"Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. What will it mean for their development?" Read Hanna's cover story for The Atlantic's April 2013 issue. ➜
“In 2009, in a beach town in Virginia where my family had been vacationing for several years, I noticed something curious. Every time I ventured away from the houses rented by the vacationers – to the supermarket, say, or the ice-cream store – I almost never saw any men. Hardly any showed up at the fairgrounds Saturday evenings, nor did many climb out of the cars in the church parking lots on Sunday mornings. This was a prosperous working-class town and one of its main businesses had always been construction. I recalled in earlier years seeing groups of men riding in pick-up trucks down the main streets, even on Saturdays. But this time, there weren’t all that many pick-up trucks; mostly Chevys and Toyotas filled with women and children going about their weekend business.
On a food run one afternoon, I accidentally slammed my cart into another woman’s and knocked out of it some granola bars. I apologised and she was forgiving and in fact she turned out to be the kind of stranger who is open to conversation. Her name was Bethenny, she told me. She was 29 and ran a daycare centre out of her house. She was also studying to get a nursing degree and raising her daughter, who was 10. Because she was so forthcoming I thought I’d edge closer to the heart of the matter. Was she married? I asked. No. Did she want to be? Kind of, she said, and spun me a semi-ironic fantasy of a Ryan Reynolds lookalike swooping in on a white horse. Was there any mortal male who might qualify for the role? I asked. ‘Well, there’s Calvin,’ she said, meaning her daughter’s father. She looked over at her daughter and tossed her a granola bar and they both laughed. ‘But Calvin would just mean one less granola bar for the two of us.’
Bethenny seemed to be struggling in the obvious ways. Later I saw her at checkout, haggling over coupons. But she did not exactly read as the pitiable single mother type. There was genuine pleasure in that laugh, a hint of happy collusion in hoarding those granola bars for herself and her daughter. Without saying as much, she communicated to me what her daughter seemed already to understand and accept: by keeping Calvin at arm’s length, Bethenny could remain queen of her castle, and with one less mouth to feed, they might both be better off.
How is it that the father of her only child had so little hold on her? How is it that he could be dismissed as the domestic equivalent of a snack? I got up the courage to ask her if I could contact Calvin and she readily gave me his phone number. Over the next few months, Calvin and I talked every few weeks, me always trying to figure out how he had become so invisible.
The terms ‘mancession’ and ‘he-cession’ featured prominently in American headlines that year, their efforts at cuteness meant to soften the painful reality that the primary victims of our latest economic disaster had been men such as Calvin, the ordained breadwinners…”