Sunday, June 11, 2006
From The Chicago Sun-Times…
Absence of black fathers deserves real conversation
BY MARY MITCHELL, SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
About two weeks before my father died, a paperback edition of Becoming Dad, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts Jr., landed on my desk. When I finished reading it, I gave it to my eldest son. Although I was blessed to have a loving father, so much so that I’ve often described myself as “a daddy’s girl,” my son never developed a relationship with his biological father.
My son is good at hiding the scars his father’s absence caused, but every now and then they erupt like a painful boil. I passed along Pitts’ book, which reveals his own troubled relationship with his father, as a way of giving my son hope that one day his wounds will heal.
While the subject of fatherless homes has been discussed constantly in the media, those conversations were driven by alarming statistics about drugs, black incarceration and illiteracy. Pitts’ book puts those statistics into context by showing the real-life consequences of a black male growing up without a father.
“We can talk about race and crime and the cheap, addictive drug that hit African-American neighborhoods like a bomb in the 1980s. We can talk about education and unemployment and the selective persecution of the justice system …” Pitts wrote.
“Yet even granting each of these concerns its individual space, who can deny that the most immediate threat facing black children is the simple fact that black fathers are not at home?”
An angry buzz
The simple truth is that while there are many black fathers doing the right thing, there are still far too many who are not. But unraveling the reasons why this condition is so pronounced among black families is difficult. Obviously, the first step on this long journey has to be a conversation among black men and women.
But that is also proving to be difficult.
Recently Les Brown, a well-known motivational speaker who hosts a radio show on Clear Channel’s V-103 on Sunday mornings, delivered a scathing commentary about “sperm donors” -- men who father children and do absolutely nothing to provide for or nurture them.
“Sperm donors allow their children to run around hungry and tattered,” Brown said. “Don’t be fooled, there are some sperm donors that are dressed up and carry briefcases.”
Instead of hearing “right on,” Brown was swamped with criticism.
Also, an angry buzz over a paid event -- promoted as a celebration honoring “real fathers and mothers who serve as fathers” -- is being sponsored by V-103 on Father’s Day, the same date and at the same time as Black Chicago’s annual “Real Men Cook.”
The controversy threatens to drown out meaningful dialogue on this topic.
“What I am offended by most is that they would use Father’s Day to really talk about mothers,” said Yvette Moyo, co-founder of “Real Men Cook.”
“We have been working -- me personally for 18 years -- to have Father’s Day be the one day that we try to tell the truth in our community. All black men don’t fit the stereotype. This day is about real men, not about men who are falling short of their obligations. What I really resent is that Clear Channel has intruded into the space that we consider sacred and used it for something else.”
‘Fathers are becoming obsolete’
While there may be a legitimate reason to resent Clear Channel’s audacity, black men who have been scarred by so-called “sperm donors,” are desperate for healing. Brown warns that this crisis is too important for black people to get distracted by the small stuff.
“The issue isn’t whether mothers can be fathers. The issue is how -- as black men -- we are not doing our part to raise our children. There are a lot of brothers stepping up to the plate, but that’s not happening in a majority of black families. That is what we should be focusing on,” he said.
Like it or not, when the census reports nearly half of all black families are headed by a single mother, we must acknowledge that “fathers are becoming obsolete. A luxury appointment,” as Pitts puts it.
In interviews, Pitts discovered black men who were eager to discuss fears about becoming fathers. After all, how does a man become a daddy when he has no positive examples? And how does he bury the ghost of a bad father and pick up the mantle of a good one?
Father’s Day is a week away, so there’s still time to make a plan.
“Real Men Cook” will be held at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South Shore Drive. Call (773) 947-0700 for ticket information. Or contact Ticketmaster about V-103’s Father’s Day event.
Also, at only $16 in paperback, Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood would make a great Father’s Day gift.