Single Dads were once as popular as living indoors. The whole thing started with a Single Dad, according to the best available report. He created His children and placed them in a beautiful garden. This automatically qualified him as a Single Dad, because if He had been married His Wife would have told Him this was a stupid idea, just like your wife would never let your kids play in your formal dining room, which is why they always asked you if they wanted to do it. The Original Kids trashed the place, naturally, just like your kids broke the doors off the china closet. The Original Dad punished them, instead of getting punished Himself, for letting the kids in there in the first place, which the Original Wife, if She had existed, would have arranged. He gave his children The Original Time Out, which, according to many respected theologians, is still going on.
Life was short, nasty and brutish, full of predators like saber-toothed tigers and packs of huge prehistoric wolves, in contrast to the modern condition, where life is long, nasty and brutish, full of predators like suicide bombers and reality TV hosts. In the old days, Single Dads were nearly as common as Single Moms. This was not because prehistoric divorce laws were more equitable. No one needed to get divorced, because almost always before you and your mate could stand sharing a cave together FOR ONE MORE STINKING MINUTE, the slower one of you would get eaten.
Thus it continued for many years, or Ice Ages, as they were called back then. The female would raise the male child until it was old enough to throw rocks, and then the male would take over, teaching his son how to throw rocks at stuff he could eat, and, equally importantly, how to throw rocks at stuff that could eat him, unless discouraged by being first hit by a rock.
Progress started with the invention of the spear. The invention of the spear was followed immediately by the invention of the practical joke. (“See this spear, son? Go stick it in that mammoth.”) War was invented. The first war was caused by a practical joke. (“See this spear, son? Go stick it in that Neanderthal.”) As long as the primary male occupations consisted of sticking sharp things into wild animals, making them hold still enough to eat, and the occasional spear fight with the neighbors, the value of fathering, even single fathering, was taken for granted.
The first disturbance in the primitive idyllic relationship between fathers and sons was the invention of tribal chiefs, which was considered such an astonishingly good idea, especially by the chiefs, that it was soon followed by the invention of pharaohs, emperors, kings, dukes, rajahs, earls, dukes, dukes of earl, princes, regents, dauphins, lords, lairds, knights, shahs, sheriffs, barons, moguls, prime ministers, dictators-for-life, middle management and other guys without formal titles who nonetheless had their own hordes.
In the case of most of the above, the father would designate his son as his successor as Leader Of The Pack. (This still goes on, especially in the Third World and the Republican Party) Whatever title he held, would pass to the kid upon his demise. Many sons were content to wait for this to happen. After all, if the old man went around dissing a whole continent by calling himself the Scourge of Europe, he was bound to tune in a little comeuppance sooner rather than later, leaving the kid to tone things down a bit and enjoy the family heirlooms, like France, in peace.
Some kids, however, were more ambitious. They saw Dad was having all the fun, starting wars, raping, pillaging, and not having to be home before dark, and they plotted to help nature along by arranging for something sharp to be stuck into Dad so they could take over the family business. Often the treacherous son was aided by Mom, who, frankly, was fed up with all the mead-drinking and slave-girl owning that Dad was putting on the primitive Visa card. Sometimes the kid did the job himself; sometimes he was aided by a hired assassin, who stabbed the king in the back as he slept. This assassin may be regarded as the forerunner of the modern Family Law attorney.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of dads and sons continued to hold lower ranking positions, such as serf, slave, servant, peasant, peon, penniless nomad, indentured laborer, horde member, assistant pillager, foot soldier, private, cannon fodder, bush beater, hod carrier, fisherman, laborer, day laborer, hard laborer, forced laborer, food taster and account executive. Sons had no choice but to emulate their fathers. A typical day consisted of backbreaking toil in the fields of the manor, followed by light starvation and towards evening, a twenty percent chance of bubonic plague. The Crusades were invented, and subsequently discarded. Everybody was pretty well relieved when America was discovered, and they realized they no longer had to starve to death tilling the fields of Europe. They could now die of dysentery crammed into the holds of ships on the way to America.
At first the settlement of the New World changed the father-son relationship very little. Colonial Dads taught their kids how to hunt, fish and kill redcoats; Pioneer Dads taught their kids how to fish, hunt and kill bears. Colonial Moms busied themselves making priceless antique heirlooms. Divorce was unheard of. A person who hated his or her spouse could still entertain a bracing optimism that they would outlive them, and the lack of advanced forensic science meant that if someone arranged a premature exit for their partner, everyone else was likely to accept the explanation that “She got et by a bar,” or “He got et by a redcoat,” as true.
Meanwhile another century meant the invention of earth-shaking new inventions, inventions that changed the course of history, such as the train, the steamboat, and the telegraph, none of which anybody uses today. Divorce, however, was not invented until after the movies were discovered and Hollywood was born. Divorce, like plastic surgery and giving your dogs haircuts, was a gift to the masses from the celebrity classes, and pretty soon everyone was doing it.
Of course, your celebrity marriages, then as now, lasted approximately as long as the NCAA basketball tournament, so there were seldom any celebrity kids whose welfare had to be considered. People with kids still didn’t get divorced until around the 70′s, when, after a decade of good vibes, good music, great protesting and the shimmering possibility of the creation of a world community based on pillars of peace and love, they discovered they had turned into their parents and were listening to disco. They headed for the courtroom in droves.
This led to discovery by modern jurisprudence that fathering was no longer necessary. Mom’s job had changed little; in fact her résumé had expanded. Besides raising and nurturing the kids, she now had concerns like air-freshening, waxy buildup and keeping her husband from using her loufa to scrub the car. True, the Little House On The Prairie had become the Little Split-Level In Buena Vista, but mothering had survived the transition.
Fathering, on the other hand, had imploded. Nobody wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps anymore. Dad was regarded as quaint and perhaps a little cracked. After he taught you how to throw a baseball, and, more importantly, how to hit the dirt when a baseball was thrown directly at your head (Dads still loved practical jokes) he had little more to offer the son in the way of career guidance. He, after all, worked in a big, sweaty factory with a just a few capital letters in its name (GE, GM, US Steel) while Junior wanted to draw a paycheck from a company with different initials, like MGM or UA. He dreamed of working for the movies. He couldn’t look to Dad for advice on how to pitch a treatment or whose phone calls he should return. Not that he could look to Mom for this, either, but Mom at least knew how to dump spaghetti out of a can, so when his mother and father filed papers so that they could quit sharing the same last name, Junior was usually ordered over to Mom.