Theatre IV – Black Fatherlessness
What happens when a culture becomes fatherless? By default it become an over-mothered culture. It experiences a surplus of nurture and a deficit of life-training. It takes fewer risks than it would if Dad were there to say, “Go for it!” It gets patted on the back too often and kicked in the pants too seldom, and so far we’re not even talking about race.
If you’re a single mom, the imbalance in your household is not your fault. More than likely you’re a great mom and have gone far above and beyond the call of motherly duty to fill the void left by your children’s absent father. Still, the very fact that Dad’s not in the picture has left things out of divine whack. The goal of this chapter is to expose and discuss one important way in which we can begin to put things back in divine whack.
Now let’s talk about race. Our goal in this difficult chapter is not a micro-goal but a macro-goal. There is little to be gained by looking at one black, single mom but there is much to be gained by looking at eight million black, single moms. These gains will be especially great if we keep in mind that while there are eight million black, single moms in the United States, there are only about three million black, married moms.
As a refresher, let’s recall the nugget that was introduced in chapter five: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (Pr. 23:22).”
The implications of this nugget are clear and are illustrated time after time in the Bible: The primary lessons a mother is expected to impart to her children are to be imparted when they are young, while the lessons Dad is supposed to teach are to be taught throughout the child’s life, right up until Dad steps out into eternity. God’s plan calls for Mom to get a break after about 18 years and for Dad to keep on working forever. Maybe that’s to make up for how easy he had it in the early years!
“Listen” is a present-tense activity. We are supposed to listen to Dad when he speaks, every time he speaks. “Forsake,” meanwhile, is to dismiss something that’s already in place. We are not to forsake what Mom has already taught us because it is in place and forms much of our foundation.
For example, when I was a child my mom taught me over and over again that boredom is a form of criticism. She has not reminded me of that teaching in over 40 years but I remember it. I have not forsaken it.
By contrast, my dad came to me right before I got married and said, “Tommy, whatever you do in life, never let your insurance lapse.” I remember thinking, “Good one, Pops. Could you possibly be more random?” But guess what: I listened to him and, lo and behold, his instruction has turned out to be useful.
Fast-forward 25 years. When I was 48 one of our sons was causing so much trouble that Kathy and I were about to give up on him. Mom heard about all the trouble. She called me and said, “Tommy, I think you should buy that boy a one-way bus ticket to Alaska!”
Now, “Put that boy on a bus to Alaska” was not something Mom had taught me during my formative years. It was not a “teaching” that was in me. Rather, it was an emotional, real-time reaction. I knew that it was out of divine whack and that, in God’s eyes, I was free not to listen to it. So I didn’t.
When Mom got off the phone she told Dad about all the trouble. Dad then called me and said, “Tommy, keep in mind that every day your son gets a day older. Hang in there!” I listened to Dad’s instruction and I’m glad I did, and my son is doubly glad I did because he hates cold weather.
The last time I saw my dad healthy, it was his 89th birthday. We played golf that day and at some point in the round he said, “With the boys driving now, that must make it hard to keep track of all the oil changes.”
Translation: “Tommy, all your life I’ve been trying to train you to take care of your stuff, and I’m still not convinced you take care of your stuff. I’ll be dead one of these days and I could die a little easier if I were sure you took care of your stuff. So please—dang it!—listen to my instruction and change the oil in every car every 3,000 miles.” He was 89 and he was still instructing his son and it was still good instruction.
When we got home from the golf course that day, Mom had caramel rolls waiting for us because she knew I loved them the way she made them. That whole weekend she didn’t try to teach me anything; she simply nurtured me, as was her divine instinct. She had no lessons left to teach because she had already given me much to not forsake.
What I have been blessed to experience is not “white privilege” but divine privilege, the privilege of having not one but two parents who tried to cooperate with God. It is a privilege that God longs for every child to experience well into adulthood.
What I have experienced is a privilege that is not confined by race. It is a privilege that, God being the God who “cause his sun to shine on everyone (Mt. 5:45),” is intended for every child on earth and is confined neither by race nor by income. It is confined only by rebellion, and that rebellion is the rebellion of the self-absorbed young man who places self and sexual gratification Number One and Number Two on his Life List of Priorities. It is the rebellion that has yielded an essentially fatherless and over-mothered black community.
My reality is Mayberry Reality, and Mayberry Reality is the reality of having a father who is involved for life. Harlem Reality is different. Harlem Reality is the reality of a father who is a rolling stone.
Now, Mayberry would like to ask Harlem a question. It’s a question that has gone un-asked and unanswered since the Civil Rights Movement gave all of us a new glimmer of hope. You see, Mayberry truly wants to help Harlem, and in its desire to help Harlem Mayberry must now ask a White Elephant question. Mayberry is honor-bound to ask of Harlem: “How is it that a culture—young, black American men—that so honors and adores its own mothers does not extend that same honor and adoration to all women, to women who are or will one day be mothers themselves?”
Time out! I’m fully aware that I have just painted a large group with a wide brush, and in so doing have smeared millions of black men who don’t deserve smearing. If you’re a responsible black husband and father I salute you, and so does Mayberry, and so does every sincere Christian. Still friends? Good. Now back to Mayberry!
To the Mayberry culture, one of the most degrading things any man—black, white or other—can do to a woman is to impregnate any lady other than his wife. To the Mayberry culture, for a man to do such a thing is selfish, irresponsible, immature, reckless, short-sighted and detestable.
In all fairness, it must be acknowledged here that most young men—regardless of race—want to have sex, and that many young men—again, regardless of race—will indeed have sex every chance they get. So let’s not de-rail this discussion with the absurd notion that young white men are somehow more sexually virtuous than young black men. They are not! The issue at hand is not one of sexual virtue; the issue in this chapter is the dignity of women and the devastating dysfunction of an over-mothered, under-fathered culture.
There is no way for any woman—not even Superwoman—to perform all the services of a father. And when a woman is forced by an absent father to attempt such a feat, an avalanche of hardships follow, not the least of which is poverty.
Let’s get real. It’s hard to be spiritually exuberant and emotionally robust when you’re freaking out about money, and most single moms in this country spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about money. Sure, Mom can take up the slack with longer hours and a second job, and Caesar can stick his thumb in the dike by way of welfare, but the financial pressure behind the dike remains oppressive to single moms and their kids.
“Poverty” has become America’s politically correct code word for “no dad in the picture.” Because we live in America rather than Haiti or Kenya or New Guinea, we live in a country where it is almost impossible for a responsible couple to languish below the poverty line. The key word here, of course, is “responsible.” When two Americans live in the same house and work and follow a budget and do not indulge in luxurious habits–such as drugs–it’s a virtual certainty that everyone who lives in that house will always have everything they need and will sometimes have some of the things they want. Nobody in that family will have their spiritual or emotional health crushed by financial pressure.
The benefits of having Dad in the picture go far, far beyond the relief of financial pressure. Putting Dad back in the picture is also the best way to unleash the inner power and beauty of Mom, and when Mom’s inner power and inner beauty are unleashed, watch out! Ridiculously good things are sure to follow. As has been said, women are the thermostat of any society, and it is the job of men to set that thermostat at “Radiant!”
Now let’s re-visit that White Elephant question: How is it that a culture that so honors and adores its own mothers does not extend that honor and adoration to all women?
On our second visit to that question, the answer is not so elusive after all. In fact, the answer seems—and is—quite simple: Young black men—particularly Baby Daddies–honor their own mothers because their mothers have loved them as nobody else on earth has ever loved them, and they do not extend that honor to all women because their fathers have never trained them to do so.
Problem identified, solution en route!
Be street smart yet harmless. Peace.