There's a common assumption that the one thing more difficult than being a single mum is being the son of one. [...] The prevailing wisdom is that a boy must be raised with a man in the house; otherwise he is likely to fail his exams, drop out of school, career off the rails."
Drexler found that many fatherless families have mothers who make more of an effort than their partnered peers to find a range of male role models to be part of their sons' (and daughters') lives - grandfathers, uncles, community group leaders, sports coaches etc. When research shows that many fathers only interact with their children directly for minutes per day, having the wider range of adult males as part of their lives actually gives fatherless boys a broader range of masculinity models to emulate.
'Men are very important to boys: boys need relationships with men to understand how to sustain relationships in the world,' she explains. 'But it does not have to be the one man in the mother's bedroom.'
The single mothers in Drexler's study are professionals and reasonably affluent, at least easily able to afford childcare. She points to this as a strength of the study rather than a weakness, emphasising that poor results in fatherless families are more likely to be due to problems caused by lack of money rather than a lack of a father.
"Her findings contradict many judges, social scientists, religious groups and pundits. But what she discovered was that a boy's morality and masculinity can be cultivated without a live-in father.
Indeed, she goes even further. In her view, traditional families have much to learn from these households: that boys from fatherless homes can fare better than boys raised in nuclear families.
'We have a vocal group who want to keep things the same and to deify the ideal family. But coming from a traditional family is not in and of itself going to make a boy into a moral, law-abiding, decent person or a good husband or a good father.' In short, parenting is either good or deficient, not male or female."
There are questions about why the boys she studies are doing so well, contrary to the stereotype:
"But could these boys be doing well in spite of having one parent, not because of it? 'It's easier with two,' she acknowledges. 'But only if you are getting along and there is a synergy between you. In fact women who are single say there are benefits to not having to worry about another person's point of view. Two-parent families are great when they're working but that's not a lot of people's experience, judging by the divorce rate.' "
When her work was first published in the USA, Drexler predictably generated a huge response from people accusing her of being an anti-male feminazi who ought to "move [her] dyke ass to Europe" , as apparently they were unwilling to accept that a woman who's been marred for 36 years to the father of her two children can yet recommend to other woman that they can be effective parents without having to have a man around the house.
"At one point she received so much hate mail she consulted a security company about protection.
Yet she was recently invited to talk to the widows from September 11. For every negative email there is a positive one. Each morning she receives messages of support from lesbian mothers and single mothers. 'You articulate what I have been trying to say for many years,' they tell her. Even the mother of Lance Armstrong, the world-record breaking cyclist, has been in touch. 'When people ask me who was his role model it drives me mad. I was his role model!' Armstrong's mother said.
Lance Armstrong is one of several famous fatherless sons - two British MPs, Bill Clinton, Quentin Tarantino, Tom Cruise - who end the article by thanking their single mothers for their strength as parents.
(Crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo)