I’m not the kind of guy who cries at movies. I don’t boo hoo over songs either. Years ago my wife and I were reading The Hiding Place by Corey Ten Boon on a road trip. It didn’t bring me to tears. She declared me emotionally dead on the spot. And she’s right. I generally have the emotional range of a snail.
Imagine my surprise when I recently found myself uncontrollably sobbing over a performance by Kelly Clarkson on American Idol. Seriously. I was a blubbering idiot.
Clarkson, the inaugural Idol winner, performed her latest title hit, Piece By Piece. She stripped it down from the original synth-pop studio version to an acoustic ballad with Clarkson and an accompanying piano. The stunningly beautiful result was simultaneously gut-wrenching, spell-binding, thought-provoking, and tear-jerking. Did I mention that it rendered me a blubbering idiot?
Clarkson wrote the song after the birth of her first child, daughter River Rose. As she contemplated the love and attention husband Brandon Blackstock gave to their daughter, she couldn’t help but compare it to the lack of attention and care her own father failed to show. In an interview with Ryan Seacrest, Clarkson noted, “Watching my husband love on his daughter all the time, you know, go to her events and just be there and, like, be present is, like, hard to watch but beautiful to watch.” She went on to note, “I don’t even think I understood the gravity of [my relationship with my father] until I was pregnant. I was like, ‘I cannot imagine not seeing this kid to his or her full potential and just seeing what she’s going to do, what she’s going to be like.'”
Clarkson’s emotionally raw ballad resonates with a generation who have been raised by single mothers or in blended families. One in three American children are growing up in homes without their biological fathers. Countless kids are left at home wondering, “Why did you leave, Dad?”
Katherine Sotelo is a terrific writer who opened up her soul in a blog post entitled, “Today I gave my father my mailing address.” In this stream-of-consciousness piece, she writes,
Life is weird because we grow. you were always larger, but the same. I catch glimpse of your face every once in a while, do you know that? In a Chinese restaurant, in the kitchen. As if every day was a dream.
“That guy looks like my dad.” I’ll tell a friend across the table. They’ve never me you, no one has.
“Yeah.” I’ll respond, stealing glimpses at the man’s face. Terrified. As if someone grabbed my neck and told me to stop breathing.
“Yeah.” I’ll snap back to the scene. It’s easy.
The subject changes. The food arrives or we turn the corner. The feeling in my limbs come back.
Sotelo and Clarkson are articulating the same sentiment. They are mourning the same loss. The day their fathers walked out, holes were blown into their world. “Dad, why did you leave?”
The pain of fatherlessness is demonstrable. Children raised in a father-absent environment demonstrate:
- 5 times the average suicide rate.
- Dramatically increased rates of depression and anxiety.
- 32 times the average rate of incarceration.
- Decreased education levels and increased drop-out rates.
- Consistently lower average income levels.
- Lower job security.
- Increase rates of divorce and relationship issues.
- Substantially increased rates of substance abuse.
- Increases in social and mental behavioral issues.
I don’t write this to demean those who have been abandoned by fathers. I write this in the hopes that some father somewhere who is thinking of leaving will reconsider. Maybe he will think twice before flirting with the girl in the next cubicle or rethink the next website he visits. Perhaps he will recall his marital vows. Let the memories of the birth of his children play through his mind like a cinema. Remember those precious children that you would do anything to protect? Now, sir, consider that your staying put is an act of protection. In doing so, you are sheltering them from the angst and bitterness and confusion and misplaced guilt that so often accompanies abandonment. Do the right thing. Be a man. Take responsibility and ownership. Do hard things. Stay.
I wonder how Kelly Clarkson’s father feels about Piece by Piece. I’m sure he would say the situation is more complex than her song represents. I’m sure he would have reasons why he left – reasons that make sense to him. Then I think of my two daughters.
The worst fate I can imagine would not be any worst than one of my daughters writing this:
Piece by piece I fell far from the tree
I will never leave her like you left me
And she will never have to wonder her worth
Because unlike you I’m going to put her first
And you know, he’ll never walk away,
He’ll never break her heart
He’ll take care of things, he’ll love her
And piece by piece, he’ll restore my faith
That a man can be kind
And a father should be great.
Fathers, don’t let some other man pick your little girl up. Stay. Be a dad. You won’t regret it.