Men of Color Voices, Race & Equity in America, Racial & Gender Mutuality, Raya Parvez, Rev. Tega Swann, Youth of Color

Absentee Fathers: Is It a Black Men Only Thing?


Absentee father-ism is that concept of biological fathers who are uninvolved in their children’s lives. As a result, many children grow up either detached from or without their biological fathers. This phenomenon has been blamed for many sociological deviances, especially among African-Americans in North America. Yet, a look at society shows that much more than is being told by statistical data.

Statistical data does not tell us about the detachment and uninvolvement of fathers who are present in both the African-American and Caucasian camps.

It doesn’t tell us about the patriarchal division of parenting roles which leave all the nurturing to the mothers/women, whilst ascribing roles ‘outside the home’ primarily to the fathers/men. As a result, fathers/men in supposedly ‘intact’ nuclear families, are able to work long hours outside the home, and even sometimes reside in a different geographical location away from their families for work. Such fathers are unable to be ‘involved’ in their children’s lives and the mothers are often left alone on the homefront.  Many married women in such situations have often referred to themselves as ‘single mothers’ because of the lack of involvement of such dads/husbands in their children’s lives. This scenario cuts across race and is not found only among African-Americans only.

However, there is some merit to the conversation about the high incidence of the absentee Black father in North America and this finds its roots in issues that the statistical data does not share with us.

In addition to the effect of patriarchal gender roles on fathers, the absenteeism of Black men in America is further compounded by the practice of slavery which typically separated Black families: fathers were separated from the home for the purpose of turning them into beasts of burden, but also for the purpose of weakening the family units of Black Americans. Unfortunately, since the abolition, this odious practice has been repackaged as the high rates of incarceration of Black men in America for the slightest and non-criminal infarctions which can result in Black men being behind bars for years for the same offense that would earn a White man a reprimand and a return to his family.

This practice of Black-men-incarceration-happy justice systems has created a high incidence of single parenting among Black women in America as they are left to hold the fort while their men do 2+ years in jail for the slightest offense. It has also contributed to the ‘baby mama drama’ which has earned African-American women the stereotype of their children being fathered by several different men, as many women end up starting new relationships with new men in order to build intact families, only for those men to fall prey to the same bias against Black men by the justice system.

As though incarceration were not erasing the presence of Black men from American society fast enough, the carry over practice from the days of slavery of violence against Black bodies further serves to create vacuums where Black men and Black fathers once occupied.

Black men are constantly killed while earning a living for their families, while studying to better their lives, while enjoying recreation…

Whereas absentee fatherism is a patriarchal feature, the violence against Black bodies, and notably against Black men, ensures that more Black men are unavailable and unable to be present in their family units as brothers, uncles, and…dads.

Today, many government programs are offered today to help Black men in America be better dads. These programs focus on teaching men to be physically present and involved in their children’s lives. While these programs are good for rehabilitation, they nevertheless fall short in that they do not address the primary reason Black men are absent in the first place.

They do not address the violence and undue incarceration that racism afflicts on Black men.

They do not address the perpetual state of anxiety that living as a Black man in America inflicts upon African-American men, who from their youth, realize they are targets. Who, never knowing how long they will live due to the hatred of their Black bodies, are more likely to engage in reckless behavior out of the uncertainty of knowing whether they will live to be twenty, thirty, or forty or even sixty years.

The issue of absentee fathers has been projected upon African-American communities in America as an issue of the moral failure of African-American men, when in reality, it is a drastic combination of patriarchy and the violent consequence of racism on the Black community.

I would like to use this medium to appeal to all those who are concerned about Black men becoming ‘present and involved dads:’

Please direct a large portion of your focus to advocating for the equality and worthiness of Black lives

Please advocate for the redress of the justice system that is unfairly bent against Black men (and women)

Please advocate against police brutality, which more than anything else, ensures that many Black men will not be present or alive to be dads to their children

Please advocate for better educational resources, the availability of jobs, transportation, recreation (beyond football) in communities of color

Please do not treat absentee fatherism of Black men in North America as a moral failure of the Black community but as a moral failure of a society that hates the presence of Black men.

Black men are capable of love and nurture and of being present and available to their families as much as patriarchy allows men in any racial group. Black men just need to be alive long enough and free from the chains of racism and patriarchy to be able to manifest it.

-Rev. Oghene’tega Swann


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