I recently stumbled across this Pew research survey from 2011, which talks about the growing dichotomy for American fathers. When they live with their children, fathers are becoming more and more involved; however, more and more men also don’t live with their children.
In 1965, the average married father spent 2.6 hours a week caring for his children. Today, the average married father spends 6.5 hours a week caring for his children– more than twice as much time. Although married mothers still spend more time caring for children than married fathers do, the gap is narrowing. 90% of fathers who live with their children at least part of the time talk with or share a meal with their children nearly daily; nearly two-thirds help their children with homework a few times a week; more than half take their children to and from activities a few times a week. The average father who lives with his children today is far more involved– and a better father– than the average father decades ago.
But lots of fathers don’t live with their children. From 1960 to 2010, the number of fathers who live apart from their children more than doubled from 11% to 27%. In the same period, the number of mothers living apart from their children also doubled, from 4% to 8%, but since the starting point was far lower a much higher percentage of mothers still live with their children. Of the 27%, 11% live apart from some of their children and 16% live apart from all of their children. Fathers of color and fathers who didn’t complete high school are more likely to live apart from their children.
Fathers who live apart from their children rarely are particularly involved in their children’s lives. Roughly 27% make no visits at all; 31% talk on the phone or email their children less than once a month. Only one in five fathers who don’t live with their children visit them more than once a week, and 41% talk on the phone or email them more than once a week. The dichotomy between fathers who live with their children and fathers who don’t is stark.
The reasons that fathers don’t live with their children? Probably both the rise of childbirth out of wedlock and the rise of divorce. 46% of fathers had at least one child outside of wedlock, while 31% had had all their children with people they weren’t married to. Some unmarried parents either can’t get married (fuck yeah queer parents) or are in a committed relationship but haven’t signed the piece of paper. For many, however, having a child with someone that you aren’t married to means single parenthood for one (usually the mother) and a lack of involvement in the kid’s life for the other (usually the father). Similarly, divorce tends to leave one parent a single parent and one parent with weekend visitation.
Some fathers are abusive and really shouldn’t spend time with their children, and it’s a good thing that divorce has made it easier for people to escape an abuser. (The same thing, of course, is true of some mothers.) Some fathers abandon their children and the reason they don’t see their kids is that they don’t want to; some fathers want to be nothing more than a check, and protest over that. And, yes, it does happen that some parents deliberately keep their children from the other parent who has done absolutely nothing wrong, although that’s relatively rare and most common among abusers. For many fathers, however, even ones that want to be good fathers, not living with their children makes it difficult to be a good father. You can’t share a family dinner with your child regularly if your home is miles away from theirs. You can’t help your kid with their homework, except maybe over Skype. It is hard to be a good father of a child you don’t live with, and I’m thankful for the men who manage it.