There seems to be a stigma of African-American fathers that needs to change.
As my phone rang, I touched the red button on my iPhone and said, "Hello."
Henry pleaded "Coach, I need your help."
Henry was my student at the time, whom I'd mentored since he was a senior in high school. He was now a 28 year-old, single parent of a 3-year-old son. He'd just recently won sole custody of the boy and was doing everything he could to raise his son the right way.
Henry's son had just lashed out physically against Henry's girlfriend. When Henry asked him to apologize, the young boy refused and began to cry uncontrollably. Henry was reaching wits end, because he had no idea what to do next or who to ask for parenting advice. And it wasn't just because Henry was new to this parenting thing.
Unfortunately, he didn't have any history on how to raise a son because his father didn't raise him.
His father died when Henry was very young. But he's not the only black male to grow up without a dad around. The epidemic of fatherless sons is far too common in the African-American community and it holds life and death implications for our sons.
According to Children: Our Ultimate Investment, 72 percent of black children were born to unwed mothers in 2008 (the most recent year for figures, comparable with 17 percent for Asians, 29 percent for whites, 53 percent for Hispanics and 66 percent for Native Americans).
Other telling figures from the report:
- Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to live in poverty. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were poor, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.
- Children in father-absent households had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.
- Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk.
By not having a male role model, Henry planned to use the only discipline he, and many other black parents are, both, taught and expected to use — physical punishment. Fortunately, he reached out to me first. (I have two boys who are a blessing to raise.)
1. Use Your Words
In school we taught our kids at an early age to use their words to express their feelings. One of the challenges is as men we don't often practice what we preach and lash out physically when we get frustrated. Since our boys are going to emulate our actions, then we have to start modeling less physical methods of confrontation. Minnesota Vikings player Adrian Peterson used corporal punishment because that's the way his family raised him. Your son will do the same thing and it may eventually land him in a situation he may regret.
2. Apologize for Your Actions
We must help our sons realize that their actions have consequences. If you are going to lash out, commit a crime, beat up your wife, or attack a police officer there will be consequences which you can't control. In order to make amends, you must apologize for your actions. We can no longer play the victim as a result of our behavior.
3. Acknowledge You Have a Choice
After doing the wrong thing, show him how to do it right. By showing him he has an alternative, it will empower him to hopefully make the right choice when an issue confronts him again. I know Eric Garner grew tired of being harassed by the police for the same crime. Instead of initially letting the police take him into custody, he chose to put up a fight which ended fatally. Walk away if things get too intense.
Henry, as an inexperienced father, was ready to lash out at his son. The pressure of the crying, the constant whining was getting too intense for him to handle. Since we're taught not to back down from conflict, or a challenge he was fully prepared to handle it the only way he knew how.
"I'm ready to give spank him," he said. Then I asked him, "Imagine if this was you being hit? How would you feel about that?" The smart thing to do is to walk away, count to 10, gather your thoughts then come back to address the issue. According to the testimony of police officer, Darren Wilson, Michael Brown was simply asked to walk on the sidewalk. Michael Brown, chose to not to walk away, but to confront.
4. Hug Him and Tell Him You Love Him
When I was talking to Henry, I could hear his son in the background yelling, "Daddy, Daddy!" So I told him, "You need to assure your son you're not leaving." Unfortunately, his son's mother after a couple of years of arguing with Henry on how to raise their son, decided she wanted no part of it, and left him sole custody. At 3, he was still trying to process not seeing his mother every day, just as he would if Henry was not there.
Then I told Henry, "When you hang up the phone and everything calms down, give your son a hug and tell him that you love him." With that said, Henry hung up the phone.
A few minutes later, my phone rang again. As I voiced, "Hello," Henry simply said, "Thank You! Everything is calm now."
We are at a critical point in the lives of our young African-American men. We must individually assess how we're raising them and figure out what we can do to keep our families intact (or at least how to co-parent effectively). We can no longer rely on just teachers, single parents, and outside forces to do it for us.
If you are having a problem raising your son, drop me note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll some some tips to help you empower your son to make the smart, right choices for his best possible future.