From the Producer of “Daddy’s Here: When Being Present Is The Only Option”
I personally don’t know any man who has children and is not in their lives, whether he lives with them or not. On the other hand, I have friends whose fathers weren’t in their lives and it has had a significant negative impact on them. Some still feel the hurt, the pain, the hole in their lives. Many use it as the reason for them to be determined and to know that there is no way they won’t be in their own children’s lives.
I have 7 nephews. All but one is a father and they are all involved in their children’s lives. Only two are married, one to the mother of his two children and one to the mother of his last child. However, he is and has always been actively involved in his other children’s lives, all 5 of them, by three other women. In fact, when he married the mother of his last child, all of his other children were in the wedding and their mothers were guests at the wedding. What is ironic, however, is that only 2 of the 7 nephews had their own fathers in their life. Perhaps it was the absence of fathers in the previous generation that has had such an impact on this one.
Why aren’t those fathers who are absent in their children’s lives? Granted, there are some that are referred to as ‘dead beat’ dads and those, who for no foreseen reason, just don’t show up. Believe it or not, those are the rare ones, contrary to what is perpetrated in the media. Some blame the biological mother for not allowing the father to be in his child/children’s life, either due to anger, non-payment of child support or because he might be in a new relationship. Those are just excuses. When the effort is put forth and the support systems are in place, there is no reason for a man not to be connected to his child/children, unless he is in jail. And even then, there are a number of fathers who are still managing to raise their children from behind bars. The fact of the matter is, that although 2 out of 3 black children live in father absent homes, which is another issue that needs to be addressed at another time, most of those fathers are involved in their children’s lives. And even more would be if the support systems were in place in our community that would allow for those fathers who want to be in their children’s lives, but are having difficulty, to be able to do so.
One of the key points discovered in conversations with those fathers who didn’t have their own father in their life was that they had to forgive them. The forgiveness was really for their own benefit because it allowed them to be fully present in their own children’s lives.
It has been difficult getting support for the “Daddy’s Here: When Being Present Is The Only Option” documentary and national community outreach campaign. I believe that it is because it is more profitable to continue to perpetrate the myth that black dads are absent. The media has historically portrayed black men as being lazy, dangerous and uncaring. We in the black community know that this is not true. Sure there are some, but every race has bad apples. For the most part, our fathers are loving, caring providers. Not to make excuses, but due to high rates of unemployment, many low income fathers are lured into the drug culture and other illegal activities so that they can provide for their families. Of course, they find themselves actually causing the opposite to happen because they end up dead or in jail and not able to be present for their children and families.
We as a community, extended families, churches and other faith-based institutions, fraternities and sororities have to take responsibility to assist our young fathers and mothers in the raising of their children. If they aren’t able to stay together as a unit, we need to put systems into place that will allow for them to co-parent their children. A recent study shows the critical role that the mother of the young father plays in keeping her son connected and involved with her grandchild. There are plenty of grandmother and grandfather figures in the black community who can also encourage those relationships and connections. That’s in addition to any programs that can be established to help facilitate those connections. Programs like the Fatherhood Project at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore. In addition to their excellent Responsible Fatherhood program, they have a program called Couples Advancing Together that works with young parents to stay together as a family unit, and even if they don’t, they understand the importance of co-parenting that child.
It is critical for the survival of our community, our race, our nation that we understand the role that fathers play in their children’s life and success, academically, financially, emotionally and socially. And it is just as important for us to create a safe space for those fathers who have been absent, 5, 10, 20, 30 or more years, to come together for their children, young and old, who are still hurting, who still have a hole in their hearts that can only be filled with knowing that they have a father that cares. Whether they are 4 or 40, all children need their fathers, and we as a community need to make a way for that to happen. For me, that is the number one challenge for the African American community in the 21st century.