March 25, 2008
Los Angeles, CA–Townhall blogger/African-American conservative Dutch Martin sent me an interesting criticism from a gentleman named Larry concerning my recent column Leonard Pitts” Column Unfair to Black Fathers, Ignores Reasons for Father Absence (The Southern Illinoisan, Ocala Star-Banner, 3/6/08). Larry agreed to share his view with my readers. He writes: “Mr. Sacks and his co-author do offer some good points. However, their attack on Mr. Pitts’ earlier comments about the Larry Pattersons of the world seems misdirected. The problem isn’t ‘decent, loving African-American fathers,’ of which there are many.
The problem is that there are far too many men of all races (and, yes, far too many within the black community) who are NOT decent, loving fathers. Hell, aside from the incidental sex they had with the mother of the child, they’re not ‘fathers’ at all. “As I understood Pitts, he simply was using 19 year-old Larry Patterson’s almost incomprehensible conduct to illustrate one of the worst examples. Can anyone disagree with what Pitts said? Indeed, is Sacks seriously arguing that it was the ‘legal system’ which caused Patterson to behave in the manner described? If so, I have to respectfully disagree. “The flip side–and where I agree with Sacks–is that the child welfare system, like the welfare system in general, and the legal system as it relates to how non-resident fathers are too often treated, have had a net destructive effect on families. It has discouraged work, and marriage, and the expectation that a father will actually be present in the home where his biological children reside. And it has rewarded the opposite behaviors. All bad. “If I’m missing something, let me know. But on balance, I tend to agree more with Leonard Pitts, and less with Glenn Sacks.” I think Larry is missing some of my purpose here. No, I am certainly not arguing that the legal system caused Larry Patterson to do what he did. What I am arguing is that Pitts, in using Patterson as a stand-in for the behavior of all absent African-American fathers, is greatly overreaching. Yes, there are the Larry Pattersons of the world, and there are fathers of all races who behave irresponsibly or who do not come through for their children. However, Pitts’ assertion that if dad isn’t there it must be because he doesn’t want to be is false — there are many, many African-American fathers who are blocked from playing a larger role in their children’s lives. I certainly make no excuses for Larry Patterson’s appalling behavior, but I will say this: he’s 19 years old, and there are a hell of a lot of teen mothers who are irresponsible with their children also. We hear about this to some degree, but most of it is covered up for a simple reason — grandma raises the teen mother’s child for her. Because mom is in the same home as the child and the child is being properly cared for, we tend to transfer the credit for the child’s care to the young mother, even though often grandma is the one really caring for the child. (Of course, this can work both ways — sometimes a mother has her older children raising the younger children, particularly if the older children are daughters. I remember seeing a daytime TV conflict between an African-American grandma and her teenage daughter over who would care for the daughter’s new baby. The teenage daughter expected the grandma to help her do it, and grandma didn’t want to. The teenage daughter said — with some justification, I thought — “I helped you raise your kid, why shouldn’t you help me raise mine?”) I would agree with Larry about the way fathers are marginalized by the child welfare system. This is an issue we have covered him on several occasions — to learn more, see my co-authored column Choosing Foster Parents over Fathers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/11/07) and our Campaign Protesting Florida DCF’s Mistreatment of Loving Father in ‘Elian Gonzalez II’ Case.