Deadbeat dads: victims?

Posted: Jan 31, 2002 12:00 AM
"Factoring Dads Into the Welfare Equation," read the column headline. Finally, one thought, an article about struggling welfare mothers that gives deadbeat dads a tongue-lashing for abandoning their financial and moral responsibilities. But no, the columnist urged understanding of the "plight" of poor, often minority, inner-city fathers who abandon their children. "The income of less educated men," the columnist helpfully explained, "has dropped drastically over the last 20 years as well-paying manufacturing jobs disappeared and wages shrunk in fields like transportation and construction." Damn that NAFTA and GATT. The columnist quotes an "expert" who concurred, "'The new economy puts a premium on education, computer skills, having a strong competitive position' ... Men who lack a college education or specific job skills 'have been left behind economically.' ... Because the men tend to be traditionalists, too, their failure wounds them as well. ... 'They don't have much pride in their status in society ... Many of them are working long hours for wages that don't provide enough to be able to support a family ... They're discouraged, cynical.'" "Traditionalist"? Men with little job skills and a work ethic to match, but who nevertheless breed children? Nowhere does the columnist mention personal responsibility. Nowhere does she condemn inseminators who, without regard to resources, educational level or income, breed kids. Nowhere does the columnist say what my mom and dad told me: Don't breed 'em if you can't feed 'em. This full-of-excuses article prompted this angry response from an eighth-grade inner-city public school teacher: "As an African-American public school educator in a school that serves an urban demographic, I'm intimately familiar to the genesis of these irresponsible fathers. There is little the government can do to help these men. They must first help themselves, and their communities must help them help themselves. "This year, 95 percent of the black boys I educate are failing my eighth-grade algebra class, despite all of them being at least as capable (if not more) than those that are passing. These 95 percent waste most of their class time, do little or no homework, are preoccupied with sports and girls, deride the five percent passing my class as "weak" or "soft," are consumed with wearing the latest "gear," only read when their teacher pleads, and laugh when they get Fs. While I love them as intensely as I love my own son, I loathe their academic skills, attitude and commitment. I have no doubt the public school system has ruined them with years of inexperienced/uncommitted teachers who haven't demanded or expected the level of performance I have of them. Not surprisingly, none of these boys has a father at home (conversely, the five percent that are passing do). Very few of them are promising athletes, which, combined with their poor academic performance and social skills (many of the girls find them quite undesirable), you have the recipe for gang-bait. The help these young men need starts at home. "I deplore single mothers with multiple children who rely on the older siblings to 'help with' the younger kids. I share this anger with my students, and it always strikes a nerve. Just because you're 13 or 14 doesn't mean you don't have needs, too. An adolescent needs love and attention as much as a 5-year-old, yet so many of my young men don't get it, and thus turn to other things. We are foolish if we expect these young men to grow up as responsible men without any models of responsible men in their lives. I take little pride in being the first black man they've known who a) went to college; b) doesn't smoke, do drugs or abuse alcohol; c) doesn't try to be a "playa"; d) consistently speaks standard English; e) doesn't have a criminal record. Black people must simply stop having children that cannot be responsibly reared, period. It's obvious to me why this issue is never emphasized by the social service advocates: you can't get government money for something most people should learn at home ... "We could not spend enough money on these dads until we separate and identify the spiritual and personal commitment required by those intimate with these young men. Change starts with the individual, not from some outside entity. When these young men decide to educate themselves, ignore the pop-culture free-market barrage of half-truths, and accept their obligation to their future children and community, they will not need to be part of the welfare equation, for they will be the solution." Blame "The Man." Blame the economy. Pass more social programs. But don't expect change until people accept responsibility and quit exaggerating the obstacles before them.