Yet, despite that knowledge and awareness, we act like this is not true.
People with different agendas – at work, in love, in politics – are not just acting in their own interests, but they’re “wrong” for even having interests. Worse, men who act in their self-interests are “selfish,” “mean,” and “narcissistic.”
Somehow, I think things are more complicated than that.
I have a close girl friend who is currently stringing along a really nice guy who wants to be her boyfriend. It’s been two months. She’s not bad. She’s not wrong. She’s confused. She knows she wastes time on bad men but is having trouble letting down her guard to receive this kind man’s love and affection. Of course, as a woman, she’s entitled to such ambivalence. She doesn’t want to make a mistake. She doesn’t want to settle. She doesn’t want to break things off. She just wants to keep things as they are.
You know there are three sides to every story – your side, his side, and the truth.
Same with Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame. She was dissatisfied in her bland marriage and picked up to go on a worldwide tour of self-exploration. She later left her husband for her best friend. It is well within her right to pursue happiness as she sees fit, even if it ended up hurting two different husbands. The difference is that if a man left two different wives for newer options, I believe women would be less sympathetic.
Which is a long lead-in to today’s article, by the New York Times’ David Brooks, about men who leave their children. On the surface, it’s black and white – men who leave their children are the ultimate in selfishness, deadbeat dads with no heart, spine or morals.
In reality, Brooks says, the picture is far more complex. I thought this passage was particularly powerful and sad:
“The key weakness is not the father’s bond to the child; it’s the parents’ bond with each other. They usually went into this without much love or sense of commitment. The fathers often retain a traditional and idealistic “Leave It to Beaver” view of marriage. They dream of the perfect soul mate. They know this woman isn’t it, so they are still looking.
Buried in the rigors of motherhood, the women, meanwhile, take a very practical view of what they need in a man: Will this guy provide the financial stability I need, and if not, can I trade up to someone who will?
The father begins to perceive the mother as bossy, just another authority figure to be skirted. Run-ins
“The so-called deadbeat dads want to succeed as fathers. Their goals and values point them in the right direction, but they’re stuck in a formless romantic anarchy.”
By the time the child is 1, half these couples have split up, and many of the rest will part ways soon after. Suddenly there’s a new guy living in the house, a man who resents the old one. The father redefines his role. He no longer aims to be the provider and caregiver, just the occasional “best friend” who can drop by and provide a little love. This is a role he has a shot at fulfilling, but it destroys parental responsibility
No one is forgiving fathers who turn to drugs and crime; merely pointing out that, as Brooks writes, “the so-called deadbeat dads want to succeed as fathers. Their goals and values point them in the right direction, but they’re stuck in a formless romantic anarchy.”
The next time you hear about a man who is an absentee father, try to summon a little sympathy for his plight. He may not be entirely blameless, but he probably shouldn’t shoulder all the blame either.
Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.