Father absence in America: Turning the tide on fatherlessness

Fatherlessness has been one of the greatest challenges and social epidemics of our time. Its devastating effects can be seen throughout the United States, especially in lower-income communities. Many fatherless children become trapped in an unending cycle of poverty and academic failure.

Statistics demonstrate that growing up without an engaged and committed father can be the root cause of the rapid decay of our children, threatening the future of our society as we know it.  Thankfully, through the collective support of fatherhood initiatives across the United States, the overall decline of fatherhood has been slightly reversing.  However, in the African-American community, the number of children growing up in homes without both of their parents is actually increasing because of the additional challenge of race-based discrimination. The absence of fathers is one of the most critical issues facing the African-American community today.

It is good news that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Report, two million more children are now living in homes with their biological fathers today than in 2004. However, the bad news is that, according to a Hampton University’s National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting (NCAAMP) report, only 29% of African-American children live with their married parents, while the rate for all American children living with their married parents is 61%.  We, as a society, are leaving a whole segment of the population behind.

Confronting the phenomenon of father-absence is one of this nation’s most serious societal issues. Addressing father-absence and providing advocacy for responsible fatherhood is critical for change.  Children of all communities are counting on us for an equal opportunity for a bright future.

Legislative Advocacy
In 2002, I presented testimony to Congress on “Father Absence as a Causation of Crime and Drug Abuse” and the proactive father involvement strategies necessary to remedy fatherlessness. I stressed that the most reliable predictor of crime in America is growing up fatherless and that there is a direct correlation between violent crime, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse and father-absence.  This is still a social reality needing a solution.

My responsible fatherhood testimony involved a solution, which has not yet been successfully implemented.  Three implementation strategies continue to be necessary as follows:

1. Promoting substantial positive father imaging and involvement by use of the media;

2. Providing free parenting education to indigent teen and incarcerated fathers; and

3. Creating a Judicial Task Force on Father Absence to educate judges on the effects of fatherlessness on children, families and society. The necessity of such a task force is based upon my belief that many judges adjudicate the consequences of father absence, but don’t have the data concerning these consequences to guide them to correct resources necessary to deter crime and drug abuse.

In 2003, the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood (http://responsiblefatherhood.illinois.gov), a state commission established by the Illinois State Legislature to promote the positive involvement of both parents in the lives of their children, was created. This is a positive step that other states will hopefully replicate.

In 2006, The Fatherhood Educational Institute (http://fatherhood-edu.org) launched an “Incarcerated Fathers Project” program designed to empower incarcerated fathers to assume emotional, moral, spiritual, psychological and financial responsibility for their children, both during and after release from incarceration. The goal of the project is to educate fathers in real responsibility, not blame for who and what they are, and to thereby enable fathers to lead healthy and productive lives and create previously unimaginable bonds with their children. This is another important resource supporting social change and hope.

In 2008, President Barack Obama exclaimed in a Father’s Day speech, “Fathers are critical to the foundation of each family. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.”

President Obama highlighted the consequences that befall children who grow up without a father. In doing this he stressed the following critical statistics: “children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.” Such support for the promotion of responsible fatherhood is invaluable.

In 2009, the White House Office of Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships, senior White House staff and other community leaders convened the first White House Community Roundtable and Town Hall Meeting on Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families.

As 2011 begins, I am encouraged that we are finally turning the tide of father absence in America.  But, I am fully cognizant of the responsible advocacy work that is still yet to be completed.

Although we have made progress over the past decade, there is much more work to be done. I credit Responsible Fatherhood programming across the nation that has focused on equipping men to be better fathers and role-models for children.

The greatest natural resource of this country lies in its children. Promoting responsible fatherhood is a must because fathers play a vital role in the growth and stability of our nation’s children. The bottom line is that every child in America deserves a chance.