The myth of the “deadbeat dad” is pervasive in our society–in some circles, “divorced dad” or “noncustodial dad” are practically synonymous with “deadbeat dad.” One malignant outgrowth of this can be seen when divorced fathers try to install financial responsibility in their children by linking school performance or behavior to money provided for cars or consumer items. The letter below in a column from Annie’s Mailbox last year is a good example.
“Dear Annie: I have a 16-year-old son whom I love very much. I have been divorced from his mother for eight years, remarried for the last six. ‘Brendan’ lives with his mother in the same city, so I see him a lot.
“We had a good relationship until recently. I told Brendan I would give him a car and pay for the insurance if he kept his grades up. He agreed. His first report card, he got a D in one subject. The car stayed at my house. Four weeks later, he got another D on his mid-term.
“The day after he received his grades, Brendan gave my wife and me a very impressive presentation, with charts and everything. He promised to work hard, do extra credit and show us his test scores every week. We caved and let him have the car. Well, he had an excuse every week why he didn’t have his test scores. When his grades came, he had two Ds.
“I told Brendan to bring back the car, and he said I needed to talk to his mom, my ex. Naturally, she took his side and wanted the car to stay at her house, and didn’t care that Brendan and I had an agreement. The car is now back at my place, but Brendan is angry with me, and my ex is probably going to buy him a car.
“I want my son to learn that there are consequences for being irresponsible. Am I wrong? — Worried Dad
“Dear Dad: You are not wrong. A car is a privilege, not a right, no matter what some kids think. You kept your end of the bargain, and if his mother buys him a Porsche, let it be HER problem. Your ex is teaching Brendan that he doesn’t have to work for anything and that it’s OK to renege on agreements. We hope you will keep trying to teach him otherwise, Dad.”
One can almost hear 16 year-old Brendan fuming to his friends that his dad is a cheapskate. I wonder who helped teach him to think that way about his dad?