Last December, the Luxembourg Income Study Center at the Graduate Center City University of New York released a report finding that “single mothers in the United States—most of whom are either separated or were previously married—are employed more hours and yet have much higher poverty rates than their peers in other high-income countries.”
It’s one of the latest studies on single mothers, with predictable dismal findings, on the dire plight many of us face in our country.
I don’t know how you feel, but enough already! Yes, single mothers—and fathers—have made some bad choices along the way. But can we please move past all this Monday-morning quarterbacking? What I would like to see is some advice on preventive measures: How do we make sure that we don’t end up as single parents in the first place?
The answer, as I see it, is very simple: Marry the right person from the start.
I came to this realization over chips and guacamole one night with my 14-year-old daughter. She asked, “Do you have any regrets, Mom?” After subsequently choking on a chip, I began mentally flipping through a Rolodex of regrets in my life. Number one was marrying her father, who didn’t turn out to be the best of men. Of course I couldn’t tell her that, so I dug deeper.
“I regret that I didn’t go to the rodeo with Fred.” A confession—and an epiphany.
Fred was a childhood friend. I liked him—a lot. He had soft brown eyes, a big heart and a mentally disabled brother he fiercely protected. But I was a shy and immature 7th grader, so nothing ever came of my crush. In high school, Fred worked up his nerve to ask me out. While on our way home from a movie, he stopped to help a woman change a flat tire on the side of the road. Fred was a hero, even then.
Fred later asked me to the rodeo. I made up some lame excuse not to go. He had become a cowboy and moved to the foothills. A simple guy, living a simple life, and simply too redneck for me.
I never saw him again.
When I was away at college, Fred was killed on his motorcycle by a drunk driver. His family donated his organs, including those beautiful brown eyes, to a handful of people who are alive now because of him.
I’ve always wanted to find the man who was given Fred’s eyes. I want to look into them one last time, and from the bottom of my soul, tell him that I’m sorry I judged him so harshly, and that he was the kind of man I should have married all along: A good, kind-hearted and simple man.
But I can’t go back. I can only hope my teenaged daughters will learn from my mistake: To not judge someone so quickly; and to give every person they meet a chance to show them what a hero he or she can become.
Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She also writes the “Spirit of Enterprise” column for ICTMN.