The Black Man's Burden: Exploding The Myth of the "Dead Beat Dad"
By Dr. Umar Johnson, Psy.D., NCSP, M.Ed.
Nationwide (September 26, 2012) -- You've heard the rumors, for they are everywhere, and although unproven, they still resonate as facts throughout much of American society. The untruth that Black men don't want to care for their children has become a staple in American folklore. Even sadder, is the fact that these rumors are not only postulated by the numerically dominant white majority of this country, but are actually created, maintained and reinforced by the Black community itself.
Even President Obama, who rarely makes mention of the unique and unparalleled conditions facing Black men in this country, couldn't help but join in on the carnage of the Black man's image by telling Black church audiences during his first bid for the white house that "Black men need to take care of their children." Obviously, trying to woe Black female voters, the Senator turned President is also guilty of reinforcing the image of the Blackman as a "dead beat dad."
The question put forth to you today is whether or not this unsubstantiated rumor is true? The answer is a resounding "No!" Not only do Black men love their children, and want to be with their children, many go to great lengths trying to secure their "state guaranteed right" to participate in the lives of their offspring, only to be met with constant betrayal at the hands of the all-to-racially & gender biased family court systems that make up these United States.
As a therapist and facilitator of support groups and training programs for African-American men, I have seen first hand how so many Black men attempt to establish a relationship with their children only to have the proverbial door slammed in their face, even after being guaranteed "paper rights" to see their children, which are rarely enforced by the courts. The illusion and hypocrisy of unenforced "paper custody" decisions made by judges and hearing officers is made evident by the fact that, in many states and counties in the U.S., there is no credible enforcement process to ensure that men see their children when mothers decide otherwise. In other words, as long as primary custodial parents can evade the law by preventing non-custodial parents access to their children, without having to burden themselves with fines, warrants or transfers of custody by the courts, the Blackman's fight to play a meaningful part in the lives of his children will continue to be an uphill battle. Most Black women love their children and are willing to put personal sentiments to the side for the sake of God's greatest gift. Nonetheless, there is a growing population of Black mothers who are manipulating the family court system and/or are blatantly in total disregard for it, in an attempt to keep so many well-intentioned fathers from being a part of their children's lives. The fact that Black parents cannot work out their problems in private without having to resort to intervention from the racist court systems, in the first place, itself is a significant indication that our relationship culture needs to be totally overhauled and reconstructed.
When we talk about the War Against Black Children, we cannot exclude the primary role that their parents play in the psychosocial destruction of our youth. Developmentally and spiritually, the mother, within any species, is usually the main advocate of protection for her young. However, after years of mental conditioning through slavery, today we have some Black women who will consciously deny their children the affection of a loving father for personal selfish reasons. Behind closed therapy doors, I have had scores of Black mothers, benefitting from years of hindsight and maturation, admit, although all to late, that "yes, I kept my children from their father and I was wrong." Although any admission of honesty must be granted its blessing, unfortunately, the years of damage created by this cycle of ignorance and emotional neglect cannot go unmentioned. So many Black children are literally being destroyed by their custodial parents, and way before the mis-education machine, and psychiatric exploitation cartel, has a chance to get their hands on them.
What are some of the unjustifiable reasons mothers keep their children away from their fathers: 1) Out of Sight/Out of Mind: The pain of relationship rejection causes many Black women to prevent the man access to his children in order not to repeatedly have to face the very person who rejected them. 2) Jealousy For What They Never Had: Yes, I have had mothers admit that not having a loving father in their lives can create a subconscious envy for their daughters leading them to disrupt the father-daughter relationship that they never had themselves. 3) A Woman's Scorn: Revenge is often at the center of disrupted paternal emotional bonds. So many Black women lack the mature understanding that they and their children are not one and the same person anymore. Many women continue, for years after birth, to hold a pathological belief they what's good for them is automatically best for their children; In other words, "If I don't need him in my life, then he/she doesn't need him in their lives." 4) Child Support: Obviously if a man can find a job he should provide for his children. However, with so many Black men being undereducated and incriminated with felonies, it is quite difficult for many of them to find work. What children need most is the loving affection of their fathers, although it costs to raise children, it doesn't help to keep a father from his child for financial concerns alone. Unfortunately, in many municipalities the court systems have effectively separated custody issues from support matters which now gives mothers the right to collect the father's finances and at the same time continue to keep his children at bay. 5) Keeping the New Man Around: Although I find younger mothers much more guilty of this than older ones, it is also growing in prevalence amongst older mothers as well. So many Black women suffer from the emotional dependency of always having to have a man around to validate their womanhood (a condition often created by their own fatherlessness) that some will go to great lengths to guarantee "the new guy" a place in the sun by keeping the biological father on the outskirts and then trying to force the paramour upon the child as the replacement dad.
Getting revenge against their ex-lovers, at the children's expense, is a frequent theme in many family therapy sessions that often leads to broken relationships later in life after adult children learn that their mothers were the true reasons behind the absence of their fathers from their lives. Many mothers are able to effectively disguise their oppressive tactics against Black men under a false mask of innocence projecting victimization by the father, when in fact they are the victimizers; playing the helpless victim in public who is raising children without the benefit of the father, but is a merciless oppressor in private deliberately keeping the father from his children. This Black child custody crisis is not without its impact upon Black marriage. Many Black men, having friends and family already involved in this trifling state of affairs, are fearful of being caught up in a similar situation and are electing instead not to have children, are refusing to get married, and are unfortunately opting for a lifetime of serial monogamy, rather than risking possible divorce and complicated child custody disputes. In fact, even older Black men, many of whom are still married, are beginning to advise the younger generation to consider a life of serial monogamy or companionship with African women who are not American born. The reaction of Black men towards the pain and agony of having their children used against them is also not advantageous towards building and maintaining strong Black families. Thusly, many Black men are rejecting Black women altogether as poor advice from older men is feeding the stereotype of Black women as vindictive "gold diggers" and "control freaks."
Unfortunately, an increasing number of Black women, spurned on by the "We Don't Need A Man To Raise Our Children" Movement that is growing in popularity in the Black community, are contributing to the war against Black men by spreading untrue myths and rumors about "dead beat dads" while at the same time knowingly being guilty of "hiding the children." Unfortunately, the dead beat dad myth is so powerful that when others notice the peculiar absence of a caring father from the lives of their children, electing to ask why hasn't he been around, mothers can readily put the "dead beat dad" myth into play by saying "he just gave up," "he met another woman and forgot about my children, or "he doesn't want to be bothered." These lies are often enough to deflect suspicion. Since most already assume that the "dead beat dad" myth is true, a manipulative mother can benefit herself from the myth whenever necessary. The fact that she interrupts visitation, prevents telephone contact, and disobeys the partial custody agreement never figures into the equation. I have found, through therapeutic experience, that when a mother says the father doesn't want to be bothered, this usually means he doesn't want to be harassed with her particular "rules and regulations" that are often designed to complicate the custody arrangement (i.e., visitation on days when he works, visitation only when its convenient for her, cancelled visitations at the last minute when he had plans scheduled with the child, birthdays, holidays, etc.)
However, this behavior is not without its sometimes dangerous consequences for the women who enter into this game of manipulation and deceit. As a prison volunteer, I am increasingly encountering men who are being jailed for breaking under the pressure of having their ambitions to see their children maligned at every turn, and with an apathetically racist court system that couldn't care less, issuing visitation orders with no teeth behind them, are instead choosing to seek vigilante justice against the guilty parties. Although unacceptable, many Black men find it difficult to "turn the other cheek" and are putting hands on women, and their property (cars, homes, etc) as retaliation for being kept out of their children's lives. Still further, many grandparents and relatives are standing by and watching this game of cat and mouse, with tongue in cheek, and are putting their relationships with custodial parents ahead of the best interest of the growing children. Even professional Black men, who have so much to lose, are suffering from psychological breakdown, and are being charged with domestic abuse and battery. Attacking any woman should and must never be tolerated, under any circumstances. When Black men result to physical enforcement of paper custody orders, by attacking Black mothers, this perpetuates another myth, that of the "Angry & Violent Black Male," which is used as cannon fodder by the mother's family as further proof that he shouldn't be allowed to see his children. Being a felony charge in most states, even threats of retaliation for violation of verbal or legal custody orders is enough to give a Blackman a felony record, which doesn't sit well with his child support responsibilities. As you can see, this is a dangerous cycle of revenge and hostility that only affects our children and leads to disastrous psychosocial outcomes for the children involved. It is time for the Black community to stand up in defense of non-custodial parents, whether they be male or female, and fight for their God-given rights to participate in their children's lives. Until we do, the collective community karma of Black America will continue to bring us more unhappy and violent youths.
Dr. Umar Johnson is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Child Therapist, Political Scientist, Pan-Afrikanist & Parent Advocate. An expert presenter, Dr. Umar, as he is known to the African-American community, is an informational and motivational speaker, who will be releasing his first book, "Psycho-Academic Holocaust Against Black Boys: The Diary of a Mad Black Psychologist" on November 11, 2012. He can be reached at www.DrUmarJohnson.com/ (215) 989-9858. He will be speaking at Tom Joyner's Health Festival in Philadelphia on October 19th; the Children's Wholistic Health Fair in Atlanta on October 20th; National Tour of England (UK) Oct 21-November 1st; Los Angeles at Charles Drew University's Ebonics Conference on November 3rd, 2012; Paterson New Jersey's Black Ladies Breakfast on Mental Health & Self-Care on November 10th; and the National Hair Expo in Jackson MISS on April 12-14th, 2013.
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