Confronting the Crisis of Father Absence

BY: - 28 Sep '10 | Parenting

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by Delano Squires
September is one of the best months for sports fans. It represents the home stretch in professional baseball, as well as the beginning of a new season in professional football. One NFL pro who received some unwanted attention this summer is New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He was pilloried in the national media after he was seemingly unable to name all eight of his children during the taping of a reality television sports documentary series. It was the fact that his children are from six different mothers (in five states), rather than his faulty memory, however, that garnered the most attention. One sportswriter  took Cromartie and other athletes to task for their seemingly casual attitude toward procreation. He also mentioned the disproportionate number of black children who are raised in father-absent homes. To be clear, father absence is not restricted to the African-American community, but the pop culture narrative regarding disconnected dads typically casts black men in the leading role. While the serial womanizing of some black athletes and entertainers makes for sensational headlines, relatively few people know about the seed scattering of some of our most well-known cultural icons, such as Clint Eastwood (seven children by five women) or Mick Jagger (seven children by four women).

Racially tinged perceptions and collective sensitivities aside, father absence is a real problem in the African-American community. A growing number of black children are growing up in homes without both of their parents, and this trend is directly linked to the decline in marriage rates among blacks. According to the National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting (NCAAMP), in 2008, only 29% of African-American children lived with their married parents, while the rate for all American children was 61%. Some scholars suggest that critiques of black men with respect to father absence are unfair and that the real issue is the disproportionate unemployment rate for African-American males. While earning potential does affect the ability of a father to provide financially for his family, it still does not fully explain why a child born one generation after slavery was more likely to grow up in a home with two married parents than a child born in 2010. I can think of very few people who would argue that the economic climate was more favorable to black men in that time period than it is today. Furthermore, multi-millionaire athletes and entertainers show that having more money does not magically equip someone with the skills, or desire, to be a good husband or parent.

Confronting this issue honestly is a daunting task. Those concerned about the state of African-American marriages and families must be very clear about their positions, motivations, and goals. Advocating for a renewed commitment to marriage and stronger families should not be used as a thinly veiled attempt to criticize single mothers or devalue their children. Many single mothers have done a phenomenal job of raising children in less than ideal circumstances, and advocates should be more interested in finding ways to constructively address the problem of father absence than in trying to assign blame to one group or another. There are policy strategies that can be implemented to support people who want to marry (e.g. tax credits for couples who successfully complete pre-marital education) but none of these will matter if we, as a community, no longer feel marriage is a meaningful institution.

I believe that cultural attitudes are just as important as policy positions when searching for solutions to this problem. That being said, black men in public life could probably do a lot to influence attitudes about marriage and fatherhood by speaking about the joys and travails of both. Men in less visible positions can also play a major role in this cultural campaign by actively engaging one another on relationship, marriage, and fatherhood issues. These conversations could take place anywhere black men congregate: barbershops, churches, sporting events, college campuses, or any other venue that serves as a safe space for dialogue. The African-American community has no problem voicing opposition to perceived racism and discrimination, but it seems as if we are much more reluctant to candidly address issues that force us to take a critical look at the things we collectively value and the cultural norms we readily accept. Studies have shown that the attitudes of parents toward marriage have an effect on the relationship outcomes of their children. Therefore, a continuation of current trends could eventually result in one segment of the African-American community where marriage and family stability are an expected norm and another where those same traits are an exception. While there are many exceptional fathers in our community, there are also some men who do not fulfill their responsibilities. The time for excuses is over; our children are counting on us.

BMWK, where do you feel father absence ranks among the most serious issues facing African Americans today? Do you feel we are afraid to honestly confront this issue? Do you think married black men can do more to show marriage and fatherhood in a positive light?

Delano Squires is currently a graduate student in Race, Ethnicity, and Public Policy at the George Washington University. His focus is contemporary African American culture, urban education, and child development. Follow him on Twitter @Mr_Squires.

About the author

Delano Squires wrote 25 articles on this blog.

Delano Squires is a blogger and public policy strategist in Washington, D.C. His primary interests are contemporary African American culture, fatherhood, and families. He is also a contributor to The Root.

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16 WordPress comments on “Confronting the Crisis of Father Absence

  1. Gods_Man

    To answer your questions:
    1. Where do you feel father absence ranks among the most serious issues facing African Americans today? – I feel that the absense of fathers is one of our most critical issues. For many, the perception, is the marriage is something for other people.

    2. Do you feel we are afraid to honestly confront this issue? – In order to really address this issue it requires some serious soul searching as individuals. That can be scary because no one likes to examine what they may have done to contribute to a problem. After that we have to collectively and constructively begin to examine the damage that has been done and takes steps to correct this. Like Lamar mentioned in the NWNW post, we have to move beyond the simple finger pointing that keeps us from addressing the issue.

    3. Do you think married black men can do more to show marriage and fatherhood in a positive light? – I think it is incumbent upon the married guys to show both sides of marriage. I think that when we get around the guys we tend to talk about the negatives and never get around to sharing what a blessing marriage can be. We also have to stress how important it is to make good choices when selecting a wife.

  2. T. Rogers

    The absence of fathers in most black homes has to be one of THE most critical issues facing black Americans today. Still, I wonder if we are really ready to have that conversation. I believe it ties directly into the relational disconnect that we see between many black women and black men. And while I would never vilify single mothers (I was raised by one) I dont think they should be off limits. Single mothers are part of the problem as well. They often help perpetuate more “single motherhood” through their daughters and sons. With that said the primary responsibility for fatherless children falls squarely on the fathers themselves.

    I believe there are two parts to solving this issue. First, many black men who are fathers right now need help learning how to properly raise their children. It may sound cliché at this point, but it bears repeating: Men who grew up without fathers often have issues with fatherhood themselves. These brothers must first show a desire to parent their children. Then they need support. It may be spiritual support. It may be positive male camaraderie. It may be parenting classes. It may be counseling to help heal old emotional and psychological wounds. It may be classes to learn how to communicate and deal with the expectations of relationships and fatherhood. Either way, men need real, tangible help.

    The second part is (I believe) the more difficult part. Perceptions and attitudes in our community need to change. IMHO, single motherhood is TOO acceptable and normal in black communities. We almost expect young black women to become out of wedlock mothers. Many of us are products of this situation, and as a result, are afraid to criticize it. Many will say, “My mother was a single mother and I turned out just fine!” I would never say that. I consider myself a productive, educated citizen, and have never been in trouble with the law. I also know that growing up without my father was a terrible experience that I am still trying to come to grips with. It doesnt matter how good a job mom did (and she did her best). Her best could never make up for the fact that I longed for my dad. As black people we need to start being honest with ourselves and saying certain things dont work and are killing us. Single parenthood (in general terms) is not working and it is killing us. Im sorry, but there is no glory in being a baby momma. And there is no glory in have multiple baby mommas. We need to yell this in the ears of every black child that we see.

    Lastly, I believe a lot of the increasing relational issues between black men and black women tie back into “Daddy Issues.” Having more fathers at home is not some magical silver bullet. It is not the end all, cure all. However, it would go along way to transforming our communities and creating stronger, more stable people and communities.

  3. Aamisc

    Yes, your article raises some pertinent questions and honestly highlights the issues. Our children of all races are counting on us, adults…..and many of the fathers of our community are absent during the crucial child-rearing stages. Thus the mothers single-handedly sacrifice and raise our sons, in homes where the fathers are absent. So if we blame the African-American fathers for not living up to their responsibilities, are we not at the same time condemning the ‘present mothers’ for raising our sons to be irresponsible. At what age do young men first become irresponsible? Is this not a vicious cycle? Can a woman really teach a boy to be a man….. or for that matter a responsible father? As a mother of three sons, I raise the questions but I do not know the answers. While we are waiting on the fathers (and not all fathers are irresponsible), what can mothers do differently to raise responsible fathers?

  4. HarrietH

    1. I’m with God’s_Man and T. Rogers when I say that fatherlessness in the African-American community is THE issue. Everything else–crime, education, perceptions of women–are symptomatic of that larger problem. And if you look at it even deeper, the fact that there are few fathers speaks to the fact that many black men don’t want to have anything to do with God, either. So we’re left with generation after generation of young men and women longing for their fathers, and shunning THE Father as a result.

    2. There’s been an elephant in the living room of the African American diaspora for over 30 years now. In that 30 year period, the rates of children born to married parents in the black community reversed. Look at the statistic! In just THIRTY YEARS, our collective community degenerated to the point where something as normal and natural as being a father to children has become abnormal. EVERYONE played a role in it: the government, social services, black men, black women, and the children who were raised thinking this was OK, and thus perpetuated the cycle to another generation. We’re all to blame, and we all have a role to play in the solution. We all must find and do our parts.

    3. Again, everyone can play their part in resolving this issue, not just married black men.

    Great, thought provoking article, Delano! You DROPPED it!

  5. Soul Woman

    BMWK, where do you feel father absence ranks among the most serious issues facing African Americans today?

    Truthfully, I believe its the least important issue to those who are in command positions or have some type of power or influence. I dont see any of our historically black organizations advocating for the elimination of un-necessary single parenting at all. Instead, they are content with chasing racism, demanding the government do what citizens should do for themselves, and profiteering off the legitimate pain and suffering of our people.
    Do you feel we are afraid to honestly confront this issue?

    Respectfully, we are UNABLE to confront the issue because it requires that we acknowledge and admit:

    A large population of our ethnic group has NO racial and ethnic pride/ self-respect. Many of us demonstrate through our attitude, behaviors, and life decisions that we HATE ourselves. This self hatred is reinforced by OUR OWN organizations and businesses: case and point- Rap music.
    The majority of black men have been improperly socialized and dare I say brain washed into devaluing, debasing, and disparaging black women and girls. If a black man doesnt believe the womb of a black woman is equal to or greater than a non-black woman, he wont have an incentive to remain in the picture for his OWN flesh and blood. No amount of peer pressure, court ordered child support, or threats by another black man will compel him to fulfill his duty. This is something that must be healed and fixed WITHIN the individual. The government cant do it. Howard University cant do it.

    No matter what your financial circumstance is, if you LOVE, an VALUE your children, you will do whatever you must to ensure they are cared for. Im tired of hearing my people beg others to do what we should do for ourselves.

    I hate to see my race and ethnic group dying… I LOVE my OWN people sir. Without women THERE IS NO LIFE. So devalue and destroy women is to destroy YOUR own people. I dont hear that message coming from the NAACP or our alphabet groups.

    Do you think married black men can do more to show marriage and fatherhood in a positive light?

    Obviously being a “walking testimony” is lovely but its unreasonable to assume its ENOUGH. Again, ALL black men need to demonstrate in their self care, self preservation, life decisions, and behavior that they value black women and girls equal to or more preferably greater than other women—not out of nationalism or hatred but out of preservation and utility. Punishments must be dealt frankly. Its time unilaterally condemn entertainers, organizations, and self proclaimed leaders who regularly engage disparaging, debasing, and abusing black women and girls. I swear by Almighty God that if it doesnt happen, no amount of government hand outs, mentoring programs, or diplomas will resolve the issue as it now is prevalent in the middle class. And truthfully, although I consider myself a progressive Muslim, they only two religious orders Ive ever seen reform and elevate distressed male populations are the Nation of Islam and the Jesuits. If black married men could form organizations similar to these or support the existing ones it would be more helpful than going it alone-strength in numbers approach.

    Soul Woman
    http://homeiswithinsoulwoman.blogspot.com/

    Reading resources:

    When Work Disappears : The World of the New Urban Poor by William J. Wilson

    Ensuring Inequality: The Structural Transformation of the African American Family by Donna L. Franklin

    African American Psychology: From Africa to America by Faye Z. Belgrave

    Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem bell hooks

    Visions for black men Na’iam Akbar

    The Warrior Method: A Parents’ Guide to Rearing Healthy Black Boys by Raymond A. Winbush

    The Good Son: Shaping the Moral Development of Our Boys and Young Men by Michael Gurian

    The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance, and Direction in Their Lives by Michael Gurian

    Message To The Blackman In America Elijah Muhammad
    A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men’s History and Masculinity, Vol. 1: “Manhood Rights”: The Construction of Black Male History and Manhood, 1750-1870 (Blacks in the Diaspora) (Volume 1) Darlene Clark Hine
    A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men’s History and Masculinity, Vol. 2: The 19th Century: From Emancipation to Jim Crow (Blacks in the Diaspora) (Volume 2) Darlene Clark Hine

    Families and Freedom: A Documentary History of African-American Kinship in the Civil War Era by Ira Berlin

    The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 by Herbert George Gutman

  6. Soul Woman

    My husband and I are thinking about becomming foster parents. I think for us other than blabbing away on the evening news, meeting, or blog it would be the best way to give back.

  7. Africandiasporan

    T. Rodgers hit many points on the head, and I will attempt to build off of that excellent post. I view fatherless homes in our community as a symptom of a wider disease. To me the root cause is the disconnect between men and women in our community and the departure from traditional (African) family values. The relationship between men and women is the social structural core on which every aspect of a community is built upon. If male-female relationships within a community are unhealthy, it will have a negative effect on all other aspects of society. Thus before a community can realistically improve its economic prospects, social standings, or political ambitions, it must first successfully establish the natural partnership between its men and women.

    One important realization that the African American Community must understand and ultimately confront is that this is not a “black” issue, but truly an African American one. In other black communities around the world, it is not the norm for the father to be absent from the home, nor is it acceptable for women to have children out of wedlock . This is especially true in Africa. As T. Rodgers stated singlemotherhood has become too acceptable in our community. In fact I will take this one step further and state that single motherhood has become the expectation, and this is where we as a community have gone wrong.

    Family and communal acceptance of pre-marital sex, having children outside of wedlock, birth control, and expectations of male-female behavior; plays a larger role in the increase of single parent families and child abandonment within the African American community than many are willing to acknowledge. The social attitudes we have towards family and the expectations we have for black men and women, directly affects our behavior within relationships. These social attitudes originate within the home. That we are having an extremely high number of children (according to some estimates as high as 75% of children born into the African American community) cut off not only from their fathers, but their entire paternal side of the family; suggests a communal acceptance of this type of behavior.

    The definition of insanity is to continue to behave the same way, and expect a different result. The tradition of how to raise a family has been defined throughout history: A husband a wife, and then children. This is the blueprint that was built for healthy and productive families. We turn away from this blueprint to our detriment, and any improvement will not occur until this is realized. For more on restoring the traditional African family in the black community, my article can be read here:

    http://africandiasporanrelationships.ning.com/forum/topics/restoring-the-traditional

  8. I_AM_A_MAN

    I think one thing missing in all of this is the assumption of adult males(and females) as being men(and women). Somehow we have bought into the notion that age and physical maturity is what defines manhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Manhood is defined by character. How well someone totes a ball or sings a song does not validate or even qualify males as being men. Man is a title that must be earned and is defined by ones character. We have removed the honor that is attached to the title of Man and Woman. Being a man is a heavy burden. However men that live up to the challenge demand respect not in words but by their actions and they are in command of all situations in their lives. It is an unspoken acknowledgment.

    Therefore before we can even broach fatherhood we must tackle the issues of manhood. As the article so eloquently illustrates economics should not and can not be a factor in determining a man’s ability to function as a man. Placing our definition of manhood on external things is a trick bag for failure. Manhood is not something we can wear and buy from the store. Manhood can not be bestowed from another. Manhood must be taught, developed and then past down to the next generation. Manhood calls for the interaction between younger males and older males. Young males should aspire to be men more than anything else. This is the crux of our problem. We have lost our manhood. This condition perpetuates itself. Also just as important as it is for young son’s to so men in action, it is equally important for young daughters to see men in action.

    When our daughter blossom into women and choose a mate how will they know what to look for in men if they have never seen men? When I say this I don’t mean males; I mean men. When a women can not recognize the qualities that a man possesses they will more than often choose males who have not matured to manhood. Though these males are fully functional adults doing adult things their maturity is stunted because they don’t know how to be men. We can how damaging the missing presence of the father to the home can be when we think about the situation and analyse it.

    A man can be a man without being a father but a father can’t be a father without being a man..

  9. Sha

    As a single mother at 16, I agree. I will say that I have provided all I can for my child and I’m greatful for all the wonderful men that has stepped up (My father, brothers , cousins, coaches, teachers) to help raise him. I do always wonder when will the fact that his father never stepped up surface and what issues will he face because of this choice I made at 16. I have refused to be labeled “Babies Momma” and more importantly refuse to have several Babies Daddies. Unless there is a husband this shop is closed. Lesson learned, book read !! I just shake my head when some women suggest they dont need a man to raise their children. What they fail to realized is that, that child deserves a father who is willing to be just that!!

  10. Simmonz

    Normally I can find my best counseling and advice within me and between GOD talks but I must admit I am having much of a problem dealing with my issues of fatherhood to my own son’s issues of fatherhood with both of us needing so much help going forward. You see the problem I believe I have is how to influence and affect my only son and child into taking the high road into acknowledging paternity, becoming a father period, being a better father to those children currently acknowledged , dealing with blended family and resolving his own issues with both his own father me and even his issues with his stepfather of 25 years. For 30 years I didn’t know there were any outstanding problems and/or concerns until the last five years where it was discovered by me that my son had fathered four other children beyond the two we all knew of. He and his mother withheld from me that even another daughter existed that was eight years old and after confronting them both three more children were found by me that he even hid from her and me both were discovered by tips from the mother of whom they all lead me to believe was the first child. I never married my son mother for my better judgement not to make three people’s life miserable and she and I both married other people when my son neared around the age of 10. I thought we all got along very well and assumed he had the best of two worlds of nurturing but I suspect now there have been some foundational problems with how he handled his value from me and possibly with his mother. I have proposed both group and individual professional counseling for him and us three very soon and earlier for him to get to the bottom of much drama to affect the very best for all these children’s sake to avoid misery in their innocent lives to all our drama for the future. My son even as now has not even seen two of the youngest of his children he has fathered who live in different states and has failed to pursue paternity confirmation and I even have seen them myself and further have initiated and maintained a four year relationship with the children and their respective mothers.

    Where do I go for programs that help grandfathers be their best and eventually help their sons become decent fathers? Am I only relegated to personal counselors and therapists? Are there self- help groups out there for grandparents who may be single themselves and/or atempting to be supportive without the assistance of the absentee fathers? I am aware my situation is very complex and distorted from the normal. Is there any literature written about concerns of grandparents in lieu of positive absentee fathers?

  11. Awdavis07

    Yes I agree with you as a single mother with a Bachelors Degree in Biology and Chemistry and about to enter medical school next year. I agree with your points however I don’t fully agree with blaming single mothers. While it is unfortunate that some women attempt to “trap” men by becoming pregnant intentionally, in my case and in the vast majority of cases, most women don’t plan on becoming single mothers. And majority of women know that there is No glory in being a “baby mama”and thats why we strive so hard to have the man step up and accept responsibility and marry us and be a present father but we can’t Make anyone do anything so when the vast majority of black men flee from the responsibility we have to do what is necessary to raise the child. We have the highest # for abortions in our community and it is truly sad because it really is a form of modern day genocide. A lot of them resort from the men fleeing the women and the young woman doesnt want the so called horror of being a single mother so to help save our unborn children from unnecessary abortions perhaps instead of casting such a ghastly light on being a “single mother”we should point ALL of our attention on training our young men how to be MEN first then how to be a father because there is no way a man can be a father without first being a man. I will be forever proud that I chose life for my daughter in spite of her father not rising to his full potential as a man and a father, after I informed him that I was pregnant. (yes I say after because before hand he did a great job pretending). Furthermore, the label and logistics that goes along with a “single mother” does not apply to me because I have risen above that

  12. Mary T

    .
    THIS is a perfect EXAMPLE of why it is *not*
    a moral wrong to STERILIZE BLACK MALES
    (while still others should be castrated) – and then
    then move on to also sterilize the black females.

    They are the ONLY group in history to contribute
    nearly NOTHING to society — other than violence,
    low brain-functioning offspring (who they, in their
    arrogance and ignorance, then force society to raise),
    leeching off of others, disease, sexual irresponsibility
    demands for preferential-treatment; constant-whining;
    and (as evidenced in case-after-case) double-standards.

    Even though there is the occasional, anomalous black
    who has honestly ‘bootstrapped their way to the success’
    — everyone know that 99% of all of the black people, in
    general and all over the world, should simply be sterilized

    If our society considers itself to be “moral” then we all know
    that sterilization (and often castration) of the black male is
    the most decent, most moral choice we can make for them.

    The procedure is cheap and painless AND it helps prevent
    the arrival of innocent offspring being brought into a world
    where those who sired them care nothing about them and
    where they are forced to live as mental and moral inferiors.

    As a society it is TRULY our MORAL DUTY to do this for them.

    Its a win-win for everyone involved and also for the entire planet.
    .

  13. Trueluvlives

    http://www.amazon.com/Wheres-Daddy-Alyson-Runnels/dp/1453866256/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315656411&sr=1-1

    Thank you. Men are so important in shaping the lives of both men and women. I hate to hear women/men say that a man in the home is not necessary.
    I wrote a book based on my thoughts about the effect of what women witness as children effects their decisions on how/whom they date. My point was to begin the process of healing and acknowledging what we might have had/missed from the father -daughter relationship.   Where’s Daddy – Alyson R. – check it out!  

    Strength is in numbers. If the household is not strong (together) you get the opportunity to live in:
    poor communities, higher crime, poor schooling in those districts, bad nutritional choices/health based on lack of funds to afford better quality food and the fast food ($1 menu is not nutrition) and people in the community who are not the people you want your kids to immulate.

  14. Pingback: #TBT Where are the dads? – Truth, No Chaser

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How Single Are You with a Whole Bunch of Kids?

BY: - 29 Sep '10 | Parenting

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Rapper Lil Wayne has a song out right now called “Single”. In it he brags about sleeping with a lot of women, not caring about any of them and dropping them at the first sign of trouble, pretty typical stuff.  The song irritates me and it’s not just the fact that his voice on the song is irritating or that the content is fairly degrading because those are both things that unfortunately I have come to expect. It’s the fact that he is making this song boasting about the single life when he has four children by four women, two of whom are less than a year old and one-month apart. If that seems like it’s a lot of math it’s because it is, and it all adds up to the fact that he should be singing “Single” with shame instead of pride. I should probably just chalk this up to the fact that it is Lil Wayne and I shouldn’t expect much, and I would, if I didn’t hear so many men, and occasionally women, singing this song in real life.

Years ago I briefly dated a guy who I assumed did not have any kids. I assumed this because we were both in our early 20s and he was one of those guys that prided himself on being single and the life of the party. Every night  he was at a  happy hour, followed by the club, followed by an after party. About six weeks into hanging out and talking on the phone I casually mentioned the fact that he had no kids because neither he nor his lifestyle led me to believe otherwise.  It was at that time that he let me know that not only did he have a child, he had three kids with three different women.

At that point I was pretty shocked. I was a single parent with one child at the time and while I did go out, I was never really living what I would call the “single life”. The “parent” part of being a single parent seemed to take up a whole lot more time than the “single” part did. As a married mother of two I feel like I can barely take a shower unless I schedule it ahead of time, so I can’t imagine how a parent of three children can have the time for so much partying. Yet as I get older and several friends and acquaintances become single parents, I notice that more and more people don’t seem to be putting the traditional single life aside. I believe that all parents are entitled to some part of their lives that is their own, but at what point do kids cancel out that single life for you, whether you are married or not?

If you have ever been a single parent,  were you able to live the single life with kids? Are single parents ever truly single?

Aja Dorsey Jackson is a freelance writer and public relations consultant in Baltimore, Maryland. Find out more about her at www.ajadorseyjackson.com or follow her on twitter @ajajackson.

About the author

Aja Dorsey Jackson wrote 206 articles on this blog.

Aja Dorsey Jackson is a freelance writer and marriage educator in Baltimore, Maryland and author of the blog and book, Making Love in the Microwave.

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