Just like his father, Villaraigosa’s family life falls apart

first_imgBy now, everyone knows the story: Antonio fell in love, got married, settled down and had children. He named the boy for himself – Antonio Jr. But Antonio’s interests and his heart lay elsewhere. Eventually, he left the marriage and his family, and took up with another woman. I write not about Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, but his father, Antonio Villar. When Antonio was 5 years old, his dad left home, devastating his young son. Compounding the injury, Villar would go on to start a new family, with a new son, who, like Antonio, was nicknamed Tony. Antonio would see his dad but a few more times, ever. The abandonment left scars that, by his own testimony, lasted a lifetime. It also fueled a cycle of familial breakdown, culminating in Villaraigosa’s admission last week that, caught up in an adulterous affair, he was leaving his family, too. It’s easy to see Villaraigosa as the villain in this sordid saga, and to be sure, the responsibility for his actions is his alone. But he’s also a victim of the same cultural epidemic he perpetuates. As Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, describes it, fatherlessness begets fatherlessness. “It’s difficult to be what you don’t see,” says Warren. “If you really haven’t seen your own dad be either as involved as he needs to be or you haven’t seen him stay involved in a marriage, or a relationship with your mom, then you haven’t really seen that modeling to the degree you need to.” The statistics speak for themselves. Children of divorce are themselves more likely to divorce. Boys and girls who grow up without dads at home are considerably more likely to have teen pregnancies. The question of Villaraigosa’s family life is often dismissed as “none of our business,” but here the mayor’s personal failings directly affect his political position on the most critical issue in L.A. today: The social costs of fatherlessness. It’s an issue about which the mayor seems astonishingly unaware, in his private life or in his public one. In addressing his extramarital activities, Villaraigosa has so far shown no sense of wrongdoing, let alone contrition. It’s ironic, because he should know better than anyone the heartbreak a departing dad can inflict. Unfortunately, when we grow up with dysfunction, we often fail to recognize it as dysfunction at all. We don’t learn from the past, which means we tend to repeat it. The consequences of fatherlessness, divorce and absent parents are well-documented. The less time children have dads in their homes with them, the more likely they are to have behavioral problems, to struggle in school, to live in poverty, to be obese, to rely on public assistance, to smoke, to drink excessively, to use drugs, to end up in trouble with the law. Fatherless children are twice as likely as the rest of the population to drop out of school. Yet in his crusade to reform public education – in large part because the Los Angeles Unified School District’s dropout rate is so high – Villaraigosa has uttered nary a peep about familial breakdown. On the other issue that dominates his political agenda – street gangs – he has also been largely silent about what’s likely the single greatest causal factor. Gangs, which offer male affection and bonding, are a natural draw for boys lacking those qualities at home. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 70 percent of the youth in American reform institutions grew up in single- or no-parent families. So strong is the relationship between family breakdown and criminality that when you control for it, crime’s correlations with race and low income vanish. Yet the mayor’s long, “comprehensive” anti-gang plan never deals with the fatherlessness problem. A few years back, Villaraigosa mused with a local reporter about the direction his life has taken. “If I had a father who had a life with me, who didn’t go off and name another kid Antonio, maybe it would have been different,” he said. Maybe. It could be that the sting of paternal rejection drove Villaraigosa to beat the odds and become the professional overachiever he is today. Just as likely, though, that same sting helped him succumb to the odds as a husband and father. It doesn’t have to be this way. If Villaraigosa needs motivation to end his affair and try to do the right thing by his wife and children, his own childhood memories should be more than plenty. We can only hope it’s not too late for this Antonio to break the cycle. His kids need their dad, and the city needs a mayor who will confront what ails it. Chris Weinkopf is the Daily News’ editorial-page editor. He blogs at www.insidesocal.com/friendlyfire, and can be reached at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Fortunately, this is where the similarities end. By Villaraigosa’s telling, his father was a batterer and a drunk – charges no one has ever cast against the mayor. To his great credit, Villaraigosa has broken the cycle of domestic violence, while managing to rise above the pitfalls that often trap fatherless boys – like crime, poverty, drug use and educational failure. But he has been unable to escape the cycle of familial breakdown. Before marrying soon-to-be ex-wife Corina in 1987, Villaraigosa fathered two children out of wedlock with two different mothers. Add those to the two children he fathered with Corina, and that’s four kids who haven’t had or won’t have the benefit of a dad at home throughout their childhood. Unlike his own father, Villaraigosa maintains a presence in his children’s lives. But as any child of divorce can attest, that’s a far cry from having a parent at home, day in, day out. last_img read more