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Joblessness, jail, death keep many black fathers out of the picture

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2012 - Idyllic images of African-American fatherhood are very much in the public eye with local artist Cbabi Bayoc churning out one such painting every day this year. But in the real picture, black fathers are often missing.

In St. Louis city, 70 percent of African-American children (and half of all children) live in households with no father, according to St. Louis’ Fathers’ Support Center.

If they’d just get their acts together, the problem of absent black fathers would be solved, right? Wrong, according to Washington University social work professor Darrell Hudson.

“If the answer were that simple, people would be doing it,” Hudson said.

The economy and unemployment are among the complex web of reasons for the absence of fathers, regardless of race. But deeper issues pile on when it comes to missing black fathers, including the fact that more of them are dead or behind bars.

White men have a less than 6 percent lifetime chance of going to prison, according to 2001 figures from the U.S. Department of Justice. Black men have a 32 percent chance.

Homicide is the cause of death for about 10 percent of white males who die between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But roughly 50 of black men who die in that age bracket are homicides, their leading cause of death.

“The number of people who don’t reach their 18th, their 25th, their 30th birthdays -- we know that’s a contributing factor,” Hudson said.

Disparities in education, housing, jobs

More than 14 percent of African-American males are jobless, compared to 7 percent of white men. And it’s not just the lack of work and income that keeps some fathers out of the home, but the despair that goes along with it.

“Men are often raised and socialized to be providers, and unemployment or under-employment can be a tremendous stressor,” Hudson said.

A combination of institutionalized and interpersonal racism contributes to black male unemployment, according to Hudson. Examples of historical institutionalized racism include discrimination around the G.I. bill. At one time, most black veterans could use their benefit for technical training but not four-year college educations.

Even with a trade school education, and even today, blacks are one down. Housing discrimination and lack of access to low-interest loans also factor into unemployment. Where a person lives has great bearing on the help he or she is able to access when it comes to important life decisions.

“Our neighborhoods dictate the type of school, the quality of that school, and the type of networks we have in terms of people with advice and information about going to school, college after high school and how to get a job after that,” Hudson said.

Other studies on interpersonal racism demonstrate that career success can come down to a name on a resume.

“Someone with a name like John, Sara or Susan is more likely to be interviewed than people with names associated with African Americans,” Hudson said.

Former ‘deadbeat’ helps other dads step up

Fathers’ Support Center founder Halbert Sullivan understands absent fathers on a deeply personal level. He used to be one.

Addicted to drugs since 1965, Sullivan was a self-professed “deadbeat dad” until his children were 10 and 18.

“I was no good for 27 or 28 years,” Sullivan said. “My drug of choice was the one that was free. Crack was the one that took me over the edge.”

Bouncing back and forth between Rochester, N.Y., and St. Louis, and depressed and desperate, Sullivan cleaned up in a local rehab facility with the help of Narcotics Anonymous. After earning degrees from St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, Fontbonne and Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work, he worked with kids in local high schools. Those efforts led to his being asked to lead an institution to help fathers.

Since 1998, the Fathers’ Support Center has served 8,800 men of all races but mostly African American, and their families. Seventy-five percent of those who graduate from the program now support their children.

Patrick Price graduates Wednesday. Price is the father of a 24-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son. He owes $19,000 to the state for back-child support for them and for a 25-year-old woman he’s not sure he fathered.

Unemployment, drugs and alcohol figured into Price’s inability to pay as did the five years he spent in prison for assault and burglary in an altercation with his son’s mother, his ex-wife.

At the Center’s six-week program, Price received job training as well as parenting and communication skills. Lessons range from learning how to apply for a job online to getting dressed for an interview.

“I’m 45 years old, and I never learned how to tie a tie,” Price said.

Now Price works at a Popeye’s chicken fast-food restaurant. With continued help from the Center, he hopes to reactivate his drivers license so he can apply for higher-paying jobs further from his home.

Price’s success stems from his own full investment in the Center’s program.

“You have to take ownership with what you’re trying to do with your life. They will help you bridge he gap to be a better person and a more productive father,” Price said.

‘Good black fathers’

For most of Cbabi Bayoc’s art career, including black fathers in his paintings was a deal-killer. Case in point: a prospective customer who’d rather her children not see what they didn’t have.

“At a show, a woman loved a print of a dad holding a child. But she couldn’t buy it because she’d have to explain to her kids why dad’s not around,” Bayoc said.

Of course, for many African-American families, a father in the picture is reality. “There are good black fathers,” Bayoc said.

Now on painting number 150, Bayoc’s already booked through September, proving there is an market for images of nurturing black fathers. There are also plenty of actual African-American dads successfully raising children.

“Everyone is not in jail or killed early or dealing drugs,” Hudson said.

They key is to compare apples to apples. “Unfortunately the history of black Americans in the United States has often been in this shadow of comparison to whites or even to other groups,” Hudson said. “We haven’t seen what the community looks like with equal opportunity.”

Considering the roadblocks of racism and departing from the deficit-based model reveals a comparatively healthy African-American family condition.

“If we take a look at the strengths that we have in the community and institutions that have been there a long time like the many different African-American churches and other organizations, certainly we can find strengths that can set us on the right path,” Hudson said.

By the numbers

  • 63% of youth who commit suicide are from fatherless homes (Source: U.S.D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census)
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all children who exhibit behavioral disorders come form fatherless homes. (Source: Center for Disease Control).
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol. 14, p. 403-26, 1978).
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (Source: National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools).
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes (Source: Rainbow for all God’s Children).
  • 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988).
  • 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in fatherless homes (Source: Fulton Co., Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992).
  • 82% of teenage girls who get pregnant come from fatherless homes.

Children whose fathers are not involved in their lives are:
--Fathers Support Center

  • 5 times more likely to commit suicide
  • 32 times more likely to run away
  • 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
  • 14 times more likely to commit rape (regarding  boys)
  • 9 times more likely to drop out of high school
  • 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
  • 9 times more likely to end up in a state operated juvenile institution
  • 20 times more likely to end up in prison
  • 20 times more likely to get pregnant (regarding girls)

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