Make room for Daddy

Ellen Kirvin Dudis

June 18, 1993|By Ellen Kirvin Dudis

DEAR Ellen," the inscription reads. "Here is your first real book, with love from Daddy."

I was starting first grade when my father made me a present of "The Just So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling, that DWEM -- Dead White European Male -- who just happened to have a brilliant imagination, a unique gift for language and an acute feeling for the relationship between father and daughter, parent and child.

For years my dad and I shared our delight in these stories, especially the not-so-anthologized tales of the neolithic Tegumai and his daughter, Taffy, who together discovered the enormous possibility (and consequences) of written communication, then invented the alphabet to carry out their inspiration. In the same way, we shared tying trout flies, walking the Brooklyn Bridge and convincing Mom to dump margarine and serve real butter.

Daddy is the masculine presence in a child's life: Just as it was half of the child's conception, it ought to be half of the childhood. But our society is so halved by divorce, so increasingly "single-parented," that we are raising a generation deprived by 50 percent of its rightful, natural support. Fatherhood is simply a shrug and a walk for thousands of teen-age boys. "Who needs it?" say thousands of single women who bear children simply to "fulfill" themselves.

This latter issue reflects our dilemma with a technology that is ahead of our ethical and legal responses. Yin and yang are a cinch in a petri dish; any one can have a child. The absurdity and the hubris of the process were vividly apparent in a National Public Radio interview with a group of single women who, for their own personal gratification, were having children via artificial insemination.

While the women giggled like high-school girls about choosing the "father" from a catalog of donors, the interviewer hadn't the guts to ask the one essential question: Is it fair? Is it fair to have a child for yourself alone? Is a catalog description enough to TTC satisfy that child's inherent need -- and right -- to know the other parent?

Then there are the lesbian couples, one of whom provides a child by the same fatherless means. Two mommies can never give Heather the true parental complement she deserves, to which she is biologically and psychologically entitled. The two yins just don't add up. Think of the confusion ahead for these Heathers (and Hughs) as they try to establish their own sexual identity. Gays in the military? Certainly. Gays in government service? By all means. But gays as parents? I think not.

The other issue, the epidemic of teen-age mothers (said to be most prevalent among inner-city black children, but on the rise in rural outposts, too), demands a different response. No one dreams of labeling 13-year-old girls with a scarlet letter. An A for absentia might be appropriate for the teen-age fathers, though. Much has been written about the alarming number of young -- for the most part, fatherless -- black men in prison; much has been discussed about the need for positive role models. Why must we focus on father fill-ins? As we work to improve economic and educational fairness here, we have to demand another fairness, the fairness of responsibility. Jesse Jackson should worry less about black men in the front office and more about black men on the family front.

As for the intrinsic rewards of fatherhood itself, they hardly enter the argument anymore. That's the stuff of McDonald's commercials. The American pursuit of happiness has degenerated into a quest for personal "space" and self-gratification. We've become an audience for celebrity hanky-panky, royal infidelity and sports-hero greed. Our kids, following our example, allow the media to shape their motives and their values. Where will kids find their commitment, their humanity?

May I suggest "The Just So Stories"?

Kipling's neolithic Tegumai and Taffy, creating the alphabet, drew the letter T as a representation of their family: Daddy in the middle, arms outstretched to wife and daughter. It may be dead, white and old-world to put the man at the center of the trio. But until we evolve into a self-replicating species, the three-way connection of mother, father and child remains the living, functional, best expression of our nature and our success.

Ellen Kirvin Dudis writes from Pocomoke City.

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