The Parenting Roles and Goals of Single Black Full-Time Fathers

By Coles, Roberta L. | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

The Parenting Roles and Goals of Single Black Full-Time Fathers


Coles, Roberta L., The Western Journal of Black Studies


African American men are rarely viewed, either in academic literature or in the popular media, as central to, or deeply embedded within, their families (Cochran, 1997; Gadsden and Smith, 1995; Madhubuti, 1990; Mirande, 1991; Rutherford, 1988; Staples 1986). Of late, an increasing number of studies have attempted to rectify this situation by looking at married or cohabiting black men within two-parent families (e.g. Ahmeduzzaman & Roopnarine, 1992; Allen 1981, Bowman, 1993, Bright and Williams, 1996; Fagan, 1998; J. McAdoo, 1981, 1988a, 1988b, 1993; McAdoo & McAdoo, 1994; Mirande, 1991; Taylor et al., 1988; Wade ,1994) with respect to their child-rearing values, provider role, or gender relations. Nevertheless, these are outweighed by studies (Barnes, 1987; Christmon, 1990; Furstenberg, 1988; Furstenberg and Harris, 1993; Hawkins and Eggebeen, 1991; Hendricks, 1981; Lerman, 1993a and 1993b; Lerman and Ooms, 1993; Marsiglio, 1987, 1991; Miller, 1994; Mott, 1990; Rivara, Sweeney, and Henderson, 1986 and 1987; Robinson, 1988) focusing on non-resident fathers, particularly teen fathers, who have come to epitomize what we mean when we say "black fathers." Following the trend, a burgeoning number of government programs on "responsible fatherhood" as well (Johnson and Sum, 1987; Pirog-Good, 1993; Savage, 1987), have focused on single black men who are nonresident fathers--or, more colloquially, "absent fathers."

This is not to say that this image of black dads as predominantly "absent" is entirely an effect of smoke and mirrors. High rates of divorce, cohabitation, and teen and non-marital births among African Americans have lent substance to this image as well. (1) However, the findings from a number of studies on nonresident fathers (Danziger and Radin, 1990; Seltzer, 1991; Stier and Tienda, 1993; Taylor et al. 1990; Wattenberg, 1993) show that the lack of marriage or co-residence with the mother and child does not necessarily indicate non-involvement as a parent, as might be inferred from the term "absent." Apparently, black non-resident fathers have a higher rate than white and Hispanic non-resident fathers of visiting their children and partaking in primary care duties. In addition, they are more likely to give child support payments, though the payments tend to be lower. However, no study has looked at single African-American men who parent full-time. One might think such men are nonexistent, but most data indicate that they have been increasing over the past two to three decades. Eggebeen et al.'s 1996 study of National Survey of Families and Households data indicates that single-father families represented 15.5 percent of all single-parent families with children and that single-father families are increasingly formed by fathers who are young, have never been married, have low incomes and have fewer children. In each decade from 1960 to 1990, they found nonwhite children more likely than white children to reside in father-only families. Eggebeen et al.'s reading of census data indicated that by 1990, 3.3 percent of white children were in father-only families, while 5.6 percent of black children were. However, 1992 Census data indicated a smaller racial difference in black and white single fathering. That data indicated that 3.4 percent of black children 17 years old or younger lived in father-only households, compared to 3.3 percent of their white counterparts (Statistical Bulletin, 1993).

While the percent of single-father families is small among all races, the proportion of African American single-father families seems to be at least as high as, or higher than, that of white single-father families. Nevertheless, an increasing number of studies continue to focus on the parenting experience of white fathers. See Barker, 1994; Chang & Deinard, 1982; DeFrain and Eirick, 1981; DeMaris & Greif, 1992; Greif, 1982, 1983, 1985a, 1985b, 1990, 1995; Greif & DeMaris, 1989, 1990, 1995; Hanson, 1986a, 1986b, 1988; Hipgrave, 1982; McKee & O'Brien, 1982; Risman, 1986; Robinson and Barrett, 1986; Rosenthal & Keshet, 1981; Smith & Smith, 1981; and Tedder et al.

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