In New York City there is a Fatherhood Initiative. In 2010, the mayor of the city created a service program meant to help fathers be more involved with their children, particularly fathers who no longer live with their children because they are no longer in relationships with the women they fathered children with. One thing that seems odd is that the Fatherhood Initiative gave an award this past Father’s Day to a single dad in NYC, essentially for raising his kids on his own. Single mothers far outnumber single fathers in the city (and everywhere else) but no one hands them awards for what they do. As hard as mothering is, there is no “Motherhood Initiative.” This is in part because though society despises single mothers (unless they are beautiful and wealthy celebrities, in which case they are seen as cool and “independent”), society remains confident that most mothers, single or not, will continue to step up to the plate and raise their children as they always have. Society has no such confidence in fathers, nor has it been given any reason to, given how many moms get stuck being primary single caregivers.
In fact, overall public policy and public opinion has nothing good to say about single mothers especially if they’re poor. From Food Stamp policy that fingerprints heads of household, to welfare to work programs that force single mothers to do child care for any kid but their own, especially inhuman systems and criticisms are reserved for single mothers. Yes, it really still is a man’s world.
Notwithstanding the above, encouraging fathers to do what they should have been doing all along for their children is a worthy project. But I insist that it’s just one more where we give someone else money to help people who don’t have enough money. Giving money to “programs” that then help people rarely results in the kinds of profound changes promised. In the case of the problem of how to help fathers to be more involved with their children, the core modern obstacle is a lack of money. The lack of money in turn forces the parents to spend crazy amounts of time in the paid workforce, or alternatively on the treadmill of “job training” that society requires low income men to participate in during times when there are no jobs to be had. This is time that the children and youth of America then spend unsupervised, inevitably getting caught up in making poor choices when no parent is present to deter them.
The single most important thing we can do for fathers to be more involved then, is to increase their incomes, not through working more, or by running them through the endless sham of job training for low income adults, but through a simple income transfer, so that the fathers can actually afford to work a little less. The time gained can then be spent with their kids.
Nowhere is this more true than in certain neighborhoods of New York City, where black male unemployment is above 20 percent. Like in East New York. Like in Jamaica, Queens. In parts of Brooklyn, black male unemployment is at 26 percent. This was the unemployment rate for the general population during the Great Depression. Just because the current Great Depression does not affect every part of the population, does not mean it is not a national crisis. The children of these men suffer greatly, and their suffering will affect how well they develop into adults in your community.
If there are currently no jobs for these men anyway, why not provide some kind of income transfer so that they can spend their time “unemployed” helping their own children, reconnecting with them, counseling them, taking them to the park, helping them with their homework. Doesn’t that make perfect sense? Why have a citywide campaign to encourage fathers to be involved, then give money to non-profits for the children of these men to go “Big Brother, Big Sister” programs, to tutoring with other adults, and so on? Those programs are all fine and good when the children are truly fatherless (as in their father is dead), but if they have a willing father, wouldn’t it be more sensible and consistent with the goals of the NYC Fatherhood Initiative to give some cash to the fathers and let them do the Big Brothering for their own children?