What It Means to Be Daddy: Fatherhood for Black Men Living Away from Their Children

What It Means to Be Daddy: Fatherhood for Black Men Living Away from Their Children

What It Means to Be Daddy: Fatherhood for Black Men Living Away from Their Children

What It Means to Be Daddy: Fatherhood for Black Men Living Away from Their Children

Synopsis

Absent fathers, the breakdown of the nuclear family, and single-mother households are often blamed for the poor quality of life experienced by many African American children. Jennifer F. Hamer challenges both the imposition of an inappropriate value system and the resulting ineffectual social policies. Most of what we know about fathers who do not live with their children is based on interviews with the mothers; this book is based on interviews with the fathers themselves. How do these fathers perceive their roles and responsibilities? This myth-shattering book challenges stereotypes of negotiating parenthood within the context of poverty, live-away status, and black American manhood. Hamer has collected the voices of eighty-eight men who participated in this study by first examining the macro or cultural elements that encompass men's daily lives. As part 1 explores these larger forces that define the social world of fathers, part 2 looks at what significant others expect of men as fathers and how they behave under these circumstances. Part 3 analyzes the particular parenting roles and functions of fathers, using narratives of individual men to tell their own stories. In this book, contemporary black live-away fathers talk about their goals, walk us through their workplaces, allow us to meet their families and children, and enable us to view the world of parenthood through their eyes.

Excerpt

This book is about low-income black fathers in America who, for one reason or another, live separate and away from their children. These men are a notorious group. They are often publicly portrayed as unemployed, uneducated, and unwilling to provide or take responsibility for the children they are thought to heedlessly produce. As Hall suggests, “they are considered somewhat like phantoms or villains and alleged to have demonstrated little or no real feelings for their families” well-being” (Hall 1981:159). Yet, much of what the public assumes about the attitudes and behaviors of black fathers is predicated on a tangle of myth and nonempirical lore. Furthermore, this common wisdom tends to be grounded on the perceptions of social workers, custodial mothers, and social scientific interpretations of the words and experiences they offer.

The past two decades have witnessed a growing interest in manhood and fatherhood studies. Additionally, recent dramatic changes in welfare policy require noncustodial fathers to be more accountable for the children they produce. Yet despite these emphases, the parenthood experiences of adult black, never-married fathers who do not live with their children remain a neglected area of study in family research. What It Means to Be Daddy fills this void. This is a book constructed on the words of black fathers. Chapters and categories emanate from the rich descriptions men generously provided about their fatherhood. It is their thoughts about parenthood, work, relationships, and everyday life that are the foundation of all discussion. Resolute and poignant, they tell us that African American live-away fathers are not as paternally callous as popular notions insinuate. Nor is their manhood and fatherhood as unidimensional as it may publicly appear. Indeed, learning about these men's lives is somewhat analogous to a journey through a Walter Mosley novel. the black male characters are complex and the life decisions they make are compounded by the range of human emotions they demonstrate. These fathers experience feelings of anger and love. They exhibit parental steadiness and devotion. They feel excitement and frustra-

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