Where are all the Black fathers and why are so many Black kids growing up without a father figure in the home? Those are the questions that inevitably come up whenever the conversation turns to Black men.
They are reasonable questions when you consider about 1.7 million Black children in America are growing up in a household where the father is absent. And study after study shows their absence is the root cause of myriad problems, including crime, obesity, and school drop-out rates.
These are serious issues that complicate the lives of Black youth that I talked to Dr. David Lee Asbery about last week on my podcast.
Asbery is the founder of Fixing Fathers, Inc., a Hamden-based start-up company on a mission to fix fathers — one dad at a time.
He said the absence of Black fathers is vexing.
“That means, that this kid is on his own,” Asbery said. “That this kid is just dealing with mom. And to me, this is problematic. If you are a son dealing with just mom and you don’t have that father image … some type of male-role image … if that piece is totally missing, then I really do believe a good deal of our children are going to have problems.”
But the notion that Black fathers are totally absent from their children’s lives is a myth — one that has been perpetuated by political rhetoric and media coverage that for decades has centered around Black fathers who are behind bars.
But there is another Black father out there who is totally overlooked.
The truth is while the nation focuses on the absent Black father, it fails to notice the majority of Black fathers do indeed live with their children — even when marriage is not in the picture.
In fact, what may be a surprise to many readers is that studies show those 2.5 million Black men not only excel as fathers but can outshine their counterparts when it comes to caring for their kids.
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black “fathers were the most involved with children whether or no matter if they lived with them or not. A greater percentage of black fathers, when compared with white and Hispanic fathers, fed or ate meals with children daily, bathed, diapered or dressed children daily, played with children daily, and read to children daily. The study also proved that overall, American dads are more involved with childcare than in years past.”
But while Asbery has his eye on bringing absent dads back into the fold, it was a stressful divorce and what he felt was a total disregard in the court system for fathers that led him to start his company.
He said he became angry and depressed during his divorce proceedings because while there was a plethora of resources available to mothers, there were scant resources for fathers fighting to remain an important part of their children’s lives.
And he decided to do something about it.
“I went back to school to get my doctorate and did my dissertation on how African American fathers maintain their role as fathers while dealing with stereotypes and ambiguities associated with fatherhood,” Asbery said. “I interviewed 12 men, just talking to them about what they were going through; the issues that they are going through as fathers. So that was sort of the birth of Fixing Fathers.”
And he found that men were concerned not only with custody issues and child support but more importantly, that they were not treated with the same deference as mothers.
“There are plenty of dads out there who are involved and want to be involved,” Asbery said. “All fathers face it but I full-focus predominantly on Black men because I get it. I am a Black man and I’ve been through it. I know how it feels to be in a room and having to prove yourself first. I think when white men come into a room, it is automatically assumed they are a good father … but Black men, we have to sort of put our resume out there…”
But his message that Black fathers must strengthen their bond with their children and become the force they were intended to be is resonating with a lot of men.
Asbery said more men — some recently divorced and others just out of prison — are reaching out to him for help because they are determined to be better fathers.
“… Our goal at Fixing Fathers Inc. is to teach all fathers that regardless of their marital status, their presence and their involvement in their child’s life is desperately needed,” Asbery states on his website.
Women have undoubtedly proven they can get it done by themselves, but the absence of a father in the home or out of their children’s lives echoes long after the formative years.
I have written many times about my father and what an abusive monster he was. I hated him growing up and my feelings have not been tempered by time.
But still, whether I thought he was great or not, I knew who my father was and as the years passed, I came to realize that just his mere presence in the home, along with my mother, provided me with the foundation and tools that ultimately allowed me a successful place in society.
“We’re not all perfect dads,” Asbery said. “I am nowhere near a perfect dad. I am learning each and every day with my little ones…. You don’t have to be perfect.”
But you do have to be there because not having a father in the home is about more than their absence.
It’s about a weak link that needs to be fortified and strengthened — and for
Asbery, it’s about a mission of “reunifying fathers back into the lives of their children.”
And never has that mission been more important.
Fatherhood? Fixing dads one at a time.
James Walker is the host of the podcast, Real talk, Real people. Listen at jameswalkermedia.com. He can be reached at 203-605-1859 or at [email protected]. @thelieonroars on Twitter
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James Walker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media who previously was the senior editor of the New Haven Register. A mentor and champion of the underdog, he gained a reputation as a reporter for bringing their stories to print. Walker attended East Tennessee State University and has met three presidents: Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush.
Here is the youtube clip of the interview