Observations of an African-American Father

Tuesday, 06 October 2009 10:41 By Dr Wilmer J Leon III, t r u t h o u t | Perspective | name.

Observations of an African-American Father
(Photo: apdk / flickr)

    On this past Saturday, October 3, 2009, a 16-year-old African-American honor student, Derrion Albert, was laid to rest in Chicago. This young man was beaten to death in the street while walking from school to the bus stop. Silvanus Shannon, 19; Eugene Riley, 18; Eric Carson, 16; and Eugene Bailey, 18, have all been charged with first-degree murder in Derrion's death.

    As I watched the video of this young man being beaten to death with a railroad tie, I asked myself what could compel four young African-American men to engage in such a wanton and willful murderous act? How could these young men have such disregard for another human being's life that they would beat him to his death, in the street, in broad daylight? What is the basis of their rage, their anger?

    I then asked myself, where are their fathers? For too many young men that engage in such violent and destructive behavior their fathers are usually absent, not active or engaged in their lives. This antisocial rage, this anger, is probably in part a response to being raised without the benefit of knowing the love of their fathers. If these young men were asked to explain what drove them to this act, they, most likely, would not be able to articulate a clear response. They probably do not know. If they do know, they would be too ashamed to say.

    As a man, who was blessed to be raised by two loving parents, I clearly understand the power of love. At the age of 50, I am still blessed to be able to talk with my almost 90-year-old father every day (I lost my mother last March), hear his voice, seek his counsel, feel his love. For, as far as I have been able to come based upon knowing my father's love, I cannot begin to imagine how dysfunctional I would be without it.

    As a father of a seven-year-old, I see every day the impact that I have when I walk my son to school, show up in his classroom unannounced, take him to the golf course, help him with his homework, carry him to bed and kiss him good night. I see every day the impact that I have when I do for my son the same things that my parents did and continue to do for me. You see, this is learned, not innate, behavior.

    I literally feel the transfer of positive energy when Wilmer IV hugs me and says, "Daddy, I love you!" To which I reply, "I love you, too, son." He will then usually say, "No Daddy, I REALLY love you." There is a real force there, a power in that love. I can only imagine the void that is created in its absence, the dysfunction. That void is soon filled with anger, resentment and hatred when a child or young man fails to receive that love, guidance and support from his father. The Pretenders had a song entitled, "It's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate."

    Now, there are many single mothers out there doing the best they can to raise their sons. Many, if not most of them, are doing great work and producing wonderful children. But a woman cannot fill the void that is created by the absence of a father. If it takes a male and a female to create a child, it takes a mother and a father to complete the process of raising one.

    My wife said to me recently, "We are on the same page about 75 percent of the time when it comes to raising Wilmer. It has taken me almost six years to understand that there's another 15 percent of the time when I have to just defer to you as his father and your judgment because, as a woman, I was never a 6-, 7- or 8-year-old boy. I don't have the empathy for that circumstance; you do." Fellas, this is why you have to be there for your sons. For as much as they try and for as good of a job as they do, women cannot fill the void created by the absence of a father's love.

    The statistics show that 40 percent of US children today grow up without their father at home; almost 40 percent of American children living in single-parent families will experience poverty before they reach age 11; nearly two-thirds of the ten million mothers in single-parent homes receive no child support; seventy percent of juveniles in state reform institutions come from single-parent homes; and children in single-parent families are twice as likely to become involved in substance abuse or other health risk behaviors.

    If the statistics showed that men who wore pink scarves when they gambled in Las Vegas increased their probability of winning by 40 percent or nearly two-thirds of the men who wore women's shoes while playing the horses won 70 percent of the time, we would have a lot of pink-scarf and women's-shoe-wearing men gambling in Las Vegas and playing the ponies. Fathers, why not play these odds with your children, especially your sons?

    Silvanus Shannon, Eugene Riley, Eric Carson and Eugene Bailey have all been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Derrion Albert. If they are convicted, they should receive the harshest penalties that our system of justice can impose. But, if we, like Minister Louis Farrakhan, can ask, "... why such a beautiful life?" fathers, the answer lies within. What is the basis of their rage, their anger? This antisocial rage, this anger is probably in part a response to their being raised without the benefit of the love from their fathers and that's a solution that is easy to provide.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 October 2009 10:52