(This story appeared in the July 16th edition of the Houston Chronicle.)
Several hundred black fathers gathered at Houston’s MacGregor Park on Sunday to shatter stereotypes that they are just “deadbeats” or “sperm donors” and to encourage, rather than shame, those needing to do a better job.
Project Forward community activist Deric Muhammadsaid he pushed for a “Day of Encouragement” for fathers on Sunday because “beating down dads” won’t fix the problem. The community needs to come together to erase the long-running stigma against the black father, he added.
Supporters cited a recent federal survey that found black fathers are just as involved with their children as other dads. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study looked at fathers of infants to teenagers over a four-year period and determined black fathers spend as much time, if not more, bathing, dressing, reading and talking to their children, as fathers of other races.
This statistic held true for fathers who lived in the homes with their children as well as fathers who live apart from their children.
Experts note, however, that 67 percent of black families have absentee fathers – compared to 42 percent of Hispanic families, 25 percent of white families and 17 percent of Asian families. The higher percentage of missing dads creates a disparity that could drag down the black father’s influ
ence in their family, they added.
In the black community, Mother’s Day celebrations can almost rival Christmas, with restaurants filled to overflowing and flower shops buzzing, but when Father’s Day rolls around, it’s just glossed over, Muhammad said.
Most of the reaction in the black community to Sunday’s event was positive, he said, but there was a small percentage who wanted the organization to come down hard on fathers who fail to pay child support.
He said speakers that day had not overlooked that issue when they stressed what he called the “4 e’s” of child support that go beyond finances to include education, encouragement, emotions and economics.
“I know what it’s like to have no father to guide me, having to figure out so much on my own,” he said. “That’s why I organized this. It comes from my heart.”
Muhammad said he did not know his biological father until age eight and that tenuous connection ended a couple of years later when his father was killed in a motorcycle accident. His mother also battled her own demons with a drug addiction.
Now he has three daughters of his own and is passionate about helping fathers become the best parents that they can be.
“My dad plays a huge role in my life,” agreed his 11-year-old, Najah, as she munched on a snow cone. “He takes care of me and makes sure I’m safe.”
To help fathers who might not have the financial resources to celebrate this holiday with their children, the park event included everything from inflated bounce houses to father-son basketball games for entertainment.
Mentoring can also be the answer for those without fathers in their lives, said Bruce Jackson, who was helping young boys at the event build racecars with piston engines. “I have a track in my backyard where they can make a lot of noise and race fast. They also learn some mechanics on the way,” he said