Black dads must confront unique tests Friday, June 16, 2006 Huntsville Times While researching his book, "Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood," Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. met a man he called William. William told Pitts that he had once yearned for what's touted as the ideal American family: a man and woman married with children and living in a house with a white picket fence. However, during an interview that's going to air on WEUP-AM at 5 p.m. today, Pitts told me that William's life didn't turn out as he had planned. Instead of being the ideal dad in an ideal family, William has fathered four children with three women. Pitts said he asked him what happened. William began to talk about the time he was accused of what we black folks call "driving while black." OK. We know racial profiling is a gross miscarriage of justice. But what does it have to do with fathering four children with three women? "You can blame the 'white man' for a lot of things," Pitts said he told William. "The 'white man' needs to be blamed for a lot of things. But if you did not take adequate precautions, that is on you and you need to step up to the plate and acknowledge that." I didn't know I'd be interviewing Pitts the week before Father's Day. But I'm glad that I did because it's the perfect time to talk about what apparently is a key theme in Pitts' book: the need for us black fathers to step up to the plate and confront the challenges facing us and our children. Pitts had to do it himself when preparing to write "Becoming Dad." Though married with children and living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Pitts had to confront his own childhood nightmares. "My dad was an alcoholic," Pitts said. "When he wasn't drinking he could be the most charming and funny guy around." Unfortunately, Pitts said that his father was drinking more often than he wasn't. "He was abusive, particularly to my mom and to me," he said. The abuse seemed to stem from the type of child Pitts was - or perhaps more accurately, wasn't. "I was this little kid who always had his nose in a book," Pitts said. "He really did not know how to relate to me." So three decades after his father's death, Pitts had to learn how to relate to his dad as he began to explore what fatherhood is, and isn't, for other black men. Clearly, all the news isn't bad. I know plenty of black fathers married to the mothers of their children and providing quality lives for their children. I also know of more than a few single fathers - some who are divorced like me or never got married - who are actively involved in their children's lives. However, in "The State of Black America 2006" published by the National Urban League, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund wrote that there is a 1-in-3 chance that a black boy born in 2001 will go to prison some time in his life; that a black girl has a 1-in-17 chance and black girls represent the fastest-growing group of detained juveniles; and that more black children and teens have been killed by guns since 2000 than all the black folks who have ever been lynched. Edelman also wrote that 580,000 black males are in state or federal prison every year while fewer than 40,000 earn bachelor's degrees. All of these men may not be guilty, but false convictions - while a serious concern - hardly matter for the purposes of this discussion. What does matter is that black children have a bleak future when their fathers are not in their lives. And it's much easier to add to a child's quality of life with a college degree than from behind bars, guilty or not. Children don't ask to be brought into this world. Their arrival is a by-product of biology and destiny and once they get here, we fathers - black, white and others - owe them our full attention, no matter what. And we black fathers must give it to them, no matter what 'the white man' is or isn't doing to us - or what we are or aren't doing to ourselves. Happy Father's Day. David Person's e-mail: [email protected]; voice mail: 532-4362 © 2006 The Huntsville Times © 2006 al.com All Rights Reserved. ----------------------------------------------------------------- "Ruthless" white has an intoxicating effect on our families and choices made AVAILABLE. We have to sometimes create our own OPPORTUNITIES and not take what is AVAILABLE. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Carter G. Woodson quote: If the Negro in the ghetto must eternally be fed by the hand that pushes him into the ghetto, he will never become strong enough to get out of the ghetto.