Faith in Our Fathers

Father’s Day is a day when Americans take time to honor and recognize their fathers and the contributions they have made. However, popular discourse suggests that recognition should be reserved for father-types such as Howard Cunningham on “Happy Days” or Heathcliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” because they represent “responsible fatherhood.” According to a number of social commentators, religious leaders, and politicians, a responsible father is one who is gainfully employed and lives in the same household with his children. This narrow notion of socially acceptable fatherhood subtly suggests that male parents who do not live with their children or who are unemployed or underemployed do not measure up. Further, the stigma often attached to non-traditional fatherhood is often extended to families. Non-resident fathers are deemed responsible for “broken families” that are often linked to troubling outcomes such leaving high school before graduation, violence, and teenage pregnancy. It should be noted that many of the social ills linked to non-resident fatherhood are prevalent in minority communities; therefore, the image of “absentee fathers” often has a brown hue.

The outline of the image of black and brown absentee fathers is often credited to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, noted scholar, diplomat, and politician, who published The Negro Family: The Case for National Action in 1965. In this book, Dr. Moynihan asserted that the expansion of welfare safety nets was linked to the rise of out-of-wedlock births and the disintegration of the African American family structure. The subtle message here was that a welfare check was a substitute for Black fathers. The commodification of Black male bodies is not new in a land built on the backs of slaves. It is also not new in a culture where the measure of a man is determined by his paystub, bonus, or bank account balance. However, limiting the significance of a father to his financial net worth denies other priceless dimensions of fatherhood that are not associated with income or wealth. Untold are the stories of countless fathers who care for young children while they are seeking work, or disabled. There are considerable numbers of black men who parent children without a direct biological relationship. These “nontraditional” fathers are rendered invisible in popular culture because Americans seemed to be much more interested in emphasizing the negative rather than accentuating the positive dimension of black fatherhood. The tragedy is that we miss opportunities to learn important lessons that could help more black men with children recognize that their value as parents extends beyond the contents of their wallets.

Raising the next generation is one of the most important responsibilities of a society; however, disputes over the constitution of family may have diverted our attention from 21st century threats to child health, development, and well-being. Technology has allowed individuals to be increasingly connected and isolated simultaneously. Virtual worlds can trap developing minds into echo chambers void of debate, critical thought, and civility. Young people need guidance to navigate an increasingly complex world and fathers can help children to make sense of the mounds of available and accessible information about themselves and the world around them. Social scientists suggest that emphasis on competition, convenience, and connectivity may be overwhelming youth today as it has been predicted that millennials and future generations will be likely to have lower levels of prosperity and poorer health prospects than baby-boomers and gen-Xers. Fathers can play a key role in reversing these trends; however their parental reservoirs have been damned by normative roles of silent sponsorship.

Fathers need support (just like mothers do) to learn how to be parents in order for them to provide and/or share developmentally appropriate experiences, and insight. Male parents can support, nurture, and counsel their children, regardless of their financial status or address. Motivated fathers can be great parental partners and have the capacity to carry the bulk of the parenting burden if necessary. Four out of every ten babies are born to unmarried parents so it is critically important encourage males who have children to grow as parents. We need less condemnation and more creativity, caring and compassion for males who have children. The future of our communities rests on our ability to help males who procreate become productive and positive parents who are available to invest in the lives of their children.

The Importance of Women’s History Month for Minority Males

Women’s History Month as a commemoration has only been recognized less than 30 years. Recognition of the importance of women in American history is long overdue. Women have been active in every significant episode in the evolution of the United States. The fight for civil rights during the later half of the 20th century would have had radically different outcomes without the contribution and leadership of women. Our mothers, sisters and daughters do not get the credit or consideration they deserve for enduring and overcoming assaults associated with sexism, racism, and poverty. Women have been and continue to be critical for the development of men. However, the shrinking number of adult males in communities brought about by school-to-prison pipelines and persistent high levels of violence associated with a drug-fueled underground economy have forced a significant segment of women to take on multiple roles in their homes and community. Women continue to hold it together but this comes at a cost. The focus on survival leaves little time and resources for the pursuit of upward mobility. As a result, families remain trapped in environments where discouragement, despair, and danger destroy hopes and dreams of better days.

A change will come when minority boys are groomed into men who cherish gifts of love they have been given by their mothers, aunts, sisters, girlfriends, friend-girls, and wives. It is a rare male who has not experienced the support and love of a woman. However, it is far to common for males to be unavailable to provide support and encouragement for those who sacrifice so much for us. We need to be present because the survival of our community and culture rests upon strong relationships between males and females. So as this women’s history month comes to a close, let us celebrate those who brought us in this world and continue to fight desperately for us to stay in it. We are our brothers AND sisters keeper and it is time for us to be full participants in the making of a new history where men, women, boys and girls are affirmed and allowed to pursue their personhood without undue, unfair, or unjust burden or barriers.

The Paradox and Challenge of Our Time

Every generation in the United States has moments when the state of race relations becomes painfully obvious to everyone. In the middle 20th century, it was Emmitt Till. In the late 20th century, it was Amadou Diallo. Last year it was Trayvon Martin. This year, it has been Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. The tragedies associated with the demise of Mr. Brown, Mr. Garner, and Master Rice are exacerbated by the fact that they were killed by individuals who took oaths to protect and serve the public. In two cases, grand juries made decisions that harkened back to the Jim Crow era when Caucasian males could kill their African American counterparts without worry of arrest much less prosecution or conviction. The hopes of a post-racial society that were ushered in with the election of the nation’s first African American president have been brutally dashed as the events over the past few weeks force us to inhale the vile stench of racial injustice and inequality that has been festering throughout the history of this country.

Prophetic visionaries throughout our existence as a nation have challenged citizens to clean and dress deep wounds caused by practices such as slavery or policies based on a “separate but equal” doctrine. Unfortunately, we have responded to these calls for action with benign neglect. As a result, our collective capacity for greatness has eroded because some of our best and brightest lights have been extinguished by social policies and practices that prosecute too much and provide too little care.

In times like these, it is tempting to give in to the cynicism, apathy and nihilism that appear to be ever-present. However, times of great challenge are also times of great opportunity. The events in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland have motivated individuals from all walks of life to protest, march, and chant, “Black lives Matter”. The sparks of activism and advocacy have flared up and only time will tell if these sparks will coalesce into a multicultural movement for justice. It is my hope that posts on this forum will contribute to this movement is some small way through ideas that illuminate, encourage, and challenge us to see the humanity in mankind with greater clarity and to seek solutions to our social ills with fervor.

It is important to understand that social transformation does not come without sacrifice. Some people will have to give up time. Others will have to sacrifice money. Still others will have to give up a way of life that may have existed for generations. This is the price of social change. African Americans who preceded us have paid the price for racial minorities and women to have the lives we have today. The torch has been passed to us and we have a great opportunity to challenge this country to live up to its creed and create space for all children regardless of social background and/or social standing to grow up to be whole, healthy, and productive citizens. The question is, are we willing to do the work?

Can You See Him?

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.” — Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

The powerful statement opening Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man summarizes the challenges of being an African American male in America. I was born sixteen years after this classic was first published and I continue to witness and experience the pain and confusion that comes with being feared and disdained in public places and insulted by insensitive comments and jokes in private ones. The backs of African American males, upon which much of the early American economy rested, have little value in the 21st century. As a result, the only areas with open access for Black men are the gridiron, the basketball court, the recording studio, and the correctional facility. African American males as a group is quite diverse and has contributed greatly to all areas of American life including education, science, the military, business, and politics. Yet, those who do not have a criminal record or aspirations to entertain through art or sport often experience palpable cognitive dissonance from others when we sit at leadership tables or receive recognition for professional excellence or acumen. The collections of thoughts and ideas here represent are part of an effort to change the context of interaction for African American males and even other disadvantaged groups of males.

The purpose of these brief entries is to discuss the full humanity of African American males. We have been and continue to be valuable members of our families, communities, and our society; yet we remain invisible. I say no more. We are husbands, fathers, we are sons, we are friends, we are leaders, and we are citizens. Like everyone else, we require direction when we are lost; forgiveness when we earnestly seek repentance; and celebrations when we achieve. We can be tremendous assets to humanity when our strengths are leveraged and our deficits are comprehensively and compassionately addressed. Lifting African American males lifts our society and it all begins when we see them for who they are and who they can be.