There are a number of staggering statistics we must face as minorities in American society today. But none is more disturbing to me, as an African-American woman, than the number of little Black children being raised in homes without their fathers. In a 2009 CNN report, the African-American out-of-wedlock birth rate was cited as hitting an all-time record high at 72%, while the out-of-wedlock birthrates for our Hispanic counterparts were a little lower at 51% and the Euro-American birthrate was even lower at 28% (article on CNN).
At a conference I recently attended focusing on innovative ways of working with African-American female clients, I was surprised to find that 83% of African-American homes were identified as fatherless (Therapeutic Empowerment, Uplift, and Progression for African-American Women and Families in an Urban Setting, Satira Streeter, PsyD, Virginia Consortium, Virginia Beach, VA, 11.04.11). I thought to myself, “This has got to end!” and the thought I had immediately following was, “How?”
There are many reasons why these numbers are what they are, but I have no interest in going into those at this time. I think we’ve spent a great deal of time, too much time, thinking about the “whys” and the “whos” of how things have gone wrong in our community. Now it’s time for us to start thinking about what kind of action we need to take to turn things around. I wish I could say I have the answers, but clearly I don’t. I’m not sure that any one person does. I am sure of this, if none of us does anything differently from what we are doing now, we are destined to become a minority amongst minorities as our prison system continues to fill with the brown faces of our little Black boys and girls and more and more of our children are lost to the streets, crimes and drugs.
The news isn’t all bad. I don’t want to paint a picture that leads one to believe that none of our families are getting it right and none of our children are going on to become successful, productive men and women positively contributing to society. That isn’t what I’m saying at all. We have many young people working very hard every day making the difficult choice to do what’s right even when it’s not always the easiest thing to do. We also have many parents, couples as well as single moms and dads, making huge sacrifices to raise their children well and educate them so they can go on to be better and go farther than they were able to. I applaud these individuals. I know it isn’t easy. Yet, even as I raise my hat to these individuals I say to all of us, “This is not enough! We have to do more.”
There is so much potential lost when a child grows up in a home without a father that we simply don’t consider. I can speak about this from a very unique perspective. While I grew up in a home with a very loving father, he was my step-father. I don’t know my biological father. Of course, there is a difference between having a strong, positive male role model in the home versus having none at all, but I think I can still attest to some of the fundamental truths that plague children who don’t have access to the “other half” of themselves. My “dad” is a very special man whom I will always love as my father. He holds a special place in my heart because he “chose” me as his daughter and as I matured into a young woman that took on a very special meaning to me. Although he was there to teach me how to ride my bicycle and how to roller skate and he was the one who helped me pick up the pieces after my very first heart break, there were questions I had about me that he could not answer. His inability to answer these questions was not for lack of desire on his part, but he simply couldn’t give me what he didn’t have. He didn’t know any of the answers to my questions.
When you are unable to connect with your father there is a part of your self-identity that is difficult to come to terms with. When we look at the statistics related to sexual promiscuity, high school dropout rates, teen substance abuse, adolescent incarceration rates, and teen suicide rates all of these numbers speak to a group of individuals having a hard time finding themselves. Adolescence is usually a challenging time anyway, but when you add issues of low self-worth and a confused self-identity from struggling with the thought that “if my own father doesn’t want me, who will?”, it makes for an even more complicated process. Many individuals who grow up in a fatherless home relate to feeling dispensable. I remember feeling dispensable, disposable, and worthless. These feelings are real and they shape how you view yourself, how you define yourself and how you allow others to treat you.
We owe it to our children to do better than this. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends, neighbors…we owe it to our children and we owe it to ourselves. We need to work together as a community to hold one another and ourselves accountable for making our relationships healthier; so they can have access to all of the resources they need within their communities to have the best chance possible at becoming a success. Very often we start them out at a deficit based on our own hang-ups, issues and needs and then expect them to somehow become the success we were never able to become. We develop this expectation while providing them with even less resources than we were given.
We have to make better provisions for our children than what’s been given to them so far. How do we do this, you ask? Get up and get the help you need. As an adult, you become responsible for your own healing. You need to stop using your children as pawns in your relationships and make wise decisions about those you are in relationships with. Work on your own thinking so you can grow through your hurts, failures and past mistakes. Stop abusing your body and your mind. Get in right relationship with God. End toxic relationships, but do so with integrity. Choose not to let others’ behaviors determine your behaviors. Put your children’s needs before your own. Help your children connect with their heritage if it’s in their best interest, even if it’s not in your best interest. The lack of these relationships says something to them about themselves that is a lie rooted in your low self-worth.
It is time for us to do something about the growing number of children being born out-of-wedlock and growing up in fatherless homes. When will you decide to do your part?