Monday, November 9

Sober, Responsible Men and Fathers Please Apply

Sober, Responsible Men and Fathers Please Apply 
by  David Miller
Historically, the role of Black men and fathers has been minimized by mainstream media and marginalized by society. Media assaults on the images of Black fathers have been well documented over the last 25 years. While several television examples of responsible manhood and Black fatherhood can be cited, including Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, Roc, The Bernie Mac Show and Everybody Loves Chris, the vast majority of images depicting Black fathers are devoid of any social or political responsibility as well as allegiance to our families.

Television shows like The Game, produced by actor Kelsey Grammer who starred in Frasier, continue a long legacy of portraying Black men as irresponsible and incapable of maintaining healthy relationships. The fallacy of shows like The Game is they fail to provide balanced perspectives of Black family life and culture. While The Game is merely entertainment to most, it continues to perpetuate destructive images about Black life and culture. Several parallels can be made to Zip Coon, a caricature that emanated from the Antebellum South. Zip Coon, an exaggerated figure, was created to depict Black men as lazy, easily frightened, chronically idle, inarticulate and unable to reason or comprehend.

The Game, which was thankfully canned by the CW Network, was subsequently picked up by BET as a result of millions of fans displaying outrage over its cancellation. Sadly, The Game debuted on Jan. 11, 2011, with more than seven million viewers glued to the tube. It saddens me that so many people – undoubtedly most of them African-American – got so outraged over the cancellation of a stereotypical television show when, by contrast, I bet if you go to any PTA meeting at virtually any school in this country you’d be hard pressed to find many African-American parents in attendance.

While the media plays a large role in shaping public discourse, our daily actions as men and fathers must be questioned. Indeed, we cannot be absolved of our culpability in some of the problems we face. According to a report disseminated by the National Fatherhood Initiative, the federal government spends about $100 billion annually on programs, policies and services related to absent fathers. The report, “$100 Billion Dollar Man,” is a glaring indictment of father absence and the toll it has on the larger family.

A growing segment of the population has become accustomed to not recognizing Black men and fathers as husbands, caregivers, and sober, responsible and spiritually guided men who are courageous pillars of their communities.

At some point, reclaiming the essence of responsible fatherhood in our community must become an agenda item. In fact, I argue some point is now! If the current trends continue, the alarming rates of violence and high-school dropouts among Black men will continue to plague low-income communities. It doesn’t take rocket science or an advanced degree from Harvard, Yale or Princeton to see the effects of absent fathers on the emotional, physical and spiritual essence of Black boys. 


These challenges have been well documented by endless reports, documentaries and talk shows. However, the long-term effects of 24 million children who go to bed every night without a hug or kiss from dad can account for a great deal of the drama and trauma impacting the hood daily. Legendary rappers like Tupac, Biggie, Eminem and Jay-Z have all echoed the unresolved pain that comes from being part of the “absent daddy club.” There’s no doubt that growing up without a father leaves an indelible impression on young boys. Jay-Z’s epic, “Song Cry,” is an emotional trilogy about the struggles young males endure when they grow up with an absent father.

This phenomenon must change if our communities are serious about raising healthy boys who will grow up to become responsible and productive members of society. With an alarming 72% of Black babies born to single, unwed mothers, the plight of our community has for many years rested on the shoulders of mothers, grandmothers and social service agencies.

We sincerely believe that fatherlessness in America has become the most pervasive social issue confronting society. Any examination of life in urban America reveals that fatherlessness was a problem 25 years ago and has surpassed “epidemic proportions.” The issue of fatherlessness, while it impacts all families regardless of race, class and religion, is devastating within Black communities.

Fatherlessness along with economic depression, social isolation and the prison industrial complex has created a “love deficit” within our community. Want evidence? Ride throughout the vast majority of urban communities in the U.S. and you’ll see the by-product of fragmented families: Blocks of vacant buildings, gang graffiti, young men standing on street corners doing nothing or selling drugs and evening news segments highlighting violence resembling the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other occupied regions of the world. Double-digit unemployment, astronomical recidivism rates, diminishing life expectancy and rates of HIV/AIDS are crippling a large segment of Black men.

It is my hope that we get serious about repairing, reclaiming and resurrecting Black families. It is highly unlikely that urban communities will see any prolonged community changes unless they make families a key component of a renewed vision. The vision to produce healthy families is an individual as well as a community responsibility. A community focused vision, measured by healthy families within communities, can produce safe schools and highly productive children and youth.

Changing the conversation about Black boys, Black men and especially Black fathers can improve our communities’ perceptions. This conversation usually focuses on the deadbeat dad and the “body count,” or the daily news (print and TV) depiction of the number of young Black males killed each day, each week and each month. Seldom do we see stories about the growing numbers of single dads who are raising children, but according to the U.S. Census bureau there are 13.7 million single parents in the United States who are raising 21.8 million children. A growing percentage of these single dads are Black males who are committed to responsible parenting.

Forging ahead we must look at fathers as serious men who are understanding, compassionate, nurturing and who have an overarching responsibility to family and community. It is time we create a new standard of accountability for fathers, one that clearly delineates minimum standards for male behavior and acceptable values and mores for fathers. Through a new standard of accountability, we can create definitions for manhood, masculinity and responsible fatherhood.

Finally, our challenge will be to create a world where 100% of our sons have an active relationship with their father or a father figure. The new frontier for Black fathers will require bold strides to ensure that every child receives 8,760 hours of love from his or her father. This is equal to support, love and guidance from their father 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


About the Author
David Miller
is the co-founder of the Urban Leadership Institute a social enterprise based in Baltimore, MD. Miller is also the co-founder of the Raising Him Alone Campaign (www.raisinghimalone.com) an effort to support single mothers raising male children. Young Fathers- Changing Fatherhood (Video Diary). Changing Fatherhood (www.changingfatherhood.com)  is part of the Raising Him Alone's Campaign effort to reconnect fathers.