by Kimberley Jane Wilson
A New Visions Commentary
paper published November 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org,
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
I noticed him first. We were on our way
to church when a boy of two, maybe three, appeared in front of
us. Before I could wonder about his mother, he saw my husband.
With a shriek of "Da!," he ran up and clung to his
While my husband tried to peel the child
off, I looked for the mother. She showed up a few seconds later.
She apologized, and told us the last time her son - now wailing
- had seen his father he'd been wearing a blue suit like my husband's.
This might have been funny, but the cries
of the child, the unhappy look on the mother's very young face
and her shabby clothes eclipsed any humor. As she disappeared
around the corner, we wondered how long the child's father had
been out of their lives.
Out of wedlock births in the black community
have soared to over 70 percent. More than at any other time since
Emancipation, black children are living in homes without a father
present. Black men are accused of being the sole cause of this
situation, but I think that's unfair. A new report, "Charting
Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in
America," from the non-partisan Child Trends notes that
64 percent of the black women who were asked if one parent was
as good as two responded "yes."
It's an unavoidable law of the universe
that sex is not love. An American child born of loveless sex
is legally entitled to a support check, but no court can make
a reluctant father love or even remotely care for that child.
The loss of a real dad is huge. I know.
My father died at age 42 when I was only
13. At his funeral, well-meaning people told me I'd get over
my grief. They were wrong. I miss him just as bitterly now as
I did then. He wasn't rich, powerful or famous, but he was the
kind of man you don't forget. Cleveland Lindsay gave me an appreciation
for literature when I was very young. His sense of humor and
love of history, art, music and animals are still with me.
Probably without even thinking about
it, he formed my first ideas of what a man was supposed to be:
smart, funny and kind. Unlike many fathers at the time, he deliberately
made himself known to both my teachers and friends. Both groups
understood I had two strong-minded parents at home who were passionately
concerned and who weren't going to take any foolishness.
A child needs that.
Vicious and degrading images of black
women - along with the constant praise of street thugs and pimps
- are mainstays in rap, movies and, truthfully, the whole Hip
Hop culture. Without a responsible father figure to counteract
this filth, it's easy for a child to absorb twisted ideas.
We usually don't say enough positive
things about black fathers. I want to say thank you to all the
black fathers who take their roles seriously. This is for the
men who never fail to attend their child's sporting events, whether
they have talent or not. It's for those who lay down the law
with their daughter's boyfriend on the first date. And it's for
all the young fathers who aren't ashamed to hug and kiss their
kids in public.
I've met black men who work two, and
even three, jobs to support their families without complaint
or boasting. I've met men who faithfully pay child support knowing
full well that most of the money goes to their ex-wives' hair,
nails and social lives. I also know countless black men who light
up and can't suppress a smile when asked about their children
and who have lost everything fighting for the legal right to
see them. And then there are those doing the best they can raising
children from their spouses' previous relationships.
Society gives the committed black father
little attention and less credit, but all these men are heroes.
(Kimberley Wilson is a member
of the National Advisory Council and a freelance writer living
in Northern Virginia. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.