Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Are you still with the mom?

Today's post begins with a little vignette. The other day, Anthony said he was introduced to a new partner with Starbucks. The new partner was in his late 20s and just begun working there while also attending college. He and Anthony were having a discussion when the topic suddenly turned to our son, Maxwell. This new worker asked Anthony how old Maxwell was. Anthony answered that Maxwell had just turned one year old. The guy then asked as seriously as possible, are you still with the mom? I almost don't know where to begin writing this post.

Do I start with how sad it is that our culture can't believe that people can stay together beyond having a one-year-old child? Do I mention that the young man was Caucasian and that it seems to me that he is buying into a stereotype that black men do not stay with the mother of their children? Or maybe I address how crass and rude it is to ask a question like that when the man you're talking to is wearing a wedding ring. If he really married to someone else already after having a one-year-old child with me?

I guess I'll start by addressing the sadness of our culture. It really has come to a point where it is completely normal to have a one-year-old child and not be with the mother of that child. I know that circumstances are sometimes beyond our control like losing a spouse. I really don't believe that this young man was referring to Anthony being a widower. I think he honestly believed that there was a possibility that Anthony had a one-year-old child with a woman he no longer loved or was with. I asked a few questions of Anthony before I began to break down the scenario. Anthony said that yes, the man had noticed that Anthony was indeed married. He had mentioned that he was married therefore there is absolutely no excuse for him thinking that there was a possibility that Anthony might be widowed or that Anthony might be a single father. 

I am so sad that we live in a time where it is completely normal that we have children with people that we are no longer with after only a year. Then I start thinking about the racial ramifications of the things this young man said. Anthony and I begin to chew up the possibility that this man was so used to seeing black men not be with their families anymore they just assumed it was a possibility that Anthony wasn't. Maybe he wasn't even used to seeing black men not be with their families, but was more used to the way the media portrays Black men as fathers. This brought me back to a memory that happened in 2004.  I was sitting in the waiting room of a Planned Parenthood when I noticed a picture on the wall. The picture was of a black man, holding an infant and that text on the picture said "be a father, don't leave! "I wasn't sure what to think in my twenty-four-year-old mind as someone who is always dated Black men. I have dated outside of my race more than I dated inside of my race. I probably always knew that if I had a child, that child would be biracial. Why we are talking about this, the men that I dated had either not been fathers or have been excellent fathers. Yes, I have dated men who are no longer with the mother of their children but they were also full-time dads and a few even had full physical custody of their children. As I thought on this today, I decided to do some Internet research. I went ahead and Googled "statistics on black fathers." 

According to 2011 US Census Bureau data, 33% of American children live without their fathers present in the home. That percentage also counts one in every three homes that have a black father,  where the father is an absent father. Now, I realize that that is a very high amount of black men who are not taking physical care of their children. Although that's true, isnt 33% of fathers being absent in the home a pretty large amount regardless of race. To me, this is less about African-American men not being fathers and more about parents not staying together and people having children not thinking about what it looks like to hold on for the long-haul. To me, this is an epidemic of parenthood, not one of black father-hood. 

In the same data, it also said that one in four white fathers are leaving home and no longer a present parent. Why is it that one more father in a black community creates such a stereotype that there are photos of black fathers being asked not to leave in Planned Parenthood? On the highway by my house in a very predominantly Caucasian area, there is a billboard with a pair of larger black feet and on top of those feet there is a tiny pair of black feet. On that billboard it says "be a father today. " Anthony and I drive by this billboard every single day. Does it remind Anthony to pick Max up and love on him? Does it make Anthony change one more diaper or snuggle Max a little bit closer? No! It degrades the fact that he is a father every day. Why are those feet black? I know that a lot of people will think I'm being sensitive. I know that a lot of people will think "there's got to be a billboard with white dad feet too, right? "To be honest, I doubt it. I think that there is often a tendency to focus on black fathers when talking about not being a father. It hurts those of us who are married to black men who are not just staying but are actively participating in their children's lives. 

This reminds me of another story. Anthony and I were newly dating in June 2006. I will never forget this situation. I was sitting in a classroom talking to a few fellow students in my graduate program. I mentioned that my boyfriend was coming to visit at school that day to have lunch with me. He showed up about an hour later and was sitting in the lounge waiting on me to have lunch. I went in and had lunch with him and he left afterwards so I could return to class. Those same students that I had been talking to earlier were sitting with me again. One of them without even thinking, said "so does Anthony have kids? "I sat there in stunned silence because to be honest, I couldn't figure out what to say. The answer was really easy. No, Anthony didn't have any children. So after a pause, I answered no, should he? The student, again without even thinking said "well most black men already have several at his age." Anthony, at the time was 25 years old. Really? Is that a statistic? Is it true that 25-year-old black men already have several children? Again, I had no idea what to say. I then answered, "well, Anthony doesn't have any children. " The more I talk about the story the more I think this specific student was ignorant. The next thing that came out of his mouth was ridiculous. He said, "oh, well at least none that he knows about, right?" I was disgusted and appalled that any person who at least have a bachelors degree and is pursuing a Masters degree in clinical psychology could be that much of a dope! How sad is it that he had no qualms about insinuating that Anthony went around impregnating people and not even knowing it.

I realize that day sitting in the beautiful state of Southern California, that things haven't changed that much. I was in one of the biggest melting pots in the nation of diversity. I was sitting in a classroom with educated people in a field that is known for being open-minded and empathic. Yet, it's still okay to imply that a black man is nothing more than a sperm bank  that goes around not taking responsibility for his children or the women who give birth to them. I was so sad and so disillusioned. When will it stop? When will these people accept that there are just as many black men out there fathering children and raising children. When will we stop and find that white men are not the only men to stick around and be there for their children. I'm here to tell you, from experience, White men don't always stay and father their children. The percentages may be higher in the black culture for fatherless children, but the epidemic of fatherhood is not just a black man's experience. It is a problem in every angle, in every color, and in every culture. Let's stop insinuating that black men don't know how to father and stop glorifying fathers that are just sticking around. How about we address the real problem here? The real problem here is men who say they are babysitting their children rather than parenting their children. The problem is men who believe it is a woman's job to raise children. The problem isn't about women in the workplace or women staying at home. The problem is about men who do not take responsibility for fatherhood.

It would be difficult for me to write this post and not say the following things: my husband is a father. He is a loving, nurturing, affectionate, involved, dedicated father. Guess what? He's also black. These things have nothing to do with each other. He was taught that it was the job of a mother and a father to raise a child. He was taught that you don't make babies unless you want babies. He was taught that sex was not just for procreation and pleasure but for love. He was taught to not just stick around but to be a daddy. Today, I want to say thank you to the father that I most respect in my life, my beautiful strong black husband.

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