I wrote this piece when I was invited to participate in a symposium organized by Brother Rann from Urbanedmixtape.com. This might help other teachers who are dealing with students growing up in a single parent household. No matter what anyone says Black fathers still matter.
Oscar Brown sang a song called Dat Dere. It is a jazz song. It was inspired by a visit to a zoo with his son. The song reflects a son’s curiosity as he continuously asks his father question after question. He asks him about the concept of air and how to we get it, why should he keep his hair combed, and who has been sitting in his chair among many other things. The most thought provoking line in the song comes from the father’s perspective in the song. He sings, “You give a kid your best and you’ll hope he’ll pass the test when you finally send out into the world somewhere. But though he is grown, I’m betting, I never will forget, Daddy can I have that big elephant over there?”
My father first played Oscar Brown for me when I was about 21. He lent me his album and I flipped through it listening to each song but ‘Dat Dere’ has always touched in a unique way. I grew up as a Dat Dere child. My father encouraged me to always ask as many questions as I could. To this day, I am constantly asking questions. If I lack understanding of an idea being explained to me I will ask questions. The father in this song is explains to his child that he does not have all the answers but he will try to obtain them. I often felt the same way growing up as a child. What strikes me even deeper is that this father in this song has such a strong relationship with this son. He takes him to a zoo, he converses with him, he sings to him, he reflects on that day even as his son has entered into adulthood.
The problem of fatherless Black children in America is complicated. It is a problem that deals mostly with a race that for the most part of American history have been treated cruelly and as subhuman. It is not a problem that will be solved in one generation and it is not a problem that was created in one generation. It is a problem that is rooted deeply in the creation of the African American race. The forced migration of millions of Blacks from Africa to America and other scattered countries and islands is the main culprit for the lack of responsible fathers in the Black community. Black fathers cannot use this as an excuse; I only state this to be upfront with the catalyst of the epidemic that Black Americans face today.
The American slave family led a terrible life. Working from sun up to sun down, stripped of your religion, incarcerated for no crime committed, your identity changed, and your body physically abused daily. We all know of these ills of this peculiar institution but what is not touched on enough is the separation of families during these antebellum times. Blacks were sold and traded like cattle from one slave owner to the next. Fathers were sent to one plantation to the next not knowing where their families were or how to reunite with them. This is the true American tragedy. The separation of families is the unforgivable sin. Slave mothers were left to take care of a family with no father to protect, hunt, or guide them. Hundreds of years later the same situation can be seen in any Black neighborhood in America. Indeed the physical chains have been removed but the ghost of slavery lives on.
Slavery has been removed from American law books but the effects still can be seen. After Blacks were freed there was no work for them so they were forced into poverty. Generations later Blacks have still not conquered poverty. We look to people like Oprah and other affluent Blacks with admiration but for the average Black person in poverty this means little to them when there is nothing in his/her stomach.
Every problem in the Black community stems from the lack of fathers. Young men become drug dealers because of a lack of money at home because there was no father there to add an extra income to the household. Young girls become prostitutes because they never had a father to guide them. The youth join gangs in search of family because there is no father in the house completing the family circle. The list goes one. Every robbery, rape, suicide, drug use, drug deal, alcohol abuse, and domestic violence incident dealing with a Black person stems from some type of father problem.
To many Black fathers are in jail, prison, crack houses, hiding, ducking child support, or dead for a nation of Black people to ever flourish. To break this circle of fatherless households we must first break the foundation of this problem. Young men who are sexually active should take responsibility and wear a condom. The fact that Black boys and young Black men engage in this risky behavior only adds to the households where there are mothers taking care of children by themselves.
Secondly, the young men of the Black community must seek a sense of financial security before they have children. You do not plant a seed out of season because the growth will be hindered. This is exactly the same for a child. If you cannot afford to take care of yourself, you have no right to bring another person into the world. Yes, a baby needs love and love is free but a baby also needs diapers, formula, a crib, clothes, a stroller, checkups at the doctor’s office and those things are not free.
There is no harder job than being a father. The countless nights that your child will keep you up due to illness, teething, and a lack of a sense of day and night are overwhelming. The money that daycare, cars, and college tuition costs is enormous. Being a parent is a job that has no sick days, no breaks, no holidays, and no vacation. Being a parent is something that changes your life forever. There is no greater reward than the title father. No pay raise, winning lottery ticket, or sexual experience could be greater than fatherhood. The problem is too many young men want the title father without putting in the work that comes with the position.
Where have the Black fathers gone? The prison system in America is filled with Black fathers. No longer do we need to search from plantation to plantation for the patriarch, we now can just make a visit to a local county jail or federal lockup to see the Black fathers of America. Fathers who every June must meet their children in a prison gym for Father’s Day. Fathers who try to wish their daughters off to college behind a glass. Fathers who send envelopes with yellow paper in them and write to their sons telling them to stay strong. This is terrible. No man can be a father from a prison cell. No man can raise a child from a penitentiary.
There is no worse sin than not taking care of the children that you helped create. In order for a boy to become a man he must first see a man. Too many uncles, grandfathers, and male cousins are raising another man’s child. If a society is fatherless it is bound to fail. Black Americans are facing an identity crisis. They do not know who they are. They do not know what a genuine man should do or how he should act. They look to rappers, athletes, and drug lords for paternal guidance instead of their own fathers.
When fathers are absent the roles of a mother are doubled. No longer can the father teach the son how to shoot a basketball and shave. The mother must now do these. The idea of a Black father walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day is almost obsolete.
The numbers are staggering. Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school as children with fathers. Seventy two percent of children born in Black families are to mothers who are not married. Children who grow up without a father in the house are 4.3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes. About half of all Black families have an absent Black father. A child without a father is twenty times more likely to end up in prison.
The lack of fathers in our communities has crippled the Black race for too long. It is not the teacher’s job to be a child’s father. It is not the coach’s job or the camp counselors job either. We look too easily for other people to raise, guide, and provide for a child that is not theirs. Instead, we should charge the individuals that produced that child to take care of that child. There is no excuse not to take care of a child. If the mother is not cooperating, get the court system involved. If the father’s income is too low, he should get a second job. If he has little time to spend with his son because he always working he should ask for a shift change.
But where does it stop? When will Black men learn that sitting on a couch waiting for paternity results on the Maury show is not empowering to their race? Being a father does not make you a man. Only taking care of the responsibilities that fatherhood produces will make you a man. Any fool can lay with a woman for a night and not use protection and produce a baby nine months later but only a man can take of that child.
It makes me sick to my stomach to see all the parent teacher conferences, back to school nights, and gradations that fathers do not attend. I constantly watch Black boys never leave childhood even as they approach their twenties and thirties. I watch as Black boys do little in high school and flunk out or barely graduate only to find themselves at a dead end job making minimum age. Soon they take to a life of crime and end up spending a decade in prison. Because they never learned from their father what it is to be an adult they chose to act out criminal activities so that they could end up and prison and live out a second childhood. Prison is a second childhood for Black youth. When you are young, a parent tells you when to go to sleep, when to wake, what to wear, and when you can leave. In prison, a guard tells you when to go to sleep, when to wake, what to wear, and when you can leave. In prison the fatherless youth and young men look to older Black inmates as father figures. These so called father figures engage in sexual activities with these young men as they look toward them for a twisted affection since they never felt pure and innocent affection from the men that created them. These young men chase prison so that they may escape the responsibility of being a father. In their eyes it is much easier to rob and kill someone three months before their son is born and get released twenty years later after their son is already a man himself. The Black father must take back his role as the provider of his family.
For the millions of fatherless children in America my heart aches for them. I truly do feel sorrow for them and their mother’s but the fact remains that this idea that a father absent is no big deal must cease. If a man is not married to the woman he is having sex with he should be using a condom. Too many Black children are born out of wedlock. Black fathers must step up to the plate. No one will save your race except your race. The government only gives out food stamps and other assistance so that Blacks will not revolt so much and lot and rob more affluent communities. The only people who save Black Americans is Black Americans. Stop looking for a hand out or a hand up. Instead, invest in yourself. Stop believing these athletes and rappers who glamorize having four baby mothers and six children and never being married to any o the women who bore their children. Stop believing these Black sitcoms that tell you that all you can be is a clown, a deadbeat father, and a buffoon. As you think about Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Barrack Obama, and what they did and are doing for their community and country remember that before they were political leaders they were fathers.
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