When people talk of divorce, it is inevitable that someone will bring up the heart string-tugging topic of sons being raised without fathers. Since divorce became a common statistic, there has been much discussion about sons being raised solely by their mothers. Depending on who's doing the talking, this phenomenon is deemed responsible for the changing definition of masculinity, since all these boys are being raised solely with a maternal influence, thereby stunting their masculinity to the point where it no longer exists. Or, they will talk in heated tones about how this proves that fatherhood is irrelevant, and that that men simply do not possess the same parenting instincts as women do. And then there's the pity angle, the "Lonely Boy" angle, where all this boys will grow up into hollow men because their fathers simply were not around, leaving them with a lifetime void in their hearts and souls.
We've all heard this kind of talk, and it does make a certain amount of sense. After all, the common consensus is that women are far more likely to gain custody of children in a divorce settlement than a man is. There is even talk about there being a bias in the courts to this effect. And let's not forget the strongly-ingrained cultural belief that motherhood is a state that trumps all other areas in life, and that any woman who is a mother would do anything for her children, would never walk away from them.
I guess in that respect my childhood was an anomaly. You see, I was raised by my father, as were my four sisters. My mother left when I was barely six years old, and when the dust from my parents' divorce was settled, my father was awarded custody of all five of us. I am a daughter who grew up without a mother.
This is a subject that I have since learned makes people uneasy to hear about. After all, the idea that my mother would walk out on her family is shocking enough to the cultural opinion on what mothers are supposed to be like; the fact that my dad was awarded primary custody of his children is even more shocking, because the stereotype of fathers being bungling idiots in the home at best and uninvolved and distant at worst is truly a prevailing belief in many people's minds. That the court would choose my father over my mother is nearly unheard of, and back in the 1980s, this was as rare as hen's teeth.
Now, this isn't to lionize my father. He wasn't the perfect parent, and he knows it. But the fact remains that he did try to raise all five of us girls on his own, two of which (the twins) were barely out of infancy when my mother left. In many respects, he is the only parent the five of us have ever known. Our mother, on the other hand, was a figure of shadow, someone we never really knew. She showed up briefly for certain holidays and other photo-opportunities, but being around for maybe four or five days out of the year isn't really the stuff from which a lifelong bond is made. Nor is it enough to help usher a daughter from girlhood into womanhood.
That's one of the sticking points, at least as far as I'm concerned. For every man out there who wails to the high heavens about being inadequately prepared for manhood, I want to point out to him that I wasn't exactly prepared for this whole womanhood thing, either. A father can help a daughter learn what it is to be an adult, but they really don't have a clue as to what it is to be a woman, about the nature of femininity and how to help their daughters learn how to express it, particularly in what most people would think is an entirely elementary fashion.
Case in point: I didn't realize until I was nearly thirteen years old that I was going to have to shave my legs at some point. Since it's not a major concern to men to shave their legs, my father never really put two and two together on that score. If it hadn't been for someone actually telling me this point-blank, I'd hate to think how far along into my adolescence I would have gone without knowing this was expected.
There are other things too, such as the entire menarche talk (which my dad never actually gave me; the school had that honor.) No one taught me how to style my hair, or how to put together a nice outfit. The ability to make a palatable meal is also something that escapes me, although that might have more do with inheriting my father's notoriously awful cooking skills than anything else. And while those things are very tiny and fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, there is a wealth of other things that I never learned, much of which doesn't even have a name but can only be felt.
This feeling becomes sharpened when I'm attending a group function, and somewhere in the middle of it all, I realize that I have accidentally crossed an invisible boundary. Somewhere in the middle of this gathering, the women have shuttled off to one side to talk about certain things, and I didn't realize that I was supposed to join them. Having spent so many years in the company of my father, it feels more natural to me that I would spend an awful lot of time talking to them. I didn't realize that this was strange, and if I had a nickel for every time it was subtly pointed out to me that I should go over to where the women were and talk with them, I could've bought China several times over by now.
One of the strangest outgrowths of this is my wariness of older women, particularly if they are in a position of authority (perceived or factual) over me. Much like men who were raised without fathers have issues with men in authority, so do I with women. This is something I have had to work through on my own time, but there still remains a sense of distrust that is difficult to shake. Hey, when your own mother turns her back on you, it's hard not to wonder if other women would be just as likely to throw you under the bus if it suits them.
Another aspect of this is my own wariness of becoming a mother myself, which is something I have simply decided not to do. This is admittedly controversial, since - once again - it is believed that all women truly desire to become mothers and that the maternal instinct is indelibly written somewhere in a woman's genetic code. Looking back at my own mother, I would say that I have all the proof in the world that that's not true, and due to the sheer fact that I haven't the foggiest idea of what a good mother is supposed to be like, I'd rather not subject another child to that mess. Obviously there is more to being a mother than just a uterus, and I am afraid I may not have what it takes.
I know that my situation is rare, but the fact remains that that was my childhood, and this is my life. I just wish that I didn't feel so alone in what I have to go through.