By Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.–MCJ Editor
“During a break helping my cousin move into her new home, she and I got into a discussion about family matters. The subject soon turned to marriage and why she, myself, my brother and sister aren’t ‘betrothed’ to anyone yet.
“Though I couldn’t speak for my brother and sister (or cousin for that matter), I did state to her one of my long-standing rules: Not to marry a woman with children.
“My cousin thought about my preference for a minute and suggested I rethink and adjust my philosophy; to allow room for a possible relationship with a single mother…”
–(Excerpt from July 17, 1996 guest Signifyin’ column: “Waiting for Ms. (childless) Right”)
Man…what a difference a decade and four years make! Weeellll…make that a decade and three years. You see, last year, July 25, 2009 I married a woman WITH CHILDREN! (Albeit they—the kids, three of them—are grown, ranging from late teens to mid-20s).
Yup, in three months my wife, Clarene, and I will celebrate our first year of marriage (the first marriage for both of us).
Obviously, I took my cousin’s advice and rethought my long-standing rule as it related to relationships with and possible marriage to single women with children.
Oh, by the way, my cousin has been married for several years to a great guy. They have a five-year-old bundle of non-stop energy (a.k.a. “It’s a boy!”) who’s into Spiderman big time!
I ignited a firestorm of controversy with my guest turn writing a “Signifyin’” column, that third week in July (catch the irony) of 1996, which, as you know, is usually penned by former MCJ Editor, now Associate Publisher Mikel Holt.
The article led to an appearance on former talk show host Eric Vonn’s then 1290 Morning Magazine show. For two days following the publication of the article in the MCJ, Vonn couldn’t move his audience away from discussing my article, even if he offered a free trip to the Bahamas.
It seemed everyone wanted to add his or her two cents—pro and con—to the discussion.
The newspaper received quite a few letters from readers (even one from my future wife, ironically enough) either applauding my stance on moral and religious principles, or vehemently disagreeing with me (as my future wife did) and suggesting (in so many choice words that WERE suitable for printing, thank goodness) that I was some kind of unfeeling, Bible-thumping, moralizing, right-wing ayatollah who was listening to too much Rush Limbaugh (which I was at the time…listening to too much “El Rushbo” I mean).
Looking back on those heady days, I’ve come to realize the naysayers of my manifesto against relationships with women with children were…(I’m taking a deep sigh of resignation here)…right. Yes, they were right, but only from the standpoint of the rigidity of my viewpoint at the time.
In writing the article, I was upholding tried and true principles, values, practices and beliefs that I and my siblings—and cousin—were taught by our parents—just as they were taught by their parents—that are grounded in history, religious beliefs and cultural traditions and norms that are not exclusive to Conservatism or the Republican Party.
These values and morals helped Black families survive in a racist America prior to major civil rights legislation of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I still believe in those values and morals (as does my wife). They must be the foundation that sustains our nation within a nation—a launching pad towards true unity and self-empowerment, two things we have yet to fully achieve.
As I noted in the article, I did date women with children. In doing so, I believed I had an “out” if I thought the relationship with a single mother might get too deep (simply put, I was afraid of commitment).
I’d simply tell myself I didn’t want to get overly involved with someone whose child(ren)’s father would suddenly show up out of the blue—as I noted in the original article.
I also wrote that fornication outside of marriage is a sin. This is where I, and the word “hypocrite” meet.
I didn’t always follow the principles I espoused in the article as it related to non-marital conjugal privileges (that’s sex for those of you in living in Racine). Hey, I’m human. No one’s perfect; a point I should have realized when I was pointing an accusatory finger at women with children. For that, I’m sorry.
Even when I was writing the article, I knew I wasn’t a saint then or now (I have no children still, out-of-wedlock or now that I’m married). No one’s perfect. We all make mistakes. The best we should hope for is that we learn from them and move on with our lives a little wiser.
I also noted that I knew (and still know) a lot of single mothers—young and old—who are raising or have raised responsible, decent, God-fearing children who are making great contributions to society.
My wife’s children are all great people. She did a fantastic job raising them. They are a credit to our race and community. She is very proud of all three (as well as our grandson, who at age seven is just as energetic as my cousin’s son…and he’s a Spiderman fan too).
My wife, who is a college educated professional woman currently working in a health related field, had a bit of a crush on me going back to when she was a freelance writer for the MCJ. I thought she was an attractive, intelligent woman who would make a great wife for the right guy.
However, I didn’t think I was her Mr. Right at the time because of her kids. Duuuh! What can I say? I was too focused on being single (and doin’ the “man thing”) and too allergic to instant “family-dom” to realize what she could have brought to what is now a great relationship. I love her dearly and consider her my best friend and most trusted advisor.
If I had not let my “prejudice” towards women with children cloud my judgment, hindering any opportunity at the time to date and get to know Clarene, knowing what I know NOW about myself and what I learned observing other relationships—good and bad, we might be approaching our 20th wedding anniversary instead of our first.
Perhaps what happened (or didn’t happen) was meant to be. We both entered this relationship older, wiser and with knowledge of what we wanted—and didn’t want—in a mate. That’s why, I believe, it was so easy for us to finally connect.
I wish it were that easy for other single mothers and fathers to find their Mr. or Ms. Right as it was for Clarene and I to finally discover (make that rediscover) each other.
The Black community is in what I can only describe as a relationship/marriage crisis. I believe that crisis was brought about by the disintegration of the Black nuclear family that started in the late 50s and was fueled in succeeding years by dependence on Uncle Sam (instead of each other), the devaluation of education, the demise of family values, proliferation of drugs and negative cultural factors in our community, liberal attitudes towards sex and the media.
We must, as a people, get back to the basics of relationships. Black men and women need to communicate with each other, respect each other, and protect each other and—more importantly—love each other. The brothas must put their machismo and Neanderthal treatment of women on the shelf. Sista’s have to “deep-six” the belief that “all Black men are dogs” or have to be Denzel Washington or Eric Benet fine.
Men and women must examine themselves and what they realistically want in a marriageable mate, not a fantasy for a “romp in the hay.”
Once you have your priorities in order and find that special someone, look for organizations that specialize in relationship and marriage building, such as “Vow to Succeed,” a faith-based initiative that Clarene and I utilized to help build our relationship prior to marriage and keep it on the straight and narrow once we became “betrothed.”
We also received guidance from our minister who gave us a wealth of advice from spiritual to financial during our counseling sessions leading up to our big day. Our church also has a married couples group that Clarene and I recently became involved with that offers support and encouragement to each other.
But my best advice to those looking for their Mr. or Ms Right “to have and to hold” till “death do you part” is to keep an open mind. Mr. or Ms. Right might be right under your nose…even with children.
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