Welcome to Parlour’s newest smart brown girl series, profiling women of color in academia. Delving into their research, we’ll discuss what’s going on in the hearts and minds of those at the forefront of intellectual discussion in America and around the world. Who said feminism, intellectualism and learning was dead?
In light of Father’s Day, Parlour spoke to Eva Haldane, a Columbia University graduate student completing her Ph.D in social work, about why co-parenting, whether a child’s parents live together or not, is so important. Ms. Haldane shared that while mothers certainly do care about whether fathers are paying child support, the kids themselves would simply rather have a relationship with their dad, with or without money. Not to mention, the stereotype that black fathers are statistically less present than others races is inaccurate. Here’s what Ms. Haldane had to say in her own words:
To all the fathers who don’t live with their kids; your kids don’t care if you pay child support, they just want to spend time with you. Men get caught up in being a provider and forget that it’s more important to be there for their children as a supportive role model. Fathers must get over their egos. Your child is not going to remember whether you bought them a Tickle Me Elmo, but they will remember when you didn’t come to their basketball game, which was free.
Americans are not getting married the way we used to. The likelihood of children being raised by a single parent has increased, according to 2010 Census, 38 percent of black children lived with two parents.
When dads spend quality time with their kids, not just watching TV, they can share their values. The father can say ‘I don’t approve of you having unprotected sex indiscriminately or before you’re married’ or communicate how hard it is to be a nonresident father. It’s more about the quality of the relationship, and you don’t have to live with your kids to have a good relationship.
In my dissertation Three Papers on Paternal Effects on Child’s Sexual Risk Taking and Relationship Formation, I culled data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also called Add Health, which tracked 20,000 kids from twelve-years-old until their late 30s. The study asked every question under the sun about their physical and mental health, sexual behavior and relationships with their fathers, and their non-resident fathers, meaning if they had a stepfather or single mother at home. My preliminary research shows that the stereotype saying if a father’s not around, their child will be more sexually active is true.
Americans should stop acting like the single parent family isn’t increasingly becoming normal and problematic. If research shows that kids who don’t grow up with both parents are more likely to drop out of school, have risky sex, not make any money and have multiple children, then we need to take this phenomenon seriously.
When I worked at Columbia Professor Ronald Mincey’s Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being, I analyzed surveys about child support completed by nonresident fathers. None of those men wrote ‘I don’t like my kid,’ they usually wrote they weren’t around because they didn’t have any money or didn’t get along with their child’s mother. Still, the kid almost always thinks there’s something they can do to bring their father back or fix that relationship. That’s frustrating because it seems simple to spend time with your child but the ‘I have to be a provider’ idea starts so early in young men that its tough to break. Recently, I interviewed male college sophomores and they were already saying ‘I have to take care of my family’ though they were students with no income.
For my dissertation, I’m focusing on girls because I was interested in when their relationships with their fathers fell apart and how they thought that influenced their dating and sexual habits. From my interviews, many thought their dads had a magic answer that would help them pick the right guy. There is obviously no secret to choosing a mate, but it’s interesting that girls who didn’t have their father growing up think that there’s something missing, and that’s why they aren’t in romantic relationships.
My research also hits close to home because I grew up with and without my father.
My dad is a recovering drug addict and he also had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a child, he and I hung out all the time, then he began using drugs hardcore and we hung out a little less, then he started going to jail and we hung out even less.In my early 20s, I told him that his drifting in and out of my life was crazy. By that time, he’d been clean for a few months so we had a good talk. I wrote him a letter, and I’m pretty sure I included the phrase, ‘You’re not going to be the reason I don’t get married’ and ‘You haven’t made an effort to get to know me, I’m an adult.’
He wrote me back and apologized. He’d been in therapy for PTSD by that point, he was clean and working on himself so that helped. I also, to use a very social worker phrase, met him where he was. My dad’s not going to be Cliff Huxtable, but he’s always going to help me move, fix something or listen to me complain and be optimistic. A lot of kids need to realize that their dad is not perfect and meeting him where he is, instead where you’d like him to be, is helpful.
Ultimately, just because black couples aren’t getting married at the rate society deems acceptable doesn’t mean they aren’t parenting or that black fathers aren’t present or bad in their role. In fact, black nonresident fathers are more likely to be in contact with their children than nonresident fathers of other races. I’ve even heard black people say in conversation that slavery has impacted contemporary culture’s marriage rates, but that’s not right either.
Recently, I tried to write a paper about when the idea of blacks being bad fathers began historically, and I drew my research all the way back to slavery. Then blacks couldn’t marry legally, so we jumped the broom, but if a husband was sold he might marry at his new plantation. During Reconstruction, dads were even buying their families as they moved up north so they could parent, I found so many amazing stories.
I think people blame slavery for everything, but black marriage rates during Reconstruction were 70-90 percent. Marriage rates have never been that high since then. I hate when people say black men aren’t good fathers or they aren’t there because throughout our history they have been, or have tried to be. Everyone’s not going to get married nor should they, but everyone must learn how to co-parent.