Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why I Worry

First Comes Baby:

The attitude that marriage is not necessary to nurture and raise our children is actually a new one in the black community. Historically, blacks have valued the institution of marriage and the traditional two- parent household. In 1890, 80 percent of African-American families were headed by two parents, even though many had started life in forced family separation under slavery. Even in the 1960s, when black Americans were in the height of civil rights strife, 23 percent of black babies were born out of wedlock, a modest figure compared with 70 percent today. And today's single moms aren't just welfare teens, either. Most out-of-wedlock black babies are being born to women in their 20s and 30s across the economic spectrum.

While the stigma against children born out of wedlock has diminished, the impact on community bonds has not. A recent study for the journal Criminology has revealed that "neighborhoods with larger portions of adults who are less 'invested' in marriage and residential stability are more likely to see higher rates of assault by African-American males." Children raised in fatherless homes are more likely to be delinquent, do poorly in school, have lower self-esteem, become chemical abusers, and reproduce the same family pattern in their own lives. In most cases, no matter how strong or diligent a mother may be, children have a subconscious knowledge of what is right and wrong in a family set up. Boys turn to their fathers for their sense of masculinity and manhood. If their dad isn't around, the streets and group aggression are the next best thing for most.

Currently, I work in social services in Fishtown/Kensington, one of the poorer neighborhoods of Philadelphia; my first job in PA was abstracting fatherhood reseach, reading study after journal after monograph and ferreting out the hypotheses and results. I can tell you that this is true for white boys as well, from the studies I've read and the incidents I've seen. The problem of father absence is perhaps more strongly felt in the African American community, but boys with an absent father suffer, no doubt.

It's not just my personal emotions that come into play here: it's the weight of my knowledge base that drives my worries about what the future holds for my son.


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