by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
A 20-year-old young man recently asked me to define his parental rights after being “dismissed” by his baby’s mama. He has yet to file paternity, and has spent the two years since high school “looking” for work.
I’m not a lawyer, and never played one on television, but I didn’t need a law degree to surmise he’s up the creek without a paddle. He doesn’t have “any” parental rights, and even if he did, probably couldn’t get custody because he would have to prove the mother to be unfit or unable to care for the child.
A couple of weeks before my conversation with the young brother, another man-child announced he was fed up with his “ex” using their son as a pawn. To his benefit, he goes to school and works two jobs to pay child support. Equally important, his child is the centerpiece of his universe and tries to spend as much quality time with him as possible. But every time his “ex has a ‘bad day,’” she denies him visitation
And, oh yeah, most recently he almost got into a fight with her when he showed up to pick up his son with another girl in his car. Now the baby mama won’t even answer the phone and the young brother can visualize his son crying out for him.
My advice wasn’t as cold blooded as it was for the first brother (in part because I was mad he wasn’t working), but it was pretty much along the same lines. The second brother’s options, I said, were to hire an attorney (if he can afford one). And if not, go down to the courthouse and file a complaint (I can’t remember the form number, but they got a large stack of them right behind the receptionist’s desk). Chances are, it’ll take a month or two before a court date is set, and chances are the court commissioner will probably just give baby mama a slap on the wrist.
As a matter of fact, I told the brother he should fill out a half dozen of the forms, cause chances are he’ll find himself in the same situation again, again and again.
My other tidbit of advice: Never, ever, EVER show up at your baby’s mama’s house with another woman. Don’t mention one in conversation, and surely don’t take your baby around one. Best bet is to try and convince the baby mama that you’re celibate. Or, had an accident is now a eunuch
I hear sordid tales about young men and their “baby challenges” on a regular basis. What made these aforementioned brothers cases different is that they “cared” about their children. In many cases, the stories end with some young “sperm donor” getting arrested for back child support, or an irate sister pulling out her hair trying to care for a baby while trying to figure out how she allowed herself to get pregnant by a dude who hasn’t visited “their” baby in six months.
Chances are you know of one or two (or three or four) similar scenarios. In fact, baby mama/daddy drama is as common in the central city as wigs and weaves. And I would venture to guess there’s equal blame to be shared as to who is right or wrong. But we generally know who suffers the most, the child.
For every no account sperm donor (a brother who doesn’t pay child support or take an active role in their child’s lives), there’s a sister who uses the child as a pawn.
Conversely, I stopped counting the number of young men who equate their manhood’s with the number of children they create and left behind. Nor can I keep up with the number of young sisters who foolishly thought that getting pregnant was akin to getting an engagement ring.
The facts speak otherwise. Over 70% of Black women head households in Milwaukee. Over 80% are poor and locked into poverty. Last time I checked, over 30% had more than one child, by more than one man (a recipe for life long fights among siblings). And a significant number are foolish enough to believe they can be mother and father.
I’m still looking for another statistic, the one that shows less than 10% of women who get pregnant before 25 marry their baby daddy. And to flip the coin, I would guess that less than 10% of the sperm donors would marry the mother of their “first” child.
So the cycle continues, unabated, despite logic and millions of dollars allocated for missionaries and suburban- based teen pregnancy programs.
The children of the two young men I mentioned earlier will have a better than even chance of growing up somewhat stable, if only because their fathers share an intrinsic desire to be fathers.
According to various research, thousands of other Black children without the benefit of a nuclear base will drop out of school, have involvement with the criminal justice system and end up perpetuating the cycle by having children out of wedlock themselves.
I’m not trying to be judgmental. I’m just saying what I’m saying, which is based on fact. The overwhelming majority of prison inmates are functionally illiterate and came from a single parent household. Children brought up with both mother and father in their lives (whether married or not), have a greater probability of graduating from high school, steering clear of the law, and leading productive lives.
That’s not to say that many—a significant percentage—of children brought up in a single parent household won’t buck the odds. Barack Obama was brought up in a single parent household, and from what I’ve read, his father wasn’t involved in his upbringing.
These days, there are a growing number of successful Black women who consciously decide to have a baby out of wedlock and provide the nurturing, guidance and discipline to produce a superior child. In fact, there are a lot of men who take on the sole parenting role and do a great job as well.
But if we’re honest, those may be the exception and not the rule.
Everyday I run into children for whom the void of not having both parents in their lives is played out in attitudes, mental health issues and destructive behavior. And my heart bleeds because of it. As should yours, because the old African adage about a village raising a child is no longer a reality in America, because there is no longer village and there’s too many wayward children.