Stop identifying “bad dads.”

A new study on father involvement has given a long-needed facelift to the image of black fatherhood in America. Released by the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, it indicates that black men - while having more non-co-residential children than white or Hispanic men - were more involved with their children on nearly every measure than were white or Hispanic fathers, whether they lived with their children or not.

This apparently came as a surprise to many people. I conducted a small qualitative study of black single custodial fathers during the early 2000s and wrote “Best Kept Secret: Black Single Fathers.” I interviewed 20 men who were parents full-time to at least one of their biological children. Additionally, some parented children who were not theirs biologically. They had come into single parenthood following non-marital births, divorce, widowhood, or adoption. All had come into custody by choice, as even the fathers who had been widowed or divorced had had alternatives offered to them. Each made a conscious decision. Some had had to fight for the right to take custody of their children. These were dedicated dads.

I followed that book up with an edited volume with Charles Green: “The Myth of the Missing Black Father: The Persistence of Black Fatherhood in America.” Our point was to show the stereotype of the “absent black father,” one that seemed to fit with so many other stereotypes society held of blacks, was based on the faulty assumption that non-co-residence means non-involvement. Black fatherhood is a varied experience, one that has persisteddespite great odds. Nevertheless, I don’t discount the experiences of many black children and adults who whose fathers were not present in their lives. Many are pained by this absence. Many of the single fathers I interviewed were among those wounded and were motivated to parent full-time because they “wanted to be the kind of father they did not have” or to “break the cycle” of a neglectful father.

My concern now is that in society’s need to find fault, this recent data on black fatherhood could lead observers to demonize Hispanic fathers. Their involvement measures consistently lowest in studies. U.S. Hispanic fathers are often men who migrate from one state to another, or from one country to another to work. Thus they are separated from their children. The takeaway: Instead of trying to identify the “bad dad,” we should support all parents in their quest to provide financially, emotionally and socially for their children.

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