CHAREN: The difference a father makes

There was a Father’s Day parade in Washington, D.C., last week that warmed my family-obsessed heart. It was called the Black Fathers Matter motorcade, and it featured silver and black balloons, a band serenading the crowd aboard a flatbed truck, kids singing their dads’ praises, community leaders, politicians and at the end, a pop-up tent to provide COVID-19 vaccines for those who needed them.

Boy, do we need more celebrations like that! Black fathers — all fathers — need a helluva lot more appreciation because they are so crucial to children’s well-being, and they rarely get the recognition they deserve. A new survey adds bricks to the huge wall of evidence that dads are important to children’s welfare.

Though you might get the impression from certain quarters that no Black kids come from intact families these days, that’s an exaggeration. According to the Census Bureau, 41.3% of African American children are being raised by their biological moms and dads (37.9% married, 3.4% unmarried); 50.8% are living with a single parent (4.5% with fathers); and 8% live with a nonparent. For the population at large, a little over 70% of children live with their biological parents; 21% live with their mothers alone; 4.5% live with their fathers alone; and 4% live with someone other than a parent.

Let’s start with bread and butter. Kids who grow up with two parents are 3 1/2 times less likely to live in poverty than those raised by single parents. Among African Americans, 13% of children in two-parent homes are poor, compared with 46% of those living with their mothers alone. The figures for whites show similar ratios. Is it something about women that lands single-mom families in poverty? No. Single father families are also almost three times as likely to be poor as married couple families (though not as likely as single mothers).

Trying to work and raise kids on your own is just hard. It’s not the way any society was ever structured in the past — for good reason. The idea that one person can manage the demanding task of raising a little human, or more than one, while also holding down a job and shopping and commuting and on and on — well, it’s a form of lunacy. Yet we keep telling ourselves that no one family structure is better than any other. Rubbish.

You want more kids to go to college? Not that everyone needs a college degree, but here are the data: Among Black kids raised by single moms, 15% get a college degree (mostly women). If Dad is also in the home, 28% get the diploma. Overall, about 1 in 3 Americans gets a college degree, so intact African American families are almost at that level.

You want fewer kids to get into trouble with the law? Among Black kids raised by single moms, about 14% have ever been incarcerated. For those raised with two parents, only 8% have. As the Institute for Family Studies stresses, outcomes for African American children from two-parent homes are better across a range of measures than are those for white children raised by single moms.

There are hundreds of other ways that dads contribute to their kids’ well-being, some of which I documented in my 2018 book “Sex Matters.” Girls who grow up with their dads have lower rates of depression, are more assertive and have fewer body image problems than those raised by single moms. Boys who grow up with their dads are more likely to be employed as adults, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and less likely to act out at school.

So, are fathers the panacea? No, why did you even ask? The legacies of slavery and Jim Crow still cast a shadow. Even among intact Black families, the college attendance and graduation rates are well below those for white and other families. The Black/white wealth gap remains large. In 2019, 30% of white households received an inheritance. The average worth was nearly $200,000. In that year, only 10% of Black households received such a bounty, and the average value was $100,000. While 72% of white households report that they could get $3,000 from family or friends in an emergency, only 41% of Black households said the same.

All of this sociology cannot compete with a simple human story. One of the organizers of the Black Fathers Matter motorcade was 61-year-old Stuart Anderson. After thanking the crowd, he excused himself to talk with his granddaughters on the phone. “We’re playing the ‘I love you more’ game,” he explained to a reporter. “I love you more than all the trees. I love you more than all the leaves on the trees.”