Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

What African-American Noncustodial Fathers Say Inhibits and Enhances Their Involvement with Children

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

What African-American Noncustodial Fathers Say Inhibits and Enhances Their Involvement with Children

Article excerpt


In this qualitative study, African American noncustodial fathers discuss what inhibits and/or encourages their participation in the daily lives of their children. In-depth personal interviews were used to collect data from 38 non resident fathers. Overall, their responses suggest that black fathers' involvement with children is influenced primarily by the relationships they have with the mothers of their children, work schedules, physical proximity, and having multiple sets of children. The study also supports past research indicating that African American fathers make great efforts to maintain ties with their children.


How do African American fathers explain their absence from their children's lives? What, if anything, do these fathers say prohibits or encourages their participation in the daily lives of their children? These are the questions this study will address. They are timely given the recent changes in national welfare policies that attempt to make fathers more accountable and responsible for the care and well-being of their offspring. African American noncustodial fathers 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. Indeed, statistics and social policy results seem to confirm this image. The majority of African American births are to unwed mothers and fathers and over one-half of all African American children reside in fatherless homes (Angel and Angel, 1993; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990). Relative to other demographic groups, African American fatherless children are the poorest of all. Moreover, relative to those in two-parent households, fatherless children are more likely to experience poorer academic performance, higher rates of delinquent behavior, and higher rates of teenage pregnancy (Angel and Angel, 1993).

What Society Expects From Noncustodial Fathers

Absent fathers often receive primary blame for the increasing poverty and welfare dependency among single mothers and their children. Current social policies attempt to encourage noncustodial father involvement and combat the negative conditions of single-parenting families primarily by pursuing noncustodial fathers for formal payment of child support. Yet, African American fathers have historically experienced a tenuous position in the labor market.

Relative to white males they have experienced lower wages, higher levels of unemployment and underemployment, lower levels of education, and higher rates of incarceration (Carnoy, 1994; Taylor, 1994). These circumstances make securing sufficient child support from African American fathers through legislated means largely ineffective (Geiger, 1995). As Geiger (1995) argues, all mothers and children do not benefit equally from legislated child support. Only one-third of all African American mothers and their children are granted child support payments compared to two-thirds of Whites and 41 percent of Hispanics (Geiger, 1995; Schafran, 1988).

Despite what is expected of African American noncustodial fathers and the significance society places on child support, it appears that in-and-of-itself noncustodial fathers' economic role is insufficient for children's overall well-being. In fact, some researchers and family counselors argue that fathers' provision of social and emotional support are equally important as economic support; if not more so (Blankenhorn, 1995; Portes, Howell, Brown, Eichenberger, and Mas, 1992). Children whose noncustodial fathers provide them with consistent economic and social support fare better than those whose fathers do not (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991; Garfinkel and McClanahan, 1986). Evidence also suggests that the attitudes, behaviors, and interaction between parents are crucial for children's social, and emotional well-being. Research indicates that children whose parents amiably mediate custody, cooperate in the care of their children, and communicate well with one another experience markedly better emotional and social well-being than those whose separated and divorced parents have hostile relationships. …

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