Sunday, June 12, 2011

Absent Fathers (juvenile crime)

This week my column in Cayman Net News deplores our community’s failure to tackle the root causes of juvenile crime and ignorance. Generally speaking, the young wastrels are those who are raised by incompetent and/or irresponsible parents. Their mothers can’t cope with them financially, educationally or socially; their fathers often aren’t in the picture at all.

We tend to concentrate on the mothers more than the fathers. Well, these sweet-talking Caribbean men, you know; what can you do? They are what they are, and they do what they do, and the culture has been around since slavery times. And anyway, it’s up to the women to take care of birth-control, right? The men don’t care, and never will care. That’s just the way of the world.

Bob Dylan once wrote a cynical song in defence of male arrogance -

I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You coulda done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right*

He also wrote what must surely be the theme song of all bachelors -

But it ain’t me, babe
No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe
It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe**

Middle-class morality requires that men who sire children take some responsibility for their upbringing. There is a comprehensive body of law relating to families and to parents’ duties to their children. In marriages, fathers and mothers are legally obliged to share those duties. Usually, the main burden falls on the mothers; that’s the way of the world, too. And, more often than not, it is the fathers who contribute most of the money needed to ensure that the children are properly prepared to cope with the world. When parents divorce, their responsibilities towards their children don’t cease. The justice system is there to ensure that both parents continue to contribute fair shares of the children’s care until they are old enough to care for themselves.

It is usually outside the middle-classes that the social problem exists of children with mothers who can’t cope financially, educationally or socially, and fathers who often aren’t in the picture at all. Those children are currently posing a very serious problem to our community here in Cayman. Many of them are running wild, and we don’t know what to do about them. The mothers are often working, instead of being at home caring for the needs of their children. The fathers are often uninvolved to the extent that they don’t even contribute money.

Oh, dear: these young girls! Surely they know how to stop babies coming, even if they don’t seem to know how to stop their boyfriends. It’s their own fault if they end up with four kids by four different men. Let them sort out their own mess.

But it’s not just their mess, is it? It’s the entire community’s mess. It’s our homes the out-of-control kids are burgling, and it’s we whom the kids are looking to rob, and it’s our kids whom those other kids are trying to get addicted to illegal drugs. So: if it’s our mess too, what are we doing about it? Not a lot, as far as I can tell. We (as a community) pay one of our bloated Civil Service empires to ensure they don’t starve, but that’s about it. There is only a token effort to make fathers pay for the maintenance of their children. The rest of the time we all sit around and kiss our teeth whenever somebody mentions how silly it is for young girls to get pregnant.

But why do we take it out on the children themselves? Surely they deserve better from us than that.

* Don't Think Twice, It's All Right Bob Dylan, 1962
**It Ain't Me, Babe  Bob Dylan, 1964