Solving the crisis of absentee fathers

The Rev. Dr. Keith W. Reed, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church and founder of the K.W. Reed Christian Academy for Boys, and Colona Roberts, principal of the K.W. Reed Academy, are shown.--ABDUL R. SULAYMAN/TRIBUNE

Community, single moms fight challenges in raising nation’s fatherless children


Clarence Budington Kelland, a famous American author, had this to say about fatherhood: “He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

Sadly, millions of young boys are growing up in America without their fathers being actively present in their life — unable to “watch him do it.” In response to America’s absentee father pandemic, churches, community leaders and families have come together to support single mothers in raising America’s fatherless boys.

“A woman can’t raise a boy to be a man,” claims Jamilah-Asali I. Lemieux, in an article she authored for entitled “Can a Woman Raise a Boy to Be a Man?” Lemieux further states, “There are many women in our community raising children with limited to non-existent support from the (father).”

Because of this non-existent support and non-existent presence of fathers, young boys are experiencing some very harsh realities:

—85 percent of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes.

—71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.

—75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes.

—Children from a fatherless home are 20 times more likely to end up in prison and 5 times more likely to commit suicide.

In a USA Today article, Ron Klinger reports that, “The U.S. is the world leader in families without fathers…Just 27 percent of American kids live with their biological mother and father.” Klinger continues, “So powerful is the relationship between fatherlessness and juvenile crime that this factor alone is more predictive than poverty level, race, and education level.”

“We know that juvenile delinquency, overall, is a male phenomenon,” said Richard Redding, Ph.D, associate dean and professor of law and professor of psychology at Chapman University in Orange, CA., and a national expert on juvenile delinquency. “It’s easier for two people, two parents to supervise and monitor a child than one…when you have just one parent, it makes it difficult to supervise a child.”

Leslie Rescorla, Ph.D, professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College and director of the Child Study Institute, shared that, “Single mothers experience more stress in not having another parent” to help out in raising children. “Not having a father (in their life) is very difficult for boys, and discipline can be challenging for single mothers.”

Community leaders like Gregory James, however, are stepping up to counteract these negative outcomes.

“I wouldn’t say I came from a fatherless home, but my father wasn’t around,” said James, director of football operations for the Delco Tri-County Monarchs in Darby, Pa.

For seven years, James has successfully coached and mentored hundreds of young boys from households maintained by single mothers.

“As a youth playing football, I had a man (in my life), who wasn’t my father, help me,” added James. “Unfortunately, he’s no longer here today, but he inspired me to want to be out here, to want to be with the kids to help them.”

Nicole Bruce, 40, of Calvary Christian Church in Northeast Philadelphia, credits her relatives and church family for helping her raise her three sons, Marcus, 21, Avery, 20, and Justin, 15. 

“I have a very ‘Maury Povich’ life! (My sons) have three different dads. All of their fathers have other children,” said Bruce, who added that Marcus and Avery have good relationships with their dads, but Justin never had a good relationship with his father.

Justin has had anger towards his dad. Justin believes that if “you started something, you should finish it, and it’s your duty as a man to take care of your children.”

When one of Bruce’s sons had trouble at school, one of the male members of Calvary Christian Church volunteered, with her approval, and met with school officials to resolve the problem with her son.

As a middle child, Avery said he felt “alone a lot of times” and “like the black sheep [among his brothers].”

At the age of 9, he realized that not having his dad around wasn’t right.

“I knew [my household] wasn’t complete,” said Avery. “I knew a house wasn’t supposed to be like that.”

His relationship with his dad is “fairly well, but I wish it could be better.”

Avery’s ultimate wish, he said, is “more face-to-face time (with my dad), like, more time to be around him, more time to learn from him. We talk a lot on the phone, but it’s not the same as being near him, being able to see him.”

Avery’s older brother Marcus attends Bloomsburg University, and spent this summer in Florida reconnecting with his dad; Avery’s younger brother Justin attends Central High School in Philadelphia. Avery desires to pursue his education at the Community College of Philadelphia next spring, and later at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

Education is a key variable in helping boys raised by single mothers succeed in life.

“There’s a big educational gap between Black boys/Black girls, Black men/Black women,” says Brad Wilcox, 40, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Wilcox, a Ph.D, states that fatherlessness is more common among African-American and Latino males. 

The K.W. Reed Christian Academy for Boys in Philadelphia was created to specifically address the unique circumstances of fatherless boys from first to seventh grade.

“If we could have an institution that could be for them, it would cultivate them to move from boyhood to manhood,” explains Bishop Keith W. Reed Sr., senior pastor of Sharon Baptist Church and headmaster of K.W. Reed.

K.W. Reed is the only school in Pennsylvania with an all male teaching staff providing instruction to boys from households maintained by single mothers.

Colona Roberts, the school’s administrator, said other unique features of the school include a strong academic component that addresses learning styles of students; a boot camp for mothers and their sons; male mentoring; cultural trips; and non-traditional and traditional sports like fencing, martial arts, soccer, rowing and basketball.

Clifton Taylor, 20, grew up without their dad in the house, and offered some wise advice to other children growing up under similar circumstances.

“Just because your father isn’t necessarily in the picture does not mean you’ll not grow up to be a good man,” Taylor explained. “You can find other strong male role models. Do not become bitter toward your father because of the situation. You should always be open to some form of reconciliation, or at least forms of contact between you and your father. Don’t feel like you’re unwanted because your father’s not there. You are wanted, you still have a parent in the picture.”

“Church and religion had a big impact (on me) because it often times presented me with a lot of other positive role models,” added Taylor. “We ended up going on a lot of men’s retreats and fellowshipping with other good Christian men.”

Taylor and his mother Lisa West attend Christian Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Lisa is the director of Christian education there, and she plugged Taylor and his sister into many activities to keep them on a constructive path.

Whether it’s two or one parent raising children, Taylor says, “It’s all about the love that you put into the upbringing of your child.”

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