I have a single mother and I am not “malnourished”

Opinion by: Francesca N.

Edited by: Ms. Hartley

Visual by: Sandro L.

Long gone are the days when each household consisted of a nuclear family made up of a mother and a father and children. As society experiences increasing liberalization, families see more variety, with children being raised by same-sex couples, or even just one person. And these are all wonderful, valid ways to parent and provide love.

However, March began with Terry Crews, an actor on the beloved comedy show Brooklyn 99,throwing out unasked for, unnecessary statements regarding parenting on  the popular social media platform Twitter. A now-deleted tweet read: “I’ve reiterated many times that same-sex couples and single parents can successfully raise a child. But I believe paternal AND maternal love are like vitamins and minerals to humanity.”

His comments alienated many, to say the least. But he only fueled the fire when he replied to a comment that “love is not gendered. A child will not starve with only one gender loving them,” with, “But they will be severely malnourished.”

This,, sparked a heated discussion on Twitter.  One response stated “My 12 year old twins are not ‘severely malnourished’. Please stop encouraging the bullying of children of #LGBTQ parents”, along with “things Terry Crews claims a father gives you: a name[,] a story to pass on[,] self esteem and security[,] health[.] [T]hings my father has given me: no child support, trust issues, abandonment issues, no money” and a classy “this ain’t it”. However, some people supported his stance, as evidenced in comments  stating that demeaning the importance of a father is “erasing the beautiful part of childhood development that recognizes the different dynamics in character, personality, emotion of both genders. Together they create a wonderful balance. Fathers matter!!”.

Fathers absolutely matter. Yet, the backlash was directed towards the negative implications of Crews’ statements: that fathers matter so much that living without one resulted in a deficiency. And rather than taking full ownership of these implications, Crews sidestepped the opposition with  excuses, contradictions, and non-related rebuffs, like “the wrong choice of words”, , and “no one has to follow me”.

Parents play such a pivotal role in a person’s life that statements about them – beyond the trivial and comedic – are bold. They’re sirens. And our animalistic urge to turn towards blaring noises means that bold statements have drastic reparations. I support the vocalization and ownership of opinions, but polarizing topics must be handled carefully. With grace. With open-mindedness. Even more troubling, his attacks show extreme disrespect towards the more unfortunate or traumatic situations that leave no option for nuclear parenting, such as a deceased parent or an abusive relationship (both towards a partner/spouse or the child).

My parents are “separated” (the equivalent of “divorced”, which is illegal in the Philippines). My first words were heard by my mother and only my mother. When I was three years old, she’d read to me page-creased picture books, and I’d trace over the illustrations, and she’d smile down at me. When I was seven, my mother guided me through right and wrong, and at thirteen I’d come home crying about mean friends to her embrace. Her love has and always will be more than enough for me, and although my biological father loves and supports me, he does so from a distance. I appreciate that, and I see him often (which isn’t the case for many), but he doesn’t know me like my mother does. I identify her as a sole, present parental figure. And I love it that way.

Never have I thought that I needed paternal love to experience a happy, well-rounded childhood. I have never been “malnourished”, with my mom not giving me inadequate “nutrients” to function as a human being, if we consider Crews’ metaphor. And I’m sure that many who are raised by single fathers don’t suffer from their inability to provide an opposite-gender’s input, nor do kids with 2 same sex parent parents.

What does leave a child “malnourished” is bad parenting. Abusive parenting. But a family’s non-nuclearity is not indicative of that. There are surely same-sex couples or single parents who raise their children poorly, but the same goes for nuclear parents. It is a severely undeserved situation, but blatantly assigning that kind of atrocity to all non-nuclear families is a falsehood, and a grave one at that. It is not gender nor sex that determines guidance – it is intelligence, personal values, and experience. And love and care is not a faceted commodity that comes in different boxes. Families are complicated and personal, but above all, they do not need to conform to be beautiful and nourishing.

(Update: on March 7, Crews tweeted to “apologize for anyone who was triggered or felt targeted. I was speaking out of my very personal experiences as a Black Father. ‘And while those experiences for me are very true and real, these can differ greatly from the experiences of others.” Yet, the initial tweets made me contemplate this issue of non-nuclear families. As there are people who have even more aggressive views towards this issue, I believe this remains a relevant discussion to have, despite one man’s apology.)