ON-Lion Letter

Rhonda Kruse Nordin interviewed more than 130 teenage girls and young women for her 2013 Center of the American Experiment (CAE) essay, MTV's "Teen Mom" Franchise:  How Do Young Eyes -- and Much Older Eyes -- Really See Teenage Parenthood?, in the wake of MTV's series documenting young women's first years of motherhood and emphasizing strained romantic and family relationships.

"We talked about birth control, risk-taking choices, parental responsibilities, and public assistance -- and why they would or would not have a baby," Nordin now writes.  "Only once did marriage come up.  And other than yearning for the romantic relationships they considered 'constants' to the MTV stars, fathers (for the most part) were considered 'silent bystanders' to their stories.  In fact, fathers were so often altogether absent from the equation or from our discussions about parenthood that I didn’t realize I had shamefully neglected to include the voices of young men, teen fathers, and 20-something fathers in my research until long after my focus groups had ended."

Hence Nordin's "Where the Boys Are:"  The Unacknowledged Worlds of Nonmarital Fathers," released in May by CAE in Golden Valley, Minn.  Nordin is a senior fellow at CAE and author of After the Baby:  Making Sense of Marriage After Childbirth.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee supports CAE's work on marriage and the family.

Invoking the 1960 film about boys on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., "Where the Boys Are," "focuses on these men who are unmarried at the time of their babies’ births, not the primary caretakers of their children, and who do not live with their children or the mothers," according to its introduction.  "They, indeed, fall into the roles of 'silent bystander' (so clearly portrayed on MTV) and, unfortunately, I fear, 'invisible father' -- single fathers who stand half-a-million strong and represent over one-third of new, unmarried fathers each year, who are ignored in real life and also by the Census as well as by a substantial number of research organizations that track family and social trends.  These men provide a glimpse into the not-so-glamorous lives of single fathers everywhere and a somewhat valid assessment of 'where the boys are.'"

Among other things, Nordin found, "none of the men I interviewed expected to become a father 'at this point," and "not one of my interviewees claimed to lack knowledge about birth control ....  I started to wonder if the bulk of those
I interviewed lived in a vacuum void of any thought or understanding whatsoever of potential consequences to the choices they made.

"Cohabitation was common to more than half the fathers I interviewed," she says, and "for most of the men I interviewed, as well as for the young fathers we watch on MTV and for a host of documented cases across America, pregnancy alters the relationship between unmarried parents for the worse and, in many cases, ends it altogether.

"What I learned from my fact-finding mission about single fathers," Nordin concludes, "is that this new, loose and legally laced pattern of family formation outside marriage that symbolizes where our boys are today doesn't necessarily provide the sought-after love ... and maybe none of them will find it until they are willing to wait patiently and intelligently apply time-tested rules of family formation:  One meets, dates, falls in love, marries and then has a baby."

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