by Dr Boyce Watkins
As I prepare for a Fatherhood panel being held in Washington DC by former NBA star Etan Thomas (Saturday, 6/21, 10 am at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden), I am led to reflect on the impact that the fatherhood dilemma has had on the African American community. The recent documentary, “72%” highlights the fact that the vast majority of black children are growing up without a father in the home.
Not having a father in the home doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t have a father in his/her life. It also doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t have positive male role models. But it does mean that, when the child wakes up every morning, there usually isn’t going to be a father in the kitchen making him breakfast. It means that when a little girl decides she wants to date a thug, there won’t always be an intimidating figure standing there to size up the guy who might be lying down with his child. We all need a Bill Cosby in our life, or at least some man who is old school enough to provide, protect and make sure his kids are going to be OK. So no, I’m not a fan of giving single mothers Father’s Day cards. Dads matter just as much as moms.
I am not particularly offended by the fact that people are structuring their families in the way they see fit. I am also not living under the assumption that every child from a single parent home is doomed for failure. But what does concern me are the following things:
1) Children without a father in the home are more likely to be victims of abuse, in many cases at the hands of the mother’s boyfriend. A friend of mine who works in the Crimes Against Children unit in his police department says that he can’t count the number of times that a child has been abused by her mother’s boyfriend, often without the mother knowing what was going on. It’s one of those secret negro epidemics that nobody wants to talk about.
2) Not having a father around means that the child has less supervision, which increases the chances that bad things are going to happen. No, it doesn’t guarantee that bad things are going to happen, but when mama is at work for 12 hours a day and kids are home by themselves, bad things do occur. That’s just a fact.
3) Most children without a father around are not quite sure how to operate in the world of men. This means that daughters often struggle with adult relationships, and males don’t always understand their role as fathers when they have children of their own. I can’t imagine what my daughters would be like if I tried to teach them how to be women without the help of their mothers. It would be a complete mess.
4) It’s easier to support a family with two incomes than with one. The single parent crisis has only served to worsen the wealth gap in America. These outcomes are not always the doing of black people, but they are certainly among the problems we must confront as a community. Broken families are the reason that black men and black single mothers are among the worst off economically in the United States.
5) Most parents who think that their kids have seemlessly adjusted to not having a father around aren’t going to find out until years later that the missing dad has had a huge impact on their child’s psyche and self-esteem. Raising a cute little human being according to your own wishes and whims seems like a lot of fun when it’s happening, especially since there is little accountability for the outcomes. But our children are a product of our choices, and many of our kids today are ending up in horrible situations, oftentimes due to how they were raised. Disciplined parenting has really gone out of style.
I could go on down the list, but I won’t do that, since that’s not the entire purpose of this article. Also, my decision to clearly lay out the problems with broken families doesn’t mean I’m automatically laying out the blame. There are a multitude of systemic factors which have served to deliberately destroy black families, and this is part of what has led to the chaos we see in our community today.
The purpose of this piece is really to emphasize the important role that family planning plays in your ability to build wealth. Nomalanga Mhlauli-Moses, founder of HealthyBlackWoman.com, explained to me her family’s perception of wealth-building in her home country of Botswana. One thing that concerned Noma is that she said it seems that African Americans are always “starting over.” According to Noma, in her own family and country, marriage is considered an important institution for many reasons, one of which is that you are able to build, acquire and accumulate resources so that your kids aren’t going to have to start from scratch when they reach adulthood.
This means that when your daughter gets married, there is already $20,000 waiting to pay for her big day. When your son heads to college, the money is in the bank. When you die, your kids are inheriting a house instead of holding a fundraiser to bury you. When you can’t pay the rent, you receive a check from your dad instead of an eviction notice from your landlord. Unfortunately, this is but a dream to many members of the African American community, since most of us are accustomed to struggling from the womb till the tomb. As someone said to me the other day on Facebook, “Some people keep creating bad weather for themselves, and then get mad when it rains.”
Appreciating the value of family means that you don’t get divorced over every little selfish issue. You fight to do all you can for your children as a family unit. You value the role of your partner in the creation and maintenance of the child’s livelihood. You don’t pride yourself in letting your whole life crumble, just so you can brag about how much you’ve overcome.
It is not uncommon to hear one story after another from prominent black men in the NBA (for example) who might say something like this: “My mother raised all of us by herself, and it was really hard. We barely had food to eat and didn’t have clothes for school.” This might explain why the young man turned to other ways to make himself the man of the house, like stealing or selling drugs. Sometimes these stories have a happy ending and sometimes they do not.
What we have to do is realize that this isn’t the way that it has to be. There are better ways to bring our children into the world and better ways to raise them. We must not be afraid to ask the hard questions, including the following:
1) Why are people not planning their families and when they have children? If a man has 7 kids with 5 women, do we sit by quietly as if it’s not a big deal, or do we ask, “how did that happen?” If a mother has four kids with three different fathers, do we explain to little girls how to keep this from occuring or are we afraid to speak up due to counterproductive political correctness?
We can’t possibly believe that children are better off when all siblings have different fathers and find themselves jealous of one another for receiving differing amounts of attention. Also, we can’t pretend that the mother with several fathers has created a healthy psychological and economic environment for her kids. The man with multiple kids by multiple women is not only going to destroy himself financially, he has spread himself so thin that it is extremely difficult (nearly impossible) for him to be a good father to all of those children in different households, maintain his own family and provide for every one of those kids economically and emotionally.
2) How do we keep our relationships together? Some of our relationships have become like rocket boosters on a NASA spaceship. When a NASA rocket is launched in a big, violent explosion, the boosters eventually detach and are thrown into the ocean. They are only used to launch the rocket into orbit, and new boosters are typically built for every new launch. Sometimes, it seems that fathers are used in the same way: The “baby daddy” is used to create the explosive passion necessary to create a life, and then once the relationship has progressed beyond the point of usefulness, the father is dumped into the ocean of men, possibly recycled, but typically never to be used again. Then, another man comes to take the first man’s place when it’s time to create another child. In the end, the kids suffer the most.
Maybe we can do better for ourselves. Our children are hurt when daddies choose not to be around or mothers choose to pretend like fathers don’t matter. Also,when relationships fall apart, this means that the odds of building wealth are diminished severely, and the hamster wheel of black economic struggle continues.
3) How do we keep fathers involved in the lives of children once they are born? Every time I hear a woman explain to me why her child’s father is not qualified to take a role in her child’s life, I am confused. I admittedly wonder, “If he is such a jerk, then why did you sleep with him?” After hearing the explanation, I then wonder, “Did you take some time to really get to know him before you chose to sleep with him, or did you react to his good looks, “swag” and all the other things that allowed him to get you pregnant? The point is that having a child is like starting a small business with someone and entering into a long-term contract. If you make these sorts of decisions based solely on passion and almost nothing else, you’re asking for a life of pure hell. Also, the father is a partner in this business and has rights, whether you want him to have those rights or not. When you make it difficult for the father to be involved in the life of a child or somehow presume he can only be involved if he follows your rules, you’re underming your child’s right to have two loving parents.
Sometimes dads choose to not be involved, we know that, and we know it’s wrong. The mother’s bond with the child naturally occurs at birth due to the presence of Oxytocin in the brain. Fathers who haven’t sealed that bond may choose not to create it. However, there are a lot of cases where fathers want to be involved, but the terrain is roughened by an overbearing mother. Those situations should be accounted for as well. It’s kind of like beating and sexually harassing someone on the job and then complaining that they are choosing not to come to work. If the mother doesn’t tell the child that his/her father is important, then the child will never believe that he is.
Here is some advice for people who don’t plan to be infected with the baby-mamaitis that has come over the black community. Much of this is due to systematic failures, particularly the mass incarceration of black men. With so many fathers in prison, the phenomenon has negatively impacted our culture and taken many fathers out of the home. But there is some free will here, and it might involve rejecting the extante culture and doing what’s best for the future of your family. Here are what I would call “The 7 commandments of baby-mamaitis” – at least I started to follow them after having a baby at 18 and being bitch-slapped for 20 years by the child support courts. After that horrible experience, I swore that I’d never do that again:
1) Think carefully about who you choose to sleep with: We live in a culture where the actions of love are driven more by impulse than logic. The tricky thing about lying down with someone is that people never think that they’re going to be the one to make a baby. But babies do come from sexx, and it might be important to realize that every person you sleep with could be a parent to your child. If the person doesn’t look like someone you’d want to go into business with for the next 18 years, then you might be better off finding someone else. Sexx is not just for pleasure…it actually leads to procreation.
2) Read books on raising children before and after you have them: Education is the key to understanding life. But if you’re afraid to crack open a book, you’re going to regularly find yourself shooting from the hip in all of your most important decisions. Someone else’s life is in your hands when you raise a child, and it’s important to prepare for this solemn responsiblity by educating yourself on how to do this job in the right way. There are a lot of screwed up adults who are the product of bad parenting. If you don’t want to read a book, at least do a google search. You’d be amazed at how much great information is out there.
3) Study how to maintain relationships: If you didn’t have a father in the home, you probably don’t understand how to keep a father in your own home or how to be a father in someone else’s home. Reading books like “Fatherhood: The Ultimate Challenge” by Etan Thomas or “What women want men to know” by Dr. Barbara DeAngelis can work wonders for helping you to negotiate complex relationships. So many of the problems that end up destroying our families (and our chance to build wealth) are easily solvable if we take the time to research on how to manage our relationships.
4) Avoid child support and divorce if you can: I won’t say much about this other than to say that having a child out of wedlock is one of the fastest ways in the world to end up broke. I can’t tell you how many men I know who live in the shadows because they can’t afford to pay child support. Child support courts are not working to keep your family together. Divorce can be equally devastating to your financial situation and should be avoided through preventive maintenance. By preventive maintenance, I mean avoiding the wrong mates and holding onto the right ones. It also means learning constructive ways to resolve relationship disputes so they don’t tear your family apart. If you’re not sure you can handle the struggle of being married, then don’t do it. But once you make the decision to jump into something, do everything you can to have the endurance for the long and difficult ride.
In fact, the best advice is often the simplest. I once asked my dad how he was able to stay married for 40 years. He said, “It was simple. I didn’t get divorced.”
5) Avoid sleeping with someone who doesn’t have a good economic future: Whether that man becomes a husband, co-parent or baby daddy, a man with no money in the bank has a hard time giving your children the things they need. If he can’t take care of himself, he won’t be able to take care of you. If a man creates a child with a woman who isn’t making investments in her own life, she’ll be a drain on your finances and lean on you as a way to pay her bills long after the relationship is over. Children are the ties that bind us to other people, and if you’re tethered to the wrong person, it can easily sink your economic ship. The best partner is one who increases your chances of building wealth, not reduces them. As Pastor Jamal Bryant said in his controversial remarks a few years ago, “These hoes ain’t loyal” (let’s neutralize the controversy of Pastor Bryant’s remarks by making it clear that hoes can be both male and female). By adding quality people to your life and avoiding relationships of low quality, you are basically choosing good teammates in the game of life.
6) Be careful about sleeping with someone who already has several parental commitments. A mother who is already spread out between three fathers of her children might not be the best mother for your child. At the very least, you risk standing idly by as your child is raised in a hotbed of problematic dysfunction. A man with four baby’s mamas is already strained on child support commitments and may consider your child to be the bottom of the priority list. Even worse: If you are dating someone who isn’t taking care of the kids they have already, then odds say that this person is probably not going to take care of your kids either.
7) Think of every date as a potential mate and every mate as an investment: Your body, your love and your future are three infinitely precious resources that you are free to invest in any person you wish. The worst feeling on earth is to invest them into someone, something or some situation that obliterates your future. Lying down with another person is your access to creation and your personal “big bang.” It is a time when the passion which lies inside of you is so amazing that it can create a whole new life and a whole new stream of realities for a person that does not yet exist. This is hardly the kind of thing that should occur during a one-night stand after poppin bottles at the club. No one deserves to owe their entire existence to the random decision of two people to get drunk and hop into bed together. Messy choices lead to messy outcomes.
Your life is a product of a series of investments. The wealth of that life, or lack thereof, is directly connected to the wisdom and foresight of the CEO of your universe, which is YOU. Make every decision wisely and realize that you’re making investments every single day with the people you meet, and those you choose to trust. Remember that, when it’s all said and done, you’re the one who is responsible for these outcomes. Try not to lose at the game of life, and remember that family planning is one of the most important aspects of the wealth building process. You can get ahead of you want to.
Dr Boyce Watkins is a Finance PhD and author of the book, “Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging assets with your partner in ways that feel good.” To have Dr Watkins commentary delivered to your email, please click here.