Archive for the ‘african american fathers’ Category

Why Should Black Women Marry?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I don’t ask this question lightly. I’ve been asking myself the question for the past two days here at this historic conference on marriage and families. How does marriage benefit black women? I see why and how marriage benefits children (of course I mean here a “healthy marriage”). I even get what men get out of marriage. But what’s in it for women? Especially educated, upwardly women who don’t have to worry about being hurled into abject poverty if their husbands leave them.

Let me back up:

I’m here at the National Summit on Marriage, Parenting, and Families, a historic gathering that’s being held on the beautiful campus of Hampton University. More than 100 of the most diverse, influential leaders working in the area of marriage and family issues are here to witness the unveiling of the National Summit on Marriage, Parenting and Families which will be headquartered here at Hampton under the black familydirectorship of Dr. Linda Malone Colon (chair of the Summit). The summit is being touted as a groundbreaking public conversation about marriage and families aimed at increasing the national conversation on the declining status of today’s marriages, especially marriages in the black community and the importance of healthy, effective parenting.  I’ve met some really great people while I’ve been here, people working in the trenches to help families in crisis and children who don’t have a strong family safety net.

You can catch Wednesday’s sessions live on the web at www.hamptonu.edu.

It’s a great meeting with lots of provocative dialogue. I’m here because i was invited to participate on the religion panel where the discussion centered on questions like “What does God say about marriage and family” and “What can communities of faith do to transform marriages, empower parents and strengthen families in our country.” Except for knucklehead here and there who their own agenda and didn’t want anything to do with dialogue, it was a good panel.

Yeah, yeah: I’ve noticed that not a peep has been said at these proceedings about same-sex marriage. One look at the major sponsors for the conference tells me why. I get it.

There’s no denying the research that says that children raised in homes headed by their biological parents who are wedded are more likely to succeed than those who grow up in households where the parents never married or divorced early on.

Here are a few things I’m taking away from this conference:

  1. Marriage is a vanishing institution in the black community.
  2. Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase the chances of poverty for both children and mothers.
  3. Children raised in single parent households are more to have problems in school, to get involved in drugs, to enter the juvenile system, and to live without medical insurance. Not only are our children at risk, but adult single men are more likely to engage in risk behavior than men who are married (e..g, take drugs, drink too much alcohol, unprotected sex with multiple partners, reckless driving).
  4. When it comes to attitudes about marriage, one of the biggest difference sbetween those under 35 and those over 35 is that younger people think you should postpone marriage until your career or finances are stable enough to bring a spouse into the equation. Their parents grew up thinking that it’s easier to build and accumulate wealth in marriage than it is as a single and that marriage gives one the stability and inner fortitude needed to endure the vicissitudes that come with building a career.
  5. Children want their parents to stay together –even if for their sake.
  6. Men who are religious tend to make better father and husbands than those whowant nothing to do with religion.
  7. Young black people use finances, career, and emotional readiness a lot as excuses for postponing marriage. but they don’t seem equally vigilant about postponing having babies out of wedlock, cohabitating, and entering into joint economic ventures with lovers (things normally associated with marriage).
  8. It is important for the church to affirm the ideal of married couples rearing their children, while at the same time affirming the possibilities for self-actualization and purposeful, emotional healthy live for those not married.

I get all of this, but again I ask: what do black women get out of all this? How do black women benefit from marriage when you consider the high ratio of women to men (and men’s likelihood of cheating on their wives) and when you consider that many times women are better educated and better employed than their men?

Disapprearing Dads

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

You’re right. Here on the week leading up to Mother’s Day the spotlight should be on mothers, not fathers. But permit me to return to something I stumbled over in the last blogpost which bears some more thinking about out loud. (After all, I’m at that age when I gotta say what’s on my mind when it’s on my mind because it’s likely to evaporate in thin air, never to return anytime soon.)

Warning: I’m still turning this one over in my head. It’s still at the hunch stage.

“This is your curfew. Don’t make me have to come looking for you,” my husband said to the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house. To her date he turned and said and without blinking: “Get my daughter back here on time, and bring her back the way she left.” Which is cave man, I believe, for “She belongs to me, not you; and don’t you forget it.”

I’ll stick my neck out and even go so far as to say that fathers are essential.

It was probably right then and there, in that encounter at the door on Prom night between father-of-the-girl and boy-who’d-come-to-take-the-girl-out-for-a-magical-night, that I got it. Fathers are not nonessential personnel. Now it’s not like I didn’t know this already. Right? Intellectually, anyway.  But I really got it that night. I got it because I saw the look in the young man’s eyes. He’s never looked at me that way as the mother of the girl he likes.  Something primal, primeval, and primordial (something as female I don’t get and can’t replicate) was exchanged between two males.

No offense or disrespect to those of you without fathers or those without fathers you’d wanna own in public.  No offense or disrespect to those of you raising children without  financial, emotional, or physical support from the father(s) of your children. No offense or disrespect to my readers who are in same sex relationships and are raising children together.

My point remains: fathers are essential.  Not just in the lives of daughters. For sure. But especially in the lives of their daughters. And we don’t need research to tell us this. We see the consequences of father-absence everywhere in our communities. It should be obvious that fathers are important to the psychological health and development of children. So I don’t expect here on the blog to have to debate this point. (Although I suspect that I probably will.)

disappearing fathersBut here’s the point of this blogpost. No where is a father’s absence in his daughter’s life more telling and more perilous than when it comes time for her to start dating boys.  Sure, there are life lessons about what to look for and expect from males that are best passed down from a father to a daughter. But there’s more.  A boy may respect a girl’s mother, but it takes her father to strike fear in his heart. For certain, it’s not fear enough to quiet his hormones and keep him from testing how far he can go.  But it is a kind of fear that only men seem to be able to instill in other men. Call it cave man law. “She belongs to me, not you; and don’t you forget it.” It’s about possession. Power. Ownership. Which translates into male honor. Sure. Sure. Love is in there somewhere. A father’s love for his daughter. The boy’s love (aka lust) for the man’s daughter. But possession and control seem to matter more to the male species. At least from what I can see and from where I sit on the porch.

Remember: I’m just thinking out loud here.

So, here’s what dawned on me this morning.

We live in an era where the vast number of our daughters are being raised in female headed households where there’s no father (and no other male guardian around) to come to the door when young bucks come knocking. And many of those who come knocking are themselves unfathered males who’ve never seen fatherhood in action. Which means that they are clueless about what fathers are supposed to do. Which means that when they do meet girls with active fathers who glare in their direction they are likely to ask,”Why yo’ daddy sweatin’ me?” “Why yo’ daddy trippin’?” “Who yo’ old man think he is?” “You better tell that n_ _ _ _ _ what the deal is.” My father and my high school boyfriend never had much to say to each other when the latter came to pick me up. But, then again, they didn’t have to. “Hello.” Hello.” You doing alright?” “Yes sir.” “Bye. “Bye.”

What this means is that generations of boys and young men are coming up who know nothing about what it means to have to go through another man to get to that’s man’s daughter. No fear of having to answer to a father (or father figure) for the wrong done to a daughter. Not to mention the girls and women who have never known a father’s protection. Perhaps all of this means nothing.  Perhaps I’m guilty here of one of the things I criticize a lot on the blog:  romanticizing patriarchy,  reinscribing traditional (patriarchal based) family dynamics.  Perhaps I should have stuck with quilting this morning instead of trying my mind and hand at blogging.

Reflections of A Prom Mom

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Limos in restaurant parking lots, giggly teen girls spilling out the backseat in colorful evening gowns exposing more flesh than necessary, falling over themselves because they are wearing heels made for manequins, followed by gangling teens boys trying to appear in control, but looking overwhelmed in tuxedos designed for male physiques that don’t slouch.  It must be that time of year again: prom season.

It’s a magical time of year, they tell me. Magical for teens, perhaps. It’s a mystifying time, if you happen to be a prom  mom. My heart goes out to parents everywhere around this time, moms especially, who are in a struggle with their teens (wanna-be adults) about this important rites-of-passage season when, in the minds of teens, all rules are up for debate and renegotiation. Moms everywhere, hold your ground. This is no time to succumb to fairy tales.

I am the mother of a teen. She is not a senior, but her date is. The two of us, mother and daughter that is, went to the mall a month before the prom looking for a prom dress. Correction: she took me to the mall to pay for the dress she and her girlfriends had decided on as the right one for her. “No way! How about this one?” (my words). “Yuk!” (her word).

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Makeup, the shoes, the hairstyle, the nails, the tote, the right bra, the bouttonniere for the date. Where to go to dinner beforehand, where to hang out afterward? It all had to be perfect, she told me, because everyone was watching. I rolled my eyes and stared.

black barbieThose of you who know me from this blog will be proud of me. I kept quiet, for the most part. I decided against spoiling it for the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house. I kept my feminist/womanist observations to myself. It was difficult, but I managed. No rants. About glorified beauty pageants. About this being nothing but a rehearsal for wedding fantasies. About this smacking of barbie dolls and female slave trade. No diatribe about proms being part of a larger capitalist, patriarchal, bourgeoise, heterosexist plot to dupe girls into believing…into fantasizing…… into buying, buying buying… Except for that one argument there in the store about a dress that exposed much too much flesh for my taste, I smiled and kept my mouth shut.

When boxes and bags kept coming up from the garage, I smiled and pretended not to notice. When the-teenager-wh0-lives-in-my-house interrupted me at my desk to model her various prom acquisitions, I looked up and nodded.  But I nearly lost it when she brought out the shoes! “Suppose you had to get away. You can’t run in those!” I thought. I stared over my glasses and grunted. She laughed because she knew what I was thinking because she’s heard it all before.

The whole prom season thing makes me a little reflective.  I remember my junior and senior proms like they were yesterday.  My date(s) and I had an amazing time and it was a great way to end those last years of my high school experience.

But, gosh, have things changed since I was a teen getting ready for prom season.

For one thing, prom night begins a lot earlier. It was still daylight when the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house pulled off with her date. That’s because she and all her friends  had reservations for a pre-prom meal at a local restaurant. And unlike my prom night when the only audience around to witness my big night were my parents and a gaggle of snickering brothers and sisters, family and friends started pouring into around 4pm to snap photos of the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house and her date (all invited by the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house). (Is it me, or does it seem that e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e has a digital camera. What a narcissistic generation!) Among those who dropped by were even members of the date’s family. There were hors d’ oeuvres on hand for all to eat. I wore make-up. My husband had on shoes. It was a wonderful afternoon, but all so strange to me.

And what’s this I hear about parents renting buses or condos or hotel rooms for after prom partying and sleepovers for their prom night teens and their friends? The teenager in my house knew better than to ask. Certainly, my generation of prom goers tried staying out all night—your senior night, that is– or certainly staying out as late as you could get away with without being cuffed when you stepped over the threshold back home. But parents renting a place for an after party where those who want can crash and sleep over. Wow! (I’m sure someone is going to write to tell me that it makes sense because it keeps drunk teens from getting behind steering wheels. Uh huh.)

“This is your curfew. Don’t make me have to come looking for you,” my husband said the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house. To her date he turned and said: “Get my daughter back here on time, and bring her back the way she left.” Which is cave man, I believe, for “She belongs to me, not you; and don’t you forget it.” Fortunately, not everything has changed.

So, there you have it: I kept my rants to myself, because—well, because, for everything there is a season. A time to teach, and a time to pray that what you’ve taught will be put to good use. A time to yell and scream, and a time to trust and pray.

I kept quiet, but I did manage to embarrass the-teenager-who-lives-in-my-house by passing around to everyone gathered that afternoon an old picture of myself on prom night back in the day. LOL. (It was back when a girl who took home ec could quite possibly, with her mom’s help, make her own prom dress.  Why am I not smiling? Hey, I’m a serious sister. Always have been)

a 70s prom

Who Can Find a Virtuous Husband - Part 2?

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I am not a Proverbs 31 woman. I suppose that’s no surprise to anyone who reads this blog often. But then I bet none of you is a Proverbs 31 woman either. The poem in Proverbs 31 praises the excellent wife. We’ve all heard countless sermons and exhortations on this passage of scripture.  As a woman in ministry I can’t begin to tell you how many Women’s Day themes have taken their inspiration from this poem.

On the surface of it Proverbs 31: 10-30 is seems to be directed at to women, but at close glance you quickly figure out that the poem is actually something of a manual for young men on how to choose a good wife. It is a poem to the virtual wife, not virtuous wife; the fantasy wife, not a real flesh-and-blood wife. The woman in the poem is supposed to be the exact opposite of the shrew, the temptress, and the sluggard who are talked a lot about in Proverbs. What man wouldn’t want a wife who is prepared to sacrifice her sanity, health, and life to care for her husband and children? I would love to have a wife like that myself. It’s the kind of poem many Christian women have been made guilty for not living up to. It’s the kind of poem men, Christian and otherwise, walk around with in their heads whether they know it or not as a template for womanhood.

Just to show you how impossible it is to live up to the poem’s ideals. The poem opens with the now famous line: Who Can Find A Virtuous Woman? From there the poem launches into a description of a self-sacrificing wife (and mother)! The thought of a woman being anything other than a wife or mother would have been inconceivable and unconscionable to an  ancient narrator. But what if you’re not a wife or mother? What if you’re more than a wife and mother? These are the questions we’re still battling society and each other about.

But what are the qualifications for a husband? Where does one find a virtuous man? Now there’s a thought.

I’ve written before on good husband-dom, but let’s see if I can do a better job this time. When asked about what to look for in a husband, I’ve always spouted off four things to women: 1) a man who prefers partnership to domination as his model for being in relationship to a woman; 2) a man who has what it takes to go the emotional distance in building a relationship; 3) man who is a friend of your mind as well as other parts of your body (cough. cough); and 4) a man who genuinely loves God and has a strong spiritual life. That’s a pretty tough order to fill in today’s market, I’ll admit.

What if the tables were turned, and it were men who were commanded by Scripture to do whatever it takes to keep home and family happy and running smoothly ?

A Virtuous Husband

His value is higher than rubies.
Especially when he is the husband of a high-achieving, working woman.
The heart of his wife trusts him
For knowing when to offer advice and when to simply listen and offer comfort when she complains about how her day went.
He is a tower of strength to her at all times.
He keeps the house when she is away frequently and for long periods.
He prepares his own meals, and those of the children if they have any, rather than blow money by eating out.
He works and has his own career and doesn’t mind juggling his ambitions at work with his duties as a father and husband.
He knows all his children’s teachers and is grouchily happy to stay up to 2am in the morning helping his son with his Western Civs paper.
He doesn’t mind running errands like dropping by the cleaners to pick up his wife favorite outfit for tomorrow’s meeting at work or taking a child to the pediatrician–
whatever it takes to keep the household running smoothly.
He frequently goes to sleep with his wife lying next to him reading a book or office report,
or to the sound of her in the next room tapping on a computer.
Understanding and patience are his demeanor,
A sense of humor and a steady hand are his gifts in marriage.
His heart and his body are his wife’s alone.
He doesn’t care what other men think of him
because he is comfortable in his own skin, and
because he is not just a provider but a caregiver and
knows that making love means
making love,
and not just having sex.
Besides, he prefers his family’s adoration to his buddies’ slaps on the back.
His wife calls him blessed.
And she praises him often and loud for being the man that he is.
Smooth talking is deceptive and a fine looking man is not necessarily the same as a man who is fine to live with.
But a man who loves God and is willing to give himself over to learning what it means to love and live with this one woman is a man to be praised.
May God bless and reward him as he richly deserves with grace, peace, and more love than he can imagine
from the woman who calls him Husband.
(copyrighted, Renita J. Weems)