'Fatherhood Movement' Forming in Mississippi

David Blankenhorn, Clarion Ledger, 11/7/1998

Today, the world looks different. Across the country, we are witnessing the emergence of a fatherhood movement – a diverse and expanding group of leaders, organizations, and grass-roots initiatives, cutting across ideological, political and racial lines, all aimed at reconnecting men to their children... The scholars who study this issue increasingly agree that fatherlessness is a root cause of many of our worst social ills. For example, one recent study finds that the father's absence is the single most important predictor of criminal behavior by young men – more important than income, race, educational attainment or quality of neighborhood.

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Subjects: Fatherhood, Family

More by: David Blankenhorn

Five years ago, few policy makers or opinion leaders were calling attention to the problem of fatherlessness. A few people were doing good work, especially African-American leaders such as Eddie Staton of MAD DADS in Omaha. But these pioneers were largely isolated and unrecognized voices in the wilderness.

Today, the world looks different. Across the country, we are witnessing the emergence of a fatherhood movement – a diverse and expanding group of leaders, organizations, and grass-roots initiatives, cutting across ideological, political and racial lines, all aimed at reconnecting men to their children.

This week, for example, at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the Morehouse Research Institute and the Institute for American Values are co-sponsoring a national conference that asks the question: "Are Black Fathers Necessary?"

Scores of leading scholars and civic leaders from across the country are gathering in Atlanta to answer "Yes" and to propose ways to strengthen the bonds between African-American fathers and their families.

As a Jackson native who attended Callaway High School, I'm proud to be a speaker at Mississippi's "Responsible Fatherhood Summit" being held in Jackson.

Organized by Gov. Kirk Fordice and the state Department of Human Services, the summit is the culmination of a extensive community outreach effort, bringing together pastors and community leaders from across the state. I believe that this important effort can be a model for other states.

We are now familiar with the grim statistics. Tonight, about 40 percent of all American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live. Before they reach the age of 18, more than half of all American children will spend at least a significant part of their childhood living apart from their fathers.

The scholars who study this issue increasingly agree that fatherlessness is a root cause of many of our worst social ills. For example, one recent study finds that the father's absence is the single most important predictor of criminal behavior by young men – more important than income, race, educational attainment or quality of neighborhood.

In response to this crisis, people are now working in communities across the country to bring back the fathers. Are there any foundations or charitable efforts that might now step forward and do the same thing for Mississippi?

In Irvine, Calif., a Boot Camp for New Dads is organizing classes for new fathers. In another California town, the city council and mayor recently adopted a "proclamation" that "does hereby encourage Merced residents... to discover and employ the legal, economic and cultural factors and moral values necessary to reverse the trend of fatherlessness."

For many leaders in this movement, strengthening fatherhood also means strengthening marriage.

Organizations such as the National Fatherhood Initiative and the National Center for Fathering stress that renewing a marriage culture is an important key to reversing the trend of fatherlessness.

To be successful, a fatherhood movement must be inclusive and reconciling, reaching out especially across lines of race and income. It must also welcome mothers into its ranks, realizing that renewing fatherhood cannot be separated from supporting motherhood and affirming marriage.

A successful fatherhood movement must sustain itself financially. It must be willing and able to make strong public arguments. It must focus on changing attitudes and values as well as laws and institutions. It must define and pursue concrete, measurable goals. To me, the fatherhood movement's overarching goal should be to increase the proportion of children who grow up with their two married parents.

Finally, a fatherhood movement must respect the moral and religious dimensions of fatherhood, recognizing that fatherhood at its deepest level connects men to purposes larger than themselves.

That movement is now a reality. And today, some of the most important and dedicated leadership of that movement is coming from Mississippi.

This article originally appeared here.

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