For a child to be healthy and happy, few things are more important than the consistent presence of loving, caring parents and guardians.As long as my father was alive, I was blessed by his wisdom and guidance. His steady presence allowed me to observe and pick up important lessons on being a good husband, father and community member.Many children are not as lucky. 24 million American children live in homes with no biological father. These children face a daunting array of challenges in life: higher rates of poverty, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and depression, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.
First 5 Alameda County emphasizes that parental involvement is especially important during the first five years, when 90% of a child’s brain develops.
Given this evidence, men clearly have a responsibility to be involved with their children. And as a society, we have an obligation to more effectively advocate for fathers. Many Americans face multiple barriers on the road to fatherhood: a lack of positive role models, obstacles to accessing educational resources and high rates of incarceration, to name a few.
For men of color, the barriers are even higher. April 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the U.S. unemployment rate for Black men at 12.6 percent, compared with 6.4 percent for White men.
Thirty-two percent of Black men are projected to enter state or federal prison during their lifetime, compared to 17 percent of Latino men and 5.9 percent of White men, according to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Incarceration interrupts the bonding process between father and child and places burdens on mothers and caregivers. In 2012, Oakland-based Centerforce surveyed 45 formerly incarcerated fathers living in Alameda County and found that only 18% were visited by their children while in prison.
To develop bonds with their children, men need mentors, relationships, mediation and guidance in securing gainful employment. Without support, many fathers feel undervalued and give up early on in their children’s lives.
Alameda County recently established a Fatherhood Advisory Council to coordinate programs in partnership with community-based organizations. The Council aims to increase public awareness, help men access services, and maximize financial resources for families.
One of these programs is the Prodigal Son Initiative, a project started in 2012 by my office with the goal of transforming the lives of African American men age 18 to 54 who live and receive services in the West Oakland corridor. The initiative will provide a pathway for men to live healthier lifestyles and become educated, employable community leaders and positive role models.
Numerous faith and community groups also play a central role in championing fathers. Some examples are mentoring programs run by 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, Word Assembly Church in East Oakland, The Mentoring Center and No More Tears, a program for San Quentin prisoners my office has visited for over 12 years.
I was blessed. My father was with me until adulthood and helped to shape who I am today, but some children grow up under different circumstances.
A “father figure” can be a grandparent, an older sibling, a spiritual leader, or a mother in a two-mother household. Whatever the situation, one essential ingredient for raising healthy children is the consistent presence of a loving, supportive father.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson represents the Fifth District, which includes Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont, and parts of Oakland (North Oakland, Rockridge, Grand Lake, Fruitvale, and Dimond District neighborhoods). For information call (510) 272-6695 or visit www.acgov.org/board/district5