Oh yes, there are lots of statistics out there that point out what black fathers aren’t doing and lots of theories as to why—but I’m not interested in them (safe to say that one missing dad is one too many). And, as practical people, I don’t believe you are either. What I think you really want to know is: How is this issue affecting our community; Why are some black fathers “missing in action”; What is the role of a black father; What makes a good dad; What can be done to help more black men assume their role as dads; and What’s being done to right this issue.
First, here’s a public service announcement: for those of you who don’t know, not all black men are absent from their kid’s lives. Second, not all absent dads are “deadbeat dads”. Finally, not all absent dads are poor. Hey, just thought you should know.
No Dad = Broken Child
Bill Cosby has said that the absence of black fathers in the house is the root cause of black America’s problems. But it’s not just him, so don’t hate. Thirty-five years ago, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D.-N.Y.)…called black fatherlessness, ``the fundamental weakness of the Negro community…" (which dispels one myth, that the “absence” of black fathers is a new phenomenon). President Barack Obama, having grown up without a father, said in an address to the Apostolic Church of Chicago:
The absence of fathers is important because "children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison."
William Raspberry agrees and also noted that in addition to poverty, crime, and school failure, “Father absence…predisposes our children to an intergenerational repetition of the grim cycle.”
It also takes two to tango, and there are many that feel children that grow up without a father figure in their life miss important socialization dynamics—discipline, role modeling, common male behavior, male female interaction, etc. Basically, the absence of a dad risks a child that is a little incomplete. Suffice it to say that the absence of a man in the house is not the only factor for poor school performance, poverty, or crime. It is also important to note that not every child growing up in a single parent household will suffer these maladies. Yet, the evidence is clear, two-parent families and their children often do better.
Why Don’t You Want To Be My Daddy?
Some blame fatherlessness and out-of-wedlock births on cultural breakdown and moral failure. Others believe the problem is caused by a poor father's inability to support a family—poor education, no jobs or low paying jobs. Many black men often site untrustworthy, or bossy, or disrespectful women as the reason for their absence. Religious leaders point out the demise of the family in general. Some call to question the role of the media. I accept and reject all of them. Like the folks at Morehouse (Turning the Corner on Father Absence in Black America, a recent conference paper on African-American fathers and families—American Values.org), I don’t think there is any one cause for black fathers' absence. But, if I had to pick one cause, I would say disdain for ones self and the mother of the child. Don’t agree? Why do you feel someone would abandon their own flesh and blood? Have any of you out there felt you have been put in a position to do so? If so, please let me know.
Who Am I?
What makes a good dad? Is it being able to buy your children the things they need? Is it being sure they have a roof over their heads? Providing food for them to eat? Is it paying for their college education? Is it listening to their thoughts? Is it guiding/disciplining them? Is it being a loving partner? Is it providing a stable, calm, drama-free environment? Perhaps being a good dad is about being a good role model. Or, maybe it’s being a friend. Possibly it might entail taking them to your local church, synagogue, or mosque. I say, it’s all of these things. To me being a good dad means GIVING WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO GIVE—ALL OF IT; ALL THE TIME. To render being a dad to any one, or several, of these things runs the risk of making all black men poor dads because we all have different gifts, abilities, and circumstances. That’s why the “bad dad” causal theories don’t work for me. By focusing on what the man doesn’t have, we [society] forget to nourish and praise him for what he can give.
Anyone can be a good dad. Not sure you're the father? Demand a paternity test. Divorced? Pay your child support, spend time with your kids, and respect their mother. Thug? Do your duty, don’t raise one: that’s “gangsta.” Jobless? Spend time with your kids, guide them, discipline them, support their mother, be their friend. Addicted? Seek help, and in the meantime, see your kids. Single? Protect yourself and avoid having kids out of wedlock. Fed up? Respect yourself and the mother of your kids, even if she doesn’t respect herself or you. Incarcerated? Call your kids, write to them, tell them to avoid what you have done, and think of them to gain strength to do right when you do get out. And when you get out, go see them. Got too many kids? Give each and every one of them as much time, money, and energy as you can spare. Got money? Got a good job? A house on the hill? Pay your child support, buy them the little extras (without being asked), and start them a college fund, spend time with them, teach them how you got where you are. Bottom line is you’ve got something to give! Black fathers the world ‘round, know this: you are a father by virtue of having functional sperm. You become a dad when you exhibit, teach, and share your virtue.
My wife has taught my two year old daughter just about everything there is to know about President Obama. She screams his name each time she sees a picture of him and when asked who her President is, she screams, Barack Obama! Well, sometimes daddy gets just a little jealous and shouts, Barack-o-Daddy! But, upon reflection, there’s something to this. I don’t think the country has seen a more poised, dignified, hardworking, loving and intelligent public figure (who also appears to be a great dad) in some time. He makes you want to do better, brings out the best in others, works hard, tries his best, and learns from his mistakes. He gives whatever he has. That’s what makes a good dad. And guess what, you can be one too. We all have a God-given capacity—use it for your kids.
Helping Fathers Become Dads
The Center for Marriage and Family has ten recommendations.
1. Urge African American fathers and mothers to recognize their obligations to each other and to work to build stronger parenting partnerships for the benefit of their children.
2. Urge the Black church to help build a powerful new movement aimed at gender and family healing. This movement should include the following aspects: initiatives designed to improve the quality of relationships between Black men and Black women; and programs aimed at preparing men and women for marriage.
3. Churches and other organizations [should] support families by taking a much more active role in the education of Black children through the development of alternative community-based and values-oriented educational systems…
4. Civil rights organizations and professional, civic, fraternal and philanthropic groups within the African American community [should] make the issue of reuniting fathers and children a top priority for at least the next decade through programs of advocacy, family reconciliation, and community mobilization.
5. [The] media…especially Black media, to use their power for at least the next decade to promote positive images of men and fatherhood in Black America.
6. [The] United States Congress [should] pass, and the President sign, legislation this fiscal year authorizing at least $2 billion over the next five years to support community-based fatherhood programs aimed at reversing the trend of father absence in our nation.
7. Federal-state child support enforcement program to institute basic reforms to encourage fathers active participation in the lives in the lives of their children by promoting self-sufficiency for fathers, encouraging marriage, and engaging faith-based and other community organizations in promoting responsible fatherhood.
8. We urge government at all levels, the business community, and the entire civil society to take concerted action for at least the next decade to reverse inequities in the treatment of fathers in public and private sector policy and to improve the economic prospects and marriageability of poor men.
9. We urge the criminal justice system at all levels of government to develop creative strategies aimed at reconnecting fathers and children where there is a desire to do so on the part of family members.
10. We urge every governmental or community-based program that has a relationship with unwed parents to help connect interested parents with faith-based marriage education and marriage mentoring programs.
MSNBC — A Push For Positive Change
This Sunday, February 8 at 8:00 pm Eastern Time, MSNBC will air “A Father’s Promise,” which coincides with Black History Month. According to MSNBC, A Father’s Promise is an attempt to understand this issue through round-table discussion. Discussion panelist include a cross-section of African-Americans including Al Roker; Tiki Barber; Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey; Rev. Eugene Rivers, a Boston pastor and MSNBC analyst; Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Princeton University professor of Politics and African American Studies; and Marni McKoy, Heru’s Principal at Lind Community School in Newark. I've included the video trailer. You may also click the link below to see the clip.
Share Your Thoughts
Fathers, what do you need to get you involved in your child's life?
Mothers, what is your biggest frustration with your child's father?
Mothers, why do you feel your child's father is not in their lives?
Does anyone out there feel the other parent uses the child as a pawn?
If you could tell the other parent one thing, what would it be?