*Malik’s dad lives only about 20 minutes away, but it may as well have been 20 hours.
His dad was never present his life and their relationship is defined by vivid images of broken promises. Like the time in elementary school when Malik’s dad promised to bring cupcakes to celebrate his birthday but never showed, leaving him to face his friend’s questions, “Where’s your dad?”
Or the times his dad never showed to pick him up from football practice. Malik was left sitting on the curb, waiting expectantly for a man who would never show.
And the basketball game when his dad promised, “After your game, we’ll grab a bite to eat.” Malik was glad to see him watching from the stands. But as he walked out of the gym in street clothes, his dad wasn’t there. Malik only saw his dad’s car driving away. He pulled his phone out and quickly called him, only to hear him say, “Something came up. I’ll catch you another time.”
Unfortunately, Malik’s story isn’t unique. In fact, it’s very common. According to the most recent U.S. Census, more than 1 in 4 children live without a father in the home. That’s one out of every four children in our neighborhoods, communities, and schools.
For young men like Malik there are lasting consequences to growing up in a father-absent home. For example, because his dad was never around, Malik became:
- four times more likely to live in poverty,
- more likely to have behavioral problems in and out of school,
- twice as likely to drop out of high school, and
- more likely to be incarcerated.
At some point, most of these children are going to become parents themselves and the damages of a fatherless home will contribute to a cycle that proves difficult to escape. Young men like Malik will find themselves asking a very important question, “Can I be a good father when I’ve never had one?”
Whenever I meet with dads, the very first question I ask is, “What was your relationship like with your father?” And that’s when they begin to talk—and usually keep talking. It’s during this first lesson that male stereotypes are shattered. Most guys work under the assumption that they can only talk to other guys about surface matters: football, work, etc. I’ve found that maybe that’s because guys simply aren’t being asked the right questions and given a safe space to provide honest answers. That’s what Care Net’s fatherhood program Being Dad provides.
Helping a man talk about his own dad is important because that relationship will have a huge impact on his parenting, whether consciously or subconsciously. When faced with being a dad, men will inevitably rely upon the script they’ve been handed by their own father—whether good or bad. Once they’ve begun to open up about this, I will interject a refreshing truth: You are now in a position to be the dad you’ve never had. We want them to see that even though they can’t change the past, they can break bad patterns by stopping to identify them and establish new ones for the future. That’s a vital part of helping men become involved fathers.
During one lesson, a dad was talking about his relationship with his father, which was non-existent while he was a child. As he was talking, I stopped him and said, “Now you’re in a position to provide what you never had. You’ll be able to give your son the unconditional love that you needed.”
He paused and said out loud, “I’ve never had unconditional love from my father.” He looked at me, saying, “I’ve never said that out loud before.” And he kept repeating that throughout our conversation because it was a light bulb moment for him. He just needed the space to say it and someone to ask him about it.
We didn’t stop there. We continue to meet each week to establish new patterns in areas such as fathering skills and maintaining healthy relationships that will prepare him to become a father who is involved in his child’s life.
We believe that dads matter.
For many men, the question they’re asking is, “Can I break the cycle of father-absence?” Thanks to Care Net’s new fatherhood program and your support, they are now in a position to answer, “Yes, I can—and yes, I will.” Thanks to you, we can help men become the father their child needs.
*Names changed to protect privacy.