“Uncle David, can I come and live with you?” He calls me uncle and sometimes he calls me coach although in actuality I am neither. Every now and then he will call and want to spend the night. When he leaves I know he is full, rested, and has had some fun. It is the least I could do. It is what my father would have done.
I grew up knowing I was lucky but in my heart of hearts I wanted everyone to be lucky. I just don’t believe that race, socio-economic status, or which side of the tracks you were born on should play a factor in childhood.
I know that is so far from reality but it has never stopped me from wanting it so. I digress, sorry about that.
“I have never been into any trouble,” he assures me. Perhaps trying to make a stronger case for his plea. “Well I did get into trouble some in elementary school, but who didn’t?’ he asked.
“I didn’t.” I replied. “My dad would have whipped my butt,” I continued.
“That’s just it, I don’t have a dad. He was never in the picture. I have not seen him since I was three years old.”
He is 17 now. Based on what he has shared with me he has never been a boy and soon society will expect him to be a man.
He is caught between a rock and a hard place and the clock is ticking.
As tragic as his situation is, it isn’t an isolated event. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in biological father-absent homes. As a result there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.
Children in father-absent homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. In 2011, 12 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in mother-only families.
A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Source: Bush, Connee, Ronald L. Mullis, and Ann K. Mullis. “Differences in Empathy Between Offender and Non-offender Youth.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 29 (August 2000): 467-478.
I spoke with Willie Juddine and Porter Foster, managers of the male initiative project for J.W. Stewart Head Start program.
As I sat at the table with Mr. Juddine he reiterated the stats and the damage being done to our youth because of fathers not being in their place. It is because of those disturbing facts that once a month their division within the Head Start program host an event to facilitate getting fathers involved in the lives of our youth.
On this particular day we were all gathered in the auditorium watching a college football game and breaking bread. I watched as each dad entered the room. They were required to sign in and offer a few suggestions regarding follow up events.
“Our objective is to combat this epidemic, by providing the men in our community with information and opportunities to play a positive role in the lives of their children. Earlier this week our building was filled with men as we encouraged them to come and volunteer with their child’s class.
“In the cafeteria we had father’s serving lunches and wiping down tables. We not only want them visible but we want them to comprehend what is at stake. If we are to reverse this cycle the women cannot do it alone.
“In the future you will continue to see signs encouraging men to attend our meetings.
“We will try to make them fun outings, but make no mistake about it, our goal is to directly decrease incarceration by increasing fatherhood participation.” Studies show that youth in father-absent households had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.
In contrast, researchers found that father-child contact was associated with better socio-emotional and academic functioning.
The results indicated that children with more involved fathers experienced fewer behavioral problems and scored higher on reading achievement. This study showed the significance of the role of fathers in the lives of at-risk children, even in case of nonresident fathers. “That’s why we are here and that’s why there will be many more events like this each and every month,” Foster added.
Ironically I took the young man with me to that meeting. I just wanted him to know that there were individuals out there trying to make difference to ensure that this trend doesn’t continued. As for his personal case, I told him that I could be a resource parent for him.
I then placed a call to Scott Hilton of Eagle Rock Boy’s Ranch.
As of this writing steps are being made to see if we can make the most of what teachable years he has left before he must face the world on his own.