As yet another Father’s Day approaches, African-American fathers find themselves mired in a familiar precarious position. Unfortunately for African-American fathers, they have become the primary recipient of voluminous criticism that indicts and convicts them as the primary catalyst behind what has historically been a marginalized and dysfunctional black community. According to critics and opponents, African-American men are the primary reason that the entire community lags behind all other racial/ethnic groups in every political, economic, educational, and health measurable.
If nothing else, the political and socioeconomic marginality mentioned above should be sufficient to prod African-Americans toward plenty of introspective moments regarding the present state of Black America. Put simply, if African-Americans plan on moving forward, it is past time that they turn their attention toward evaluating, addressing, and correcting the normalized cultural dysfunction that plays a significant role in both the destruction of black homes and the fortification of a disassembled community that houses shattered dreams and abandoned aspirations.
Such matters invariably lead to an investigation of “What is the present state of African-American fatherhood?”
The answer to the above question is incredibly convoluted and complex because there is quite simply no “typical” experience that covers a host of African-American fathers and their various situations. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens perfectly characterizes African-American fathers experiences with his classic line of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Dickens’ timeless statement reflects a common, yet harsh reality of black fatherhood; that being, it is common for African-American fathers to be simultaneously loved, adored, and respected by some, while also being hated, vilified, and loathed by others. Make no mistake about it, African-American fatherhood is filled with fleeting moments of unadulterated joy that are far too often muted by lengthier periods of woeful suffering, frustration, loneliness, and depression. Put simply, if it is difficult to be black in America, it is exponentially more difficult to be an African-American father watching his loved one’s languishing in the land of plenty.
The cruel unending conundrum facing economically marginalized African-American fathers seeking to fulfill the demands of a patriarchal society is most certainly the path to misery and desperation. Far too often, the worth of black fathers is measured by their inability to fulfill the primary role of financial provider for the family unit. Oversimplified fatherhood constructs that malign poor and working-class fathers pave an alluring path for critics to denigrate, if not totally dismiss black fathers from homes, families, and communities. Invariably, such flawed thinking places much, if not all, of the responsibility for the failure of black homes on the weary shoulders of African-American fathers.
Unfortunately for black fathers, the alluded to misery and suffering is repeatedly used to measure their utility to all around them. For those using such evaluation criterion, the following data bolsters their comprehensive disapproval of African-American fathers.
At the close of the 19th Century, 80% of African-American households were headed by two parents. Over the next century, this number dwindled to a paltry rate of 40%.
58% of black children (nearly 5 million) are living in homes without their biological father.
72% of black children are born to single mothers.
This rate is particularly disturbing considering it has tripled since the 1965 “Moynihan Report” indicated a 24% rate of black children being born to single mothers.
Only 45% of African-American households are composed of a married couple; an extremely small percentage when measured against an 80% rate for Whites, and 70% rate for Hispanics.
Once again, any reasonable evaluation of African-American fatherhood resembles Dickens’ timeless line of “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Make no mistake about it, the struggles of African-American fathers are not only inextricably linked to the black community, but also mirror a black population that hurls voluminous criticism toward black fathers.
In actuality, the most valid evaluation of African-American fathers does not revolve around their entanglement with societal ills — unemployment, incarceration, and divorce — that are endemic to America. A more reasonable evaluation of African-American fathers is found in their subduing the omnipresent emotional hurdles and financial constraints that shadow them. Unfortunately for the vast majority of African-American fathers, the deck is heavily stacked against them as they battle to remain in their children’s lives; efforts that are frequently met with indifference, if not hostility, by the women that they sired children with.
Hence, it is not a stretch to term the present state of African-American fatherhood to be “the best of times and the worst of times.” The societal forces and factors that have marginalized African-American communities throughout this nation have proven no less injurious toward African-American fathers. Unfortunately for African-American fathers, such matters are ignored when their worth is measured. Ultimately, such unrefined thinking marginalizes African-American fathers via blanket statements that propagate the fallacious belief that they are of no utility to either black women or children.
Fortunately, such flawed thinking is far from true as a host of African-American fathers, albeit maligned by the alluded to caricatures of irresponsibility and dysfunction, remain the fathers that their daughters adore and their sons look up to as heroes. I think that we all agree that such situations are truly “the best of times.”