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Much has been said in the popular press and psychological research studies about the absence of Black fathers, and the negative effect that may have on their offspring. Some studies suggest that children in father absent homes tend to do poorly in school and may be more likely to develop a substance abuse problem later in life.
It is also theorized that mental health consequences for father absence may include the expression of hurt as anger and rage in the form of acting out behavior at school (e.g., hitting classmates, not following teacher directives, not completing in class assignments) and at home (e.g., not completing chores, tantrums). Research also suggest that father involvement improves school readiness and fewer behavioral problems when children enter preschool and reduces the chances of aggressive and delinquent behavior
According to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, approximately fourteen percent of households were held by fathers. By 2013, fathers headed about 24 % of U.S. households. Despite the many challenges involved in parenting, many Black men are choosing to raise their children, as single parents or co-custodial parents. Thus, combatting myths, such as Black fathers do not care about their offspring and that their presence can negatively influence children and the family unit.
I interviewed three young, single fathers for this article, and asked them several questions about the joys of fatherhood, the challenges, their support systems and additional supports that might make single parenting easier for Dads.
What are some of the joys of Fatherhood?
All three Dads agreed that there were many joys in parenting their children. Chris Daughtery, 31, a motivational speaker and author of “From Boys to Gentlemen”, is parenting 5 year old twin boys and a three year old son. He cites some of the joys of fathering his sons, such as “(being) responsible for your kids. It’s about accountability. You have to watch what you do; being mindful of your behavior. Such as opening the door or saying “Yes, Ma’am”. You’re imparting important lessons.”
What are some of the challenges?
Michael Rocchio, 30, works in restaurant service and has custody of his son, Jaiden, age 11. For him the challenges included becoming a parent at an early age. “The idea of being an example to someone is one of the biggest challenges,” said Rocchio. “I’m trying to be the Dad that my Dad wasn’t. I’m trying to be something that wasn’t there for me. I had him at 18 years old. I was basically a kid raising a kid.” But despite all of the challenges, Rocchio states that it is a joy “watching him blossom into a young man. He is at 11 years old. His personality is developing.”
Is there a difference in the challenges that Black single fathers face vs. Black single mothers?
Most parents, whether they are two parent or single parent mothers or fathers want the best for their children. They want to raise competent, confident and compassionate children. They also want them to have better opportunities than they had and to achieve more with their lives.
Fathers noted that the biggest difference is that people who encounter them as the primary caregiver are often surprised about the father’s involvement in the children’s lives. Rocchio, says “It is expected that a Black woman will struggle and raise her child. It’s always a jaw dropping reaction when people hear that I have my son full time.” Daughtery notes that “people consider me a great father just because I’m present. (They should) say that I’m a great Dad because of the patience I show to my child, not because I am here.”
What are some of supports that you rely on in raising your children (e.g., family, church, community)?
All three fathers noted that their families and close friends are extremely supportive and helpful. Aleka Wroten, Jr., 24, is a Teacher’s Assistant who is raising four children (sons, ages 4, 5, 6; and a daughter, age 2). He states that his family is “my main support” and that he often relies on them in helping raise his children. Rocchio echoed that sentiment, “Definitely my family. My Mom…and grandmother before she passed (in 2013). They were my rock.”
What supports would you like to see for fathers that don’t exist currently?
The court system seemed to be one of the biggest challenges for fathers fighting for custody of their children. Each father stated that they would like to see court resources and services for fathers fighting for the custody of their children. Rocchio stated “The court system was very difficult. I guess in the beginning they favored the mother…they were always in her corner. They still wanted him to remain in her custody.”
Additionally, both Wroten and Daughtery noted that they would like to see more support groups for fathers. Daughtery states “I’d love to see more unity among single fathers allow the kids to see the relationship between other men. Single fathers are a lot more isolated.”
Men are socialized to handle issues on their own and not to talk openly about their stressors. Dealing with life is sometimes hard. Raising children can compound the stress. Fathers need to know that is okay to talk about the challenges and get help finding solutions.
Communities should provide support to fathers who need it. There is evidence in the research literature that suggests that people who are supported have less mental health issues (e.g., depression). Conversely, people who are not support or are alienated from the community are at increased risk for mental health issues.
Resources for Single Fathers
Gregory Canillas, Ph.D. serves as Assistant Professor in the Clinical Psychology (Psy.D) program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Los Angeles campus. Dr. Canillas’ clinical work has focused on children, adolescents, children in foster care, therapy/relationship issues and LGBTQ clients. Tweet him @DrGJCanillas.