I used to be afraid of the dark. I grew up on a lonely farm in the Ozarks, nestled in the woods at the top of a hill. We couldn’t see any neighbors, nor were any within walking distance. When we settled in for the night, it was just us and the night.
The living room had large windows and I was afraid of them. I avoided looking at them if the curtains happened one night or another to be open, because one never knew what one would see. My imagination created many options. I never saw anything, but I was afraid of lots of things.
We lived on another farm when I was older, parenting my own brood, and it had large living room windows too. They had no curtains to draw over the night, and my kids were afraid of them too. So we laughed at the night, making a mock of it while the coyotes howled. I think they were still afraid, but we focused on the safety of our home as my parents had before me.
I’m not afraid of too much anymore. A life lived facing monsters whittles away at the tyranny of one’s imagination. One monster, however, still stalks me, and I’m afraid.
He devours children. He woos them with electronics, drugs, envy, discouragement, or resentment. He waits for them to be vulnerable and unprotected, and surrounds them with despair. He is quiet until they go out alone, and he attacks soundlessly. He closes off their retreat from him, placing himself between them and those who would protect them, beating them with his pronouncements that they are cornered and doomed. He mocks them: they are broken, wounded, or weak; they will never outrun him because he will never stop pursuing.
He’s a focused monster. He stalks the children of single mothers.
I’m not the only one who is afraid. He is well-known. The statistics horrify people far and wide.
- 1 in 3 children in America live in father-absent homes
- These children are 4 times more likely to suffer poverty
- Infant mortality is almost twice as high for single mothers
- Babies with a father’s name on the birth certificate are 4 times more likely to live past 1 year
- Middle school children of single mothers are 4 times more likely to have an affective disorder
- 39% of incarcerated felons come from single mother homes
- Across nationalities, children of single parents are more likely to commit violent crimes
- Children of single mothers are more likely to drop out, more likely to use drugs, and more likely to suffer mental illness
- The only protectant for early extra-marital sexual activity is maternal education and paternal involvement
There are ways to avoid the monster, for sure, but it’s a life of constant vigilance. Sometimes I feel my chest clutch and my heart pounds in my throat. It is night, and I feel the monster’s breath on my neck. Sometimes, as recently, I hear a mother’s cries as her child is devoured in the night, and the terror and the anger and the sheer grit of it consumes me.
I swear by all that is holy, I will live to slay this monster.
And that means living in the light. It means taking that light with us into the dark, a hope so profound that even the breath of the monster cannot extinguish it until the light dawns again. It means laughing at the dark together, but talking seriously about the dangers of going out where the coyotes howl. It means I can’t ever let up my guard. It means I claim with a plea seven times more tenacious the blessings the widow claimed from the judge. It means that when I look at the world when it’s dark, the monster always feels like he’s out there, waiting, so I look out the windows when I’m bathed in light.
The day is coming when I will face him, when my children will be strong enough to outrun him and the dark will have no power over us, and I will deal him a deathly blow. Then I will be free. There will be no monsters in my windows. Thank heavens for the strength that comes with the Light.
Take that, monster.