Fathers’ Day 2008 – another day to celebrate fatherhood and its inherent joys and tribulations. We all know wonderful fathers: It could be our own as we recognize the sacrifices he made to enhance our life. It could be our neighbors’ father – whom we saw taking them to batting practice after just completing the graveyard shift at the local factory. It could be your own child’s father, whose love and involvement mirror yours. Stories of great men who make great fathers are out there: My buddy Paul makes fatherhood look easy as he chauffeurs his three teen-aged daughters everywhere and attends their every recital. Ex-brother-in-law Durwood gave little Mercedes a well-rounded childhood of (amongst other things) bike rides, fishing trips and cooking lessons! My cuz, Dre, even while now a long-distance pater, spends countless AT&T minutes counseling, resolving, doing homework and mediating amongst his three teenagers; before they were long distance, he cooked, cleaned, ironed and braided hair with the best of us women. These are some of the men who keep our society together.
I’m saying all this to say, where are the others? Where are the other stand-up brothers who make a difference in their children’s lives? Why is it that I’m only able to pull three from my personal frame of reference?
This is truly not an attempt at bashing; I’m just at a lost to understand what’s happening to our men and what will happen to our children. I’m talking about the brother who pays child support, but doesn’t spend time. I’m talking about the brother who promises to take Junior to the movies but never shows up. I’m talking about the brother who, a father at 16 or 17 is himself still learning to be a man. I’m talking about the brother who fought tooth and nail for custody, but now drops the kids off at grandma’s while he parties. I’m talking about the brother who uses baby-mama drama as an excuse not to do right by the child.
Recently, I was hurt and insulted by a comment posed during an on-line forum. The conversation started out about the exploding prison population, but quickly became an indictment of our people: Here is a direct quote from one participant:
“IMO- One of the major contributors to this is the breakdown of the family structure. Although we seem to have a very casual attitude about sex and marriage in this country, the impact of children out of wedlock has direct correlation to crime, drugs, and behavioral problems. I think that is why the stats are so much higher for African-American families. They are statistically much higher regarding out-of-wedlock births.”
I tried. I tried really, really hard to find a defense – I scored the internet for statistics, I polled sociologists, and I fretted and roiled in my mind as I realized the truth. Yes, the prison population is a reflection our prejudiced justice system. But the excoriating reality is that single-parent households are now, and have been for decades, the norm in our families. And, yes, many children born of this environment, for a number of reasons – education, poverty, lack of positive role models – do end up in prison. Especially our male children – thereby perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy: they too become absentee fathers.
And I’m not saying a brother has to marry his children’s mother(s!!!), but brothers, please, I appeal to you:
Now is the time to matter. Now is the time to (father-) figure in your children’s lives. Our children need you; our young black men need you. Be a father who makes your child proud – show up, keep your promises, pay child support in some form, respect the mother, and show the world that black men value themselves and their progeny. Black men do not just cavalierly sire. Show the world that black men acknowledge and appreciate the heavy burden of fatherhood and bear it with pride.
To those who do I say, thank you and congratulations. To those who don’t, I say, now is the time. Happy Fathers’ Day.