My uncle is a deadbeat dad. I love him, Black combination of obligation and empathy, but I abhor his decisions as a man, as a human being, and especially as a father of five.
If you were to ask him about his dedication to fatherhood for the last three half decades, he’d tell you how his children (and grandchildren) love and adore him, how he’s sacrificed and struggled for their good and how their progress is proof. I call that equal parts delusion and denial because nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that for the last 30 years of his adulthood, the better part of my life, my uncle has chosen, like many men, to disregard his responsibilities as a father. And his decision has damaged my family beyond description.
As a Black child
My relationship with my five cousins was distant but never strained. For this, my uncle blamed their three mothers. They were bitter and holding my cousins’ hostage, which was simply what Black women did when you left them; punished the children with your absence. Cousin photos at family functions were never complete, and those women were to blame.
They knew how hard it was out there for a Black man like my uncle, one with a criminal record thanks to an unjust legal system and barely a high school diploma, courtesy of an inept public-school education. They honestly had no business laying with him in the first place, that’s what my aunties said, single parenthood was their punishment for picking poorly.
In times of tragedy, death was used to my uncle’s Black.
The tragic death of my grandmother meant bygones were bygones, and whatever grudges those bitter women were holding onto were gonna need to be put on pause. The women in my family agreed, descending upon the mothers of my cousins like a coven. “You know mama wouldn’t want this fighting right now”, they reprimanded, “She would want the family to come together, grandkids included.” The women always relented.
And so, our childhood polaroids were replaced by funeral photos every seven or eight years. Cousin photos turned into flicks of cousins plus their kids; our families grew in opposite directions and missing a little time meant missing a lot more than births and birthdays. However, a November tragedy magnified those misses when we received word of the passing of my eldest cousin, LJ. A fatal car accident sent us all into a state of shock, no phone calls or covens could reverse the irreversible.
Our LJ go, this time his funeral would be the fake of our convening. The reality of a goodbye we weren’t prepare to say, to a cousin we truly didn’t know, was a shame some of us weren’t ready to accept. Especially my uncle.
I’d always blamed the United States government:
For the fatherless experience of so many Black children, people like my cousin and his four siblings. I was rais hearing that it was the crack epidemic of the ’80s that ripp so many Black men from their families, that mass incarceration separated innocent men from their children, and that the unavoidable allure of a life of poverty anchored with the welfare system was too good to be true to some Black women.
My childhood was full of fables about the Black welfare queen. A woman who willingly excommunicated the devoted. Black man in her life in exchange for government cheese and a subsidized studio in a project dwelling. Somehow, my uncle hit the victim lottery all three times. Even doubled back a few times to be sure. He was another Black man denied the freedom to father. Victimize by his own Black woman working in conjunction with an unjust system. I was an adult before I learned the length of these lies.
A 1960 study of Black:
To Dependent Children (ADC) in Cook County, IL. stated: “The ‘typical’ ADC mother in Cook County marry and had children by her husband, who desert; his whereabouts are unknown, and he does not contribute to the support of his children. She is not free to remarry and has had an illegitimate child since her husband left. (Almost 90 percent of the ADC families are Negro.)” Let that sink in. By 1964, two-thirds of ADC families qualify because of paternal desertion, many of these women were still legally marry, however unable to legally divorce an absent individual.
Another interesting finding suggests that as more Black married men deserted their families. The number of black “illegitimate” children skyrocketed from 16% in 1940 to 23%. In 1960, as did the number of families headed by women. These numbers were significantly higher in urban East Coast cities like Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Chicago. We’ve been applauding data with little context. However, when applied, while black marriage rates were much higher in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Our homes were hardly healthy and whole, in fact, literally the opposite.