Pioneer Senior Writer, Marcus Robertson
Single fatherhood is on the rise.
For much of American history, responsibility for raising children fell by default to mothers—whether they had help or not. But that tendency is beginning to change: from 2007 to 2017, the number of single-parent households headed by fathers rose from 12.5 percent to 16.1 percent.
Men are increasingly seen as capable parents. Today, custody hearings have started to reflect that trend. Oklahoma resident Brandon Thrasher has seen it firsthand.
“One day, I’m at home and I get a call from child services. There was a raid at the house my son was staying,” Thrasher said.
Much to his terror, police found drugs and firearms in the house where his son and the mother lived. A custodial hearing was set soon after; when the day came, Thrasher was awarded full custody on the spot.
“After that, I basically cut his mother out of my life, I haven’t spoken to her since. It’s been nine years now,” he said.
Thrasher has been raising his son since high school. He and the boy’s mother were together when he was fifteen, but it didn’t last long. A few months after they broke up, she told him she was six months pregnant. Thrasher sought comfort from his own father.
“I went straight to my dad and told him. I broke down, I was so scared. But he was like, ‘We’ll get through it,’” Thrasher said.
He was in summer school at the time, but the shock of learning he’d be a father was overwhelming. Adding to his stress was the fact that the his child was due to be born in just over two months. Unsure how to cope, Thrasher dropped out of school.
Thrasher is one of more than two million single fathers in America today. Though that number is up from previous decades, awareness of the trend is still lacking in some ways.
Public men’s restrooms around the country suffer a deficit in changing tables compared to women’s restrooms. Though a 2016 law requires changing tables in all restrooms in public federal buildings, private- and state-owned buildings are unaffected.
The scale of the problem was illustrated last year, when fathers began posting videos showing the lengths they went through to change a diaper in a men’s room. Some had no choice but to lay their children on the restroom floor.
It took until January of this year for the state of New York to enact a law mandating changing tables in both male and female public restrooms.
As for Oklahoma? No such law is up for consideration.
Even considering the determination and ingenuity fathers have shown in overcoming the changing table discrepancy, they still trail mothers when it comes to confidence in their parenting abilities.
In a 2015 Pew study, more than half of moms said they were doing a “very good job” raising their children, compared to just 39 percent of fathers. This could point to a lingering reluctance in Americans to buck traditional gender roles when it comes to parenting.
Breastfeeding aside, 53 percent of Americans said mothers do a better job caring for new babies than fathers, according to a 2016 Pew survey. Only one percent said fathers do a better job.
And among dads—like Thrasher— who don’t have a bachelor’s degree, seven in ten believe they don’t spend enough time with their children. Thrasher says he was determined to break that trend as a new father.
“I wanted to compensate for the situation the best that I could. Make sure we’d really have those bonding experiences,” he said. “I was young, I didn’t have a career. He was my full-time job.”
Thrasher is proud of the job he’s done so far, but the journey hasn’t been a cakewalk. For those first few years, it was easy to feel like he was missing out on his youth. He said it was like a constant mad rush, and there was seemingly always a diaper to change.
“But you have to realize, there’s always gonna be another party,” Thrasher said.
It was hard being a young single father, and it’s still hard at times today. Thrasher doesn’t regret it, though.
He just hopes he was good enough.
“All the time I think, ‘Is my son proud of me? Is he embarrassed?” Thrasher said. “I always wonder what he sees when he looks at me.”