Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's Fathers Day: Let's Get Busy With Fatherhood by Akindele Akinyemi

Today is Fathers Day and I cannot be more proud to be a father myself. Not just top my own son but children who I have helped raised, shaped and molded, and mentored into fine young men. However, we still have a long way to go to reestablish fatherhood back into our homes.

In Detroit, the plight of the traditional family in the African American community is obsolete due to failing social, political and economic policies in our community. Detroit has a 75 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate, an 85 percent rate of fatherlessness and a pathetic high school graduation rate of 24 percent. Moreover, six out of every 10 families living in the state of Michigan have had intervention by child protective services.

Back in the 1960s 80 percent of black children living in the inner cities lived in intact families. Today the number is less than 33 percent. Somehow we must began to rebuild families.

I often tell our men in the inner city that a woman is your reflection. When you demonstrate immaturity and inconsistencies on your part the woman's balance is thrown off as well. Because we are spiritual head of the household we must channel our energy on focusing on moving our households forward. This means less time on the Nintendo Wii or PSP and more time on building legacies for our children.

As an educational leader, mentor and father I take my responsibilities seriously. One would often tell you that if I mentor a child (male or female) I consider them my own children.

The media works against positive Black men who are fathers or mentors. If I score 45 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a basketball game I will get props. If I carjack a woman I will get the top story on the local news. But not one story have been broken about the man who takes care of his son, his daughter, or his family. In this day and time we have to showcase our own story of family.

Detroiters have a stake in Black fatherhood. Taxpayers would spend a lot less on prisons and social programs if about 70 percent of our children weren't born out of wedlock. Poverty would decrease instantly if men and women in the community would, for once, practice relationship building and healthy marriages and stop living in fear, deceit and confusion. Relationships are not what you see in the soap operas. If we STOP being scared and distrustful of one another we would be able to see through the lies and build a kingdom.

This is why I support churches that practice multiculturalism between races, lean conservative and support traditional family values as opposed to going to churches to hear someone scream, hollar, and talk politics all day long. These type of spiritual based institutions are designed to keep Black men angry instead of practicing forgiveness and keep us in a cycle of fear instead of love and upliftment.

The lack of fatherhood is not based on racism or any isms. It is based on being responsible. We can fight for shared equal parenting rights or revamping the foster care system all we want but we have to FIRST revamp our spirits. Child support payments would not be an issue if the "players" would get and stay married to the mother of their first children - but the lure of serial paternity and "freedom" is often too great.

The role of the father is one of the strongest and most important traditions in the Black community. Therefore I strongly recommend we get back into our traditional roles of being fathers in our community, regardless of income or obstacles that stand in our way.

For supporting Black fathers in our community we must do the following:

(a) Reach out to Black fathers. If you know of a "full-time dad," give him support, let him know you care and encourage him.

(b) Take your brother/father to a church, synagogue or mosque. Religion/spirituality is a source of strength for all of us. Too often, because of a false sense of masculinity and machismo, fathers do not want to acknowledge the need for a Higher Power. Encourage your clergy person to support "full-time dads."

(c) If the Black father has been abusive, use the occasion to help him discuss this situation. Again, acknowledging the role which sexism has played in our lives, it is difficult for black men to express their emotions. Encourage him to be gentle and loving. Let him know you love him.

(d) Boycott radio stations, talk-show hosts, newspapers and businesses that defame black fathers.

(e) Encourage "full-time dads" to join a Black men's group, such as those organized in the inner cities. Black men need the support of other black men in order to be good fathers.

(f) Encourage teachers and professors to discuss the plight of the Black father in their classes.

While these suggestions focus on what others can do to help fathers, there are measures which we as fathers can do to help ourselves. Fathers are not entirely blameless in their own oppression. Too often, we are abusive toward Black women; a Black woman is 16 times more likely to be raped than a White woman. Moreover, we are too often absent as fathers in our families and communities.

Black fathers must therefore understand that Black women are their reflections. It is easy to blame the Black woman for all pathologies in the black community, since too many of us leave the raising of our children to mothers. And when children commit crimes, we blame the victims: Black women and Black children.

The positive examples cited in this essay debunk the opinion sometimes voiced by talk shows that fathers do not care and have never cared about their children. Ironically, this view is sometimes echoed by some black women who assert that "there are no good Black men left" (even though I have debunked this lie over and over again) and that "they (Black men) take after their no-good Black fathers."

The majority of us, however, are still waiting to exhale. Too long we have been invisible. It's time to step our game up.

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