fathers.

Those of us who have sacrificed to protect and care for our families know what it costs. Animals have the "right" to reproduce indescriminately...maybe. Even animals make sure that their mates pass certain minimum standards of health. If the children require nurturence, those animals bond, make certain their mates can build nests and hunt...because they know, in their genes, that without this, their children suffer.

Human children require both a transfer of genes AND memes. The little savages must be civilized, otherwise they will just say "I want! I want!"

I want expensive toys even if I can't afford them.

I want to eat whatever I want, even if I have a slow metabolism.

I want to have whatever sexual experiences I want, regardless of whether I have any sense of adult responsibility at all.

I want to make a child, even if I myself am a child.


I'm sorry. Poverty is a grinding burden, and for those weighed down by racism, classism, or the negative and corrupted programming often inflicted upon inner-city people, distracting yourself from the brutally hard work of healing and growing with drugs, sex, food, or the lovely little living toys called babies are RESPONSIBLE for what they do, even if they are not to blame for where they started in life.

If they are not responsible, then who is? Mommy and daddy? "The white man'? "The ruling class"? The man who seduced and abandoned you? The woman who deceived you? The children running wild in the streets?

I have too much respect for the parents who have given everything to their children, working long hours with quiet dignity. The single mothers who burn their lives out trying to provide for children who will never understand the costs, the small-business owners who work eighty-hour weeks just to hear people talk about how "lucky" they are.

No. You can say I'm wrong all you want. But my children are safe because I made them so. Because I placed them above my own life, and wants, and desires. I am the guardian at the gate. I stand at the mouth of the cave, spear in hand. And my neighbors and friends are those who love their families THAT much, who have enough respect for themselves to demand that they become BETTER than the circumstances they were born in. God knows I struggle every damned day, but I won't back down for a single instant from speaking my truth.

And every damned day, I get emails from people, black and white, who thank me for reinforcing the positive voices within them, and not bowing to the small, childlike voice that says "I wanna do what I wanna do!"

Children cannot raise children. Someone has to be an adult, or the world is lost.

Why not you?


Anonymous said...

"...caught a radio segment where talk show host Thom Hartman said that it had been documented that bad information harvested from tortured terror suspects had caused the death of American soldiers: either they had been sent into traps, or on wild-goose chases that resulted in fatalities. While I find this believable, I haven't seen documentation on the topic.

Does anyone out there have any?".

None that I can recall and be disposed to speak of, however, it's certainly not unreasonable in the least and if fact is very likely.

But then soldiers are killed as a result of no intelligence at all, bad intelligence, late intelligence, and even good intelligence. I would highly suspect that given all possibilities that good intelligence perhaps leads the field because just because it's good doesn't mean it casualty-proof. It happens. It's the nature of war. Soldiering is an inherently dangerous profession even under the best of circumstances because at the end of the day and more often than not, ALL intelligence either flies out the window or becomes iffy once the first shot is fired and everybody knows you're in the neighborhood.

When that happens, welcome to The Fog of War Zone.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, THAT'S why I never had kids. Never WANTED to have kids.

It's too GD hard. Which means: I'm not willing to take the unqualified, unremitting responsibility for the well-being of another human being. It's only been in the last eight years that I've growed myself up to the point where I'm willing to accept responsibility for the well being for other animal beings, even. And I've made much more of a hash of that than I want to think about.

I never needed reinforcement for my decision. But thank you, Steve, all the same for saying your truth about this.


Anonymous said...

My brother from another mother, Steven, righton righton righton! One thing I haven't heard you say is something about the value of traditional cultures/upbringing. Where single parenting is frowned upon, where people can't just make a mess and move on, actually where the myths and icons that we model our lives around don't come from... Hollywood! In my case I wonder if it is because the elders of the tribe don't step up enough anymore. They are often too busy making a living, surviving, whatever. Like myself. I have drawn a line in the sand but, in for the sake of "normalcy" and, ostensibly in a spirit of love, the line is further back than I would like sometimes. In other words I let more things into the cave than I would like - mostly through the cable wire!

"When you are done living for yourself, only then can you learn that living for others is the privilege."

Anonymous said...

Powerful stuff Steve. I think you are dead on. So barring gangs, military or prison how does a fatherless boy find a limit?

Pagan Topologist said...

Most of this I agree with, but I really do not believe that healthy people can necessarily find healthy relationships. I know several seemingly healthy people who have just given up on relationships and never try to find someone anymore. And they are apparently happier for it. One man in his forties has not had a date in thirteen years, since the process seems to cause more emotional heartache than it is worth. So, he devotes such time and effort as he can to being a good extra "parent" to his nephews and nieces. His siblings, who do have relationships, are less emotionally healthy than he is.

Lester Spence said...

The bottom line for you is being healthy and sane. I understand and agree. You are arguing that form (two parents) leads naturally or perhaps more naturally to content (healthy enough to have and raise a child).

What you are saying is the common sense of the land.

But it's off.

Here's one way to think about it. Do the relationships you point to between form and content hold outside of the US? In countries that take a different approach to social welfare is this the case? If not, there's still an argument there--you as a potentially child bearing adult know where you live, and know what the resources this country has are, and you should choose not to have children if your country does not have the right social welfare package.

But at best this position leads to powerful individuals being able to continue their bloodlines, while weaker individuals decide to halt their own. Isn't this suicide? Here's another way to think about it. At what point up until 1965 could black adults in the Deep South have children the way you think they should?

(This from a man with a wife and five children.)

Evan Robinson said...

I'm tired of having to be the Adult, d*mn it!

I suppose my willingness to be (reasonably) responsible despite being tired of it is what makes me the Adult, though.

Thanks for the thoughts, Steve.

Ronald T. Jones said...

Great points, Steven.

Anonymous said...

Amen Steve.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

my children are safe because I made them so. Because I placed them above my own life, and wants, and desires. I am the guardian at the gate. I stand at the mouth of the cave, spear in hand

Nice imagery, and a good attitude, but not as powerful as "was willing to trash his own career to be a father to his daughter" ... money talks.

My father and I both tried to be a father to my nephew Kevin; his biological father opted out the moment my youngest sister got pregnant. And Kevin's turned out great -- a 6'1" linebacker-shaped 16 year old with a black belt who can play multiple musical instruments and is a conscientious student with superb grades. But despite the presence of strong male influences in his life, I know the lack of a father has been hard for him.

But ... take the scumbag who opted out of Kevin's life when before he was even born. Would Kevin really have turned out better with a weasel like that in his life? Any father (mother) isn't better than no father (mother), in some cases. The worst man I know was dreadfully abused by his own father -- you could draw a straight line to his failures as a father and man and human being to the father who used him as a punching bag as a child, I'm sure.

The only thing about your indictment of intentionally single mothers that struck me was the emphasis -- in the universe of fatherless children, I'm pretty sure women who opted out are a really small part of the problem.

I do see this men-judging-women thing frequently enough that I'm aware of it. It's like the frequent conservative broadsides against teenage promiscuity -- most of which is directed at girls. There's a whole toxic suite of attitudes, judgmental of women, that's blind to the usually worse sins of men. (Not implying this is you.)

Yeah, it's wrong for women to intentionally deprive their children of good fathers. (Hell, even of average fathers.) But as a group they're a damn sight more sinned-against than sinning.

Anonymous said...

And kids raised by parents with nightmare or non-existent relationships have no freaking idea what an actual healthy relationship looks like. And will pass that on to their children.

How could an adult who was raised by parents, and within a community where the relationships were nightmarish figure out how to break the cycle and have a healthy relationship? Is there a social intervention that could change this probability? Or at least let people know that another way is possible?

I didn't even need to ask if the kid had a father. And of course, he did not. Why was it so obvious?

Would you imagine that a boy with a father who was present (lived in the house, paid the bills, was married to the mother) and a "functioning" alcoholic and spousal abuser would grow up to be a man who would present similarly?

Josh Jasper said...

Does anyone out there have any?".

It's been established that some of the bad WMD intel came from torture, which helped make a case for the Iraq invasion. So I'd say yes.

However, a professional Army interrogation officer I know online is opposed to torture for moral *and* operational reasons. That's good enough for me.


There's a really easily proven correlation between both higher education and publicly accessible, free or cheap birth control options to all who want them.

If we want to reduce unwanted, single parenting, the easiest, cheapest, most effective method is to fund higher education lots more, and to fund birth control outreach.

No matter how much you lecture people, it's not going to take unless they're able to get higher than highschool education, and/or real access and education about birth control. We've had 8 years of an administration that's failed to make higher education a real priority, and worked against birth control funding.

When Obama is trying to increase funding for higher education, and to get money for planned parenthood, he's working on fixing the problem you're talking about in the most effective way possible.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Steve, in your earlier post you seemed to say not just that women who chose to have children without the fathers around are making a serious, destructive mistake, but that they're culpably bad people for doing it.

This time around, you're attributing your daughter's good sense to your good parenting.

I honestly don't know how good a tool blame is, in this case or generally speaking.


Health is not the same thing as not being fat.


If anyone wants to read a two-generation account of healing from abusive fathering, check out Ten Points, by a man whose father worked his way out of poverty, but was a compulsive and inventive physical and emotional abuser. Do not read this book while eating. The author healed enough of his own damage to become a secure, competent father by way of athletic ambition and achievement and what I would call a totally unexpected revelation.

Rory said...

Creepy, brother. I couldn't post until I got to this base, but I was writing my last post between 0830 and 0915 your time this morning. Hope you are well.

Marty S said...

Josh: There is a very high correlation between the use of the word proven along with the word correlation and a total misunderstanding of the concept of correlation. One doesn't prove a correlation, one finds a correlation. One then attempts to determine/prove the cause/effect relationship behind the correlation. If two factors A and B are correlated A may cause B or B may cause A or some third factor C may cause both. If we change the factor that is the effect rather than the cause we will most likely change nothing. I suspect that in this case both the higher education and the birth control are effects.

coxcrow said...

I cursed my alarm clock at 6:00am this morning and then thought "Steven Barnes is out in front of his cave with a G*dDamned SPEAR and he's gonna look over here at me, shake his head and mutter 'Pussy'." So I told my internal bitchy voice to go do something productive while I made breakfast.
Domo arigato gozaimasu Sensei.

Steve Perry said...

In a perfect world, children would be raised by two loving, bright, kind parents, with the help of an extended family and the village. They would learn how to be responsible as they grew, the tribal mores, and they would be free from harsh discipline and deliberate cruelty.

In a perfect world.

As several folks have pointed out, you don't get to choose your parents, and if your father turns out to be a not-so-perfect human being but sticks around to set a bad example, that's not better than him being gone, is it?

Sure, the cure is for the wife to leave and find a better mate, but for a lot of reasons, that doesn't always happen. Fine for you to say, That's the way to go. And that healthy people choose healthy relationships, but sometimes there are false starts and children arrive during those.

More than half of all marriages in this country fail, they end in divorce. That bespeaks a basic problem with the traditional relationships, and the expectations of what they are supposed to provide.

Using that failure rate as an example, it's not so hard to see why some women would choose to have a child on their own. And while those kids might have more trouble from not having a father around, some of them turn out to be decent human beings.

People want want they don't have, and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Contrast those absent-father sons against those who had a wife-beating, child-beating dad at home to set that example for them.

Who is worse off?

Everybody has an unhappy childhood. It's a matter of degree.

Unknown said...

One of the things (though not the only thing) that has drawn me to this blog is Steve's firm stand for fatherhood - "was willing to trash his own career to be a father to his daughter" is something I respect, and fathers who abandon their kids are, to my mind, greatly in need of having their feet held to the fire.

To be honest, though, I really don't have any strong feelings about mothers who actually choose to get pregnant without a partner (male or female) - other than curiosity. Meaning - no strong feelings at all, neither in terms of wanting to condemn them nor in terms of wanting to defend their choice as an acceptable alternative family. I guess it's because they seem like such rare birds to me - the only ones I've encountered have been on the Internet, professional, and probably less vulnerable than most single parents.

So it's more accidental single parenthood that weighs on my mind. In the world I come from - by which I mean my family, my high school, and my college - there isn't so much of it. For the people I know from that network, either pregnancy happened after marriage, or marriage happened after pregnancy, with only a few exceptions. Most of the never married single mothers I've known I've met in other ways later.

Part of that's probably that, in the very college bound middle class neighborhood from which I come, unplanned pregnancies in teenagers would have been dealt with by abortion, and the same thing at college. Part of it's probably deferred sex - sure, I knew people who had sex in high school, but in my world it wasn't at all outlandishly late to graduate high school a virgin - and part of it's probably knowledge and availability of birth control, and an expectation that you use it (as opposed to what some other people I've known have reported - the expectation that you deny you're going to have sex, because planning that would be admitting that you're not such a good girl).

And a big part of it, I imagine, is hope. There was a class in our high school, that some of my friends took, that involved taking an egg with you all day as a pretend baby. It didn't occur to me till over a decade later that the point had probably been to discourage us from having kids young - we already didn't want to have kids young, because we knew our future depended on college, and that we would get good college educations, if we did what needed to be done (including not having babies).

At the same time - while I did graduate high school still a virgin, as I was expected to, and while I did reach my wedding day with no pregnancies, I wasn't entirely careful. I can remember a couple of occasions, in college, two to be exact, when I nearly had sex without yet having birth control in hand. I can remember a couple more when I forgot a pill, and had to double up the next day, and still more when I was inconsistent about the time of day I took the pill (it's supposed to work best if you take it every day at a consistent time).

And when I look back, I think, careless of me, not good. But also sort of human - few people, from what I can see, never make that kind of mistake (though if you make such mistakes repeatedly it may be worth asking yourself why). And if I'd gotten pregnant, from one of those mistakes, I'd have been judged by the world as being a very different person from how I'm judged now, and yet I'd still be the same person as I am now, as the one who was lucky.

Also, at the time, and at that age, I'd have blamed myself more than the guy if I'd gotten pregnant, and might have been very willing to let the guy off the hook. But the older people around us wouldn't have accepted that. Every guy I've ever slept with was the child of two parents who stayed together, and I think every father of the lot would have told his son to man up, even if I'd been careless, and even if I were to promise that I could do everything myself. And that's as it should be.