It’s a question that’s been asked since the beginning of time: What comes first, the chicken or the egg? My answer will always change depending on when you ask me and I’m pretty sure that’s the case with all of you as well. Now that I’m further down the road of fatherhood, I figured I’d pose a similarly challenging question: What comes first, the deadbeat or his/her kids? Let’s find out.
Before I begin, it’s probably a good idea to define what a deadbeat is. In my opinion, a deadbeat is anyone who repeatedly doesn’t own up to his/her responsibilities, is unreliable, and doesn’t keep his/her word.
A deadbeat is the guy who keeps asking to borrow money, but never makes any attempts to pay any of it back.
A deadbeat is the lady who talks a big game about how she’s going to lose weight, but instead she takes tubs of Rocky Road ice cream to her throat and makes lame excuses for her situation.
Deadbeats can be male or female, parents or non-parents, young or old, white or black, rich or poor, famous celebrities or Joe/Jane Everyperson.
Deadbeats can be our neighbors, our coworkers, our siblings, our parents, or our spouses. They could be anyone.
Since I author a daddy blog, I want to focus on deadbeat dads for this post.
Do deadbeat dads become deadbeats prior to having children or do they become deadbeats after they have children?
I’m not really sure, but it didn’t stop me from doing some research to find out.
CASE #1 – Hera:
Unless you’re new around here, you should be familiar with my dear friend Hera’s tragic story. If not, read this and then come back here afterwards. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.
Crazy, right? Actually, to call this case “crazy” is an insult to all things crazy. Never in my life have I heard of a more horrific story than this one, and the fact that it happened to one of my closest friends is even more horrific. How would she respond to the “Deadbeat or Kids” question?
First off, let me say that Hera is no dummy. She has her Masters Degree from a prestigious university, she’s street-smart, she’s has a high-profile profession, she’s beautiful, she’s charismatic, and she’s very, very tough. The bottom line is she got duped, and if it can happen to her, then it can happen to anyone – and I mean ANYONE.
I asked my friend a few questions and she seems to believe that deadbeats come before the kids. The obvious follow up question I had was if she knew that her ex had “deadbeat tendencies,” why would she have a kid with him in the first place? Her response was a simple one:
“Because love is a strange thing. There was a time when I looked at him and believed that he was a good guy. I ignored the signs, I bought the lies, and I made excuses for him. When I look back on it now, I feel like the dumbest person in the world – but when you love someone, you have a tendency to brush aside or ignore the warning signs around you.”
We can all agree that Hera’s case is an extreme case of “deadbeatness,” but that doesn’t change the fact there are some very good nuggets in our discussion. For example, I have many readers who send me frustrated emails about the lack of involvement of their husbands and boyfriends. They noticed the deadbeat tendencies prior to getting married and prior to having children, but they still moved forward with the wedding and baby planning. Why? From what these women have told me, the common theme fell into one of three categories:
1) The fear of being alone.
2) The fear of starting over again.
3) The “I thought I could fix him” syndrome.
These aren’t good reasons for being a relationship, but many people are in this situation right now.
So does that mean once you’re a deadbeat, you’re always a deadbeat? Let’s move on to case #2 to see a different side to this.
CASE #2: Gigi
Gigi (not her real name) is also a good friend of mine whom I known for years. She and her husband have three kids together, and when their first child was born (a boy) – her husband was really attentive and involved. He gave baths, read stories, took him on walks, etc. In other words, he did everything that a dad is supposed to do. All was good in their world.
As the years progressed and the other two children arrived (another boy and a girl), something started to happen.
He became less involved with the kids, he would make promises and flake on them, he became lazy, he became apathetic, and he became a deadbeat.
The more Gigi’s husband exhibited his “deadbeatedness,” the angrier she became. The angrier she became, the more of a deadbeat he became. The cycle went on non-stop for years to the detriment of their children and their family unit.
OK, so what happened?
I’ll let Gigi tell you:
“When our first child was born, my husband was so excited. He did so much for our son and loved him to death. The problem started because I was on him for a lot of things. If he didn’t put on our son’s diaper correctly, I’d get in his ear. If he fed our son the wrong food, I’d get in his ear. I wanted things done a certain way and if they weren’t done to my specifications, there would be problems. In hindsight, I can see that I created the monster because he felt if everything he’s doing is wrong, why even put in the effort in the first place? I think I broke his spirit.”
I can’t speak for all dudes, but a lot of us don’t take rejection very well – especially when rejection comes from people we love, trust, and respect. When we (men) are hurt by someone close to us, a lot of times we lash out or back off. In other words, there are some men who will just say, “Fuck it, if you think you know how to do everything, then do it. I’m just going to sit on my ass and watch SportsCenter while you handle the domestic duties, Little Miss Perfect.”
Just like the first case, I’ve received emails from women who support this theory. Usually it’s summarized into one of these two points:
1) I don’t care how exhausted I am. I don’t like it when my man tries to do things because I know he just doesn’t do them nearly as well as I can. Because of that, he gets lazy and chooses not to help – even if I ask him.
2) I just hate how my man (gives baths, cleans up, feeds the kids, etc.) because he does it wrong and it pisses me off. Because of that, he gets lazy and chooses not to help – even if I ask him.
In hindsight, Gigi realizes that she should’ve handled things differently.
“I remember when I came home after working a full day at the office followed by three hours at school in the evening, I noticed the house was a complete mess. I was so mad. I yelled at my husband about it until I was blue in the face. Now when I look back on it, all of the kids were sleeping peacefully, and they were healthy and happy. At the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters? There are so many better ways to express my frustrations constructively instead of cursing out my husband. Also, I have to do a better job setting expectations.”
To be clear about my friend Gigi – she’s not a raving lunatic. She wants the best and will never settle for half-assed work. As a matter of fact, my wife is very similar to her in that regard – the only difference is that I do my best not take any of it personally (easier said than done).
OK, so we’ve heard both sides of the argument. What do you think? Does the deadbeat dad come before or after the children?
Before you answer, I think it’s important to hear what a father has to say who was raised by a deadbeat dad.
CASE 3 – Pete:
Pete (also not his real name) is a guy I went to High School with and have known since I was a kid. He’s a wonderful and involved father to his two sons, but it was not easy for him due to how his dad raised him. I’ll let Pete tell the story:
“I remember when I was growing up, my dad used to hit my mom, cheat on her, and leave the house for days on end without knowing where he was. He prided himself upon operating by the ‘man code.’ In other words, men were supposed to cheat, and they were supposed to dish out tough love, which usually meant beating the shit out of me, my sister, and my mom whenever he came home drunk. He never went to any of my games, he didn’t show up to my High School or College graduation, and he didn’t come to my wedding. He was a terrible father in every aspect, and the last time I heard from him was when he called me two years ago to ask for $1,000 to pay a debt. My upbringing was hard, but I’m so thankful for it because I made the decision to never treat my wife and kids the way he treated us.”
I saved Pete’s story for last because it illustrates that being a good dad or a deadbeat comes down to one thing:
Wouldn’t it have been so easy for Pete (and others like him) to simply say, “To hell with it, I’m going to going to be a deadbeat and be abusive because that’s all I knew growing up”? Sure it would. But it takes a real man to look at the fork in the road between a deadbeat dad and a Daddy Doin’ Work, and embark on the road he’s never been down before in his life. On the outside, it may not seem like it was easy for Pete to do this, but he said it was the easiest decision he’s ever made and he hopes that other men in his situation do the same thing.
“Doyin, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here – but it doesn’t matter if the deadbeat dads or the kids come first. It’s a decision to be a deadbeat just like it’s a decision to be good, involved dad. My dad made one decision and I made the other. People need to stop making excuses for their past and present situations, grow the hell up, and step the hell up. If they need help, they should seek it, but at the end of the day it’s up to the individual to make the right decision.”
I can’t really argue with that.
Since I started this blog, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of dads I’ve encountered made the right decision when confronted with the fork in the road. I’ve also noticed that the small percentage of dads who made the wrong decision weren’t held accountable or refused to take responsibility for their actions . That has to change – and with your help, I feel that we can eliminate deadbeat dads (and deadbeat moms) for good.
So it looks as if my research experiment yielded an answer after all.
The chicken and the egg have the stage all to themselves.
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