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The Deadbeat Dad Edition

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

Does anyone else watch The Real Housewives series? I’m a little obsessed with almost every show on Bravo, my favorite being Bethenny Ever After (my husband and I watch it together, he says Bethenny reminds him of me—um, I wish I was that successful and funny). But The Real Housewives is my guiltiest pleasure, as much as I can’t relate AT ALL to any of the housewives, and their outrageous behavior, wealth and lifestyles. One hundred percent OUTRAGEOUS. Anyway…

One relationship in particular, from the O.C. cast, really struck a chord with me on last night’s episode—I’m talking about Alexis and Jim, the Christian couple on the show. She seems to do everything for their three kids, and he seems to do everything for himself. She pretends not to mind how selfish and self-absorbed he is, and how utterly detached he seems, but I have to imagine it bothers her…how could it not? It’s entirely possible a lot of what we see was edited in an unflattering way (let’s hope!), because I just read her blog on Bravo’s site about last night’s episode that explained (um defended) some of his behaviors on the show. The part that bothered me the most last night was when she said that all Jim really needed to work on with their three little kids was his patience; apparently he’s good for two-to-four hour increments but then he needs a break.

To that I say: Don’t we all? And for god’s sake, please don’t enable this man to think he deserves more of a break than you do.

This also got me thinking about deadbeat dads. I have a serious aversion to them, but it occurred to me that everyone’s definition of a “deadbeat dad” is different. I consider any dad who’s hands-off with their kids to the point of not changing dirty diapers, not partaking in any of the daily care of their children, a deadbeat. Yep, a total deadbeat. I don’t see it as only a financial thing, though that’s important too obviously.

Disclaimer: I realize there are extenuating circumstances—jobs that require travel and such. I am not saying any man or woman who can’t be around for their kids every day or night because they’re busy supporting them financially is a deadbeat.

It’s a different day and age. In many households—like mine and most of my friends—both parents contribute pretty equally, and I mean that in every sense. But I don’t care who works and who doesn’t: There’s just no excuse for any man to think he’s exempt from the day-to-day parental duties. Otherwise, frankly, he shouldn’t have the privilege of being a dad. It’s just that simple.

And I don’t care who brings home more bacon in a household either. These days, more and more moms are the ones working and supporting their families, with the job market the way its been, but no less is expected of us around the house and with the kids, so why should it be any different for men?

I work 50 hours a week, outside of the home, yet I wouldn’t dream of not caring for my son in every way he needs to be cared for. He’s my number-one priority. My career is very important to me, but my family comes first. And there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do, or sacrifice, for them, regardless of how tired I am at the end of the day, or how much “me time” I’m not getting anymore. I need a break, too—we all do, as parents. But that doesn’t mean you get one.

When you sign up to have kids, you sign up for the whole circus: the dirty diapers, the baths, the doctor appointments, the middle-of-the-night feedings, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the sleep-deprivation, all of it.

I personally have a zero-tolerance policy for deadbeats of any ilk, regardless of how much money they do or don’t make. That’s why last night’s episode bugged me so much. He’s rich, I get that. He takes care of his beautiful wife—I get that, too. But these things are not mutually exclusive. Why should he do any less when it comes to the kids? Because she's dripping in diamonds, as she implied on the show and the after-show, Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen (whose show I love, by the way).

Granted, she doesn’t work. Her sole job is taking care of those children, and she says their arrangement works for them. Okay, so who am I to judge? But I still don’t believe that should give him, or any dad, an exemption from being a responsible parent. And it’s sending a terrible message to other dads out there.

A parent is a parent is a parent. It’s hard work. You either juggle the responsibilities of being a parent while also juggling a job, or it is the only thing you juggle. Parenthood isn’t easy, no matter how you slice it. But when you enter into it together, I believe you should share the responsibiltiy of parenting together. Split the chores up however works best for you, but please don’t tell me—and America—that there are certain responsibilities that are more mom's than dad's.

Do you know any deadbeat dads, and what’s your definition of a deadbeat anyway?