Moderated by Rick Badie
The myth of the absentee black father may be just that. So says new data by the National Center for Health Statistics. Turns out, black dads who live with their children are just as involved as other fathers who live with their kids. Or even more so. I tackle the topic in a column, while a conservative offers a counterview. Meanwhile, a professor who has researched black fatherhood admonishes society to stop trying to identify “bad dads” and work to uplift them all.
Note: There are three columns today.
Commenting is open.
By Rick Badie
On Father’s Day 2008, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech before a church congregation in which he criticized black fathers for being uninvolved, or completely missing, from their children’s lives. “Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” he said at the time. “And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
We routinely castigate black men, often viewed monolithically, for breach of responsibility as it relates to child rearing. The overwhelming message in society, whether based on facts or casual observations, seems unwavering: Black fathers, far too often, don’t care about their offspring.
Such a narrative provides fodder for demonization and denigration. Left unchecked, it paints a distorted stereotype, a grossly incomplete picture, as has been noted in numerous studies, the most recent by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. By most measures, black fathers are at least as involved with their kids as other men in similar living situations. The results are worthy of applause and attention, given the recurring image of black men, notably dads, as deadbeats.
The center’s findings: 70 percent of black fathers who live with young children said they bathed, diapered or dressed those tykes every day. By comparison, 60 percent of white fathers and 45 percent of Latino fathers did likewise. Almost 35 percent of black fathers who lived with their offspring read to them, compared with 30 percent of white dads and 22 percent of Latino dads. And, perhaps most tellingly, black fathers who weren’t married to the mothers of their children were at least as involved as other dads living outside the home.
Here, though, the accolades must stop. Too often, living situations are far less than ideal. While society can applaud a survey that defies deeply-rooted stereotypes, introspection is demanded, too. Sure, black unwed mothers can provide a nurturing environment, but wouldn’t it be more complete if black fathers married mothers of their children?
And when it comes to fatherhood, that’s where black fathers tend to cease looking like everybody else. I’ve read that men in black urban communities are the least likely to marry of any population in the nation. That shouldn’t be a community standard or cultural phenom for any ethnicity. One of today’s guest writers explains what it has led to for America.
An intact family lays groundwork for ample benefits, intangibles perhaps hard to quantify in a survey. They transcend race. Nuclear families and two-parent households serve a purpose. Parenting, be it good or bad, practiced by black, white or brown couples, helps lay a society’s foundation. Collectively, as individual parents and as a community, we should do better.
First, though, let’s take pause. Black fatherhood, generally, is neither myth nor oxymoron. It’s hard work. I know. I have kids .
On Sunday, our Editorial page will address a related topic: President Barack Obama’s new “My Brother’s Keeper” campaign for young black men. We’ll offer diverse views and hope you join the conversation.
By Jerome Hudson
A report by the National Center for Health Statistics says that, among American fathers living apart from and with their children, black dads are “at least as involved as other dads not living with their kids, or more so, according to most measures.”
This is greatnews.
While it is encouraging to see black fathers involved in their children’s lives, the fact that some 70 percent of unwed black women have children remains a root cause of many social maladies that prevent progress.
Many blacks know this. Our community cultivates a false message that largely ignores the problem of illegitimacy, but wrongly accuses racism and other systemic forces for black stagnation. Stifling black advancement in the 21st century is a responsibility problem, not racism run amuck.
Racism alone does not explain why a disproportionate number of black children grow up fatherless. Racism does not explain the decline of black mother-father households in the last 50 years and how that coincides with the rise in crime and delinquency among black youths.
Somewhere along the way, we started to downplay marriage and the importance of a family headed by a husband and father. As a result, we found ourselves passing policies to help prevent poverty. We watched neighborhoods fill with fatherless youths who gravitated to a gang life instead of graduation.
Of course, the movies and music celebrated it all.
Pop culture and the explosion of illegitimacy perpetuated self-defeating behavior: delinquency, dropouts and drug abuse. America’s major inner cities were transformed into impoverished islands of lawlessness.
Social problems related to fatherlessness have been staring us in the face for years, as has one solution: more men need to take responsibility and marry the mothers of their children. Marriage is no cure-all,but a marginal shift towards two-parent homes may have a huge impact.
At last year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said: “[We can] do more to encourage fatherhood, because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child. It’s having the courage to raise one. And we want to encourage that.”
Obama could tap music moguls like Ludacris, Jay-Z, and Eminem to spearhead a National Hip-Hop Fatherhood Initiative. He and the First Lady could sit down for an interview with TV-One host Roland Martin, who has helped raise six of his nieces. Possibilities are endless.
“In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father,” said Obama in his 2009 State of the Union address.
And there’s no limit to the positive impact that America’s father-in-chief and First Lady can make to help restore the American family.
So, let’s move.
Jerome Hudson, a Savannah native, is a member of the Project 21 conservative black leadership network.
By Roberta L. Coles
A new study on father involvement has given a long-needed facelift to the image of black fatherhood in America. Released by the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, it indicates that black men – while having more non-co-residential children than white or Hispanic men – were more involved with their children on nearly every measure than were white or Hispanic fathers, whether they lived with their children or not.
This apparently came as a surprise to many people. I conducted a small qualitative study of black single custodial fathers during the early 2000s and wrote “Best Kept Secret: Black Single Fathers.” I interviewed 20 men who were parents full-time to at least one of their biological children. Additionally, some parented children who were not theirs biologically. They had come into single parenthood following non-marital births, divorce, widowhood, or adoption. All had come into custody by choice, as even the fathers who had been widowed or divorced had had alternatives offered to them. Each made a conscious decision. Some had had to fight for the right to take custody of their children. These were dedicated dads.
I followed that book up with an edited volume with Charles Green: “The Myth of the Missing Black Father: The Persistence of Black Fatherhood in America.” Our point was to show the stereotype of the “absent black father,” one that seemed to fit with so many other stereotypes society held of blacks, was based on the faulty assumption that non-co-residence means non-involvement. Black fatherhood is a varied experience, one that has persisteddespite great odds. Nevertheless, I don’t discount the experiences of many black children and adults who whose fathers were not present in their lives. Many are pained by this absence. Many of the single fathers I interviewed were among those wounded and were motivated to parent full-time because they “wanted to be the kind of father they did not have” or to “break the cycle” of a neglectful father.
My concern now is that in society’s need to find fault, this recent data on black fatherhood could lead observers to demonize Hispanic fathers. Their involvement measures consistently lowest in studies. U.S. Hispanic fathers are often men who migrate from one state to another, or from one country to another to work. Thus they are separated from their children. The takeaway: Instead of trying to identify the “bad dad,” we should support all parents in their quest to provide financially, emotionally and socially for their children.
Roberta L. Coles is a sociology professor at Marquette University.