Unclaimed Treasures

We often criticize the “baby daddy” but did we create this type of guy thru a lack of affirmation for males of color?

It’s two and a half months later since the brief but pleasurable sexual interaction between the two of them. Since missing her period, she dreaded seeing her pregnancy stick test reveal a plus sign after 10 minutes. She tracked him down through mutual friends because there was no emotional or romantic bond between the two of them. Now he knows he will be a father for the fourth time with the fourth mother and he can not believe the frequency that this has happened in his life. He knows all children are blessings, but four children with four women are something he never planned; he never wanted. She told him her religion does not allow abortions, so he will be a father again. He hated not living with any of his children; he has never earned enough income to support himself, let alone a family. Looking into his children’s eyes made him feel invalidated as a father and provider. He said to himself, “I was supposed to be married and then have kids”.

Looking back after he met the dark-skinned beauty, he felt so good because she flattered him and made him feel like “a man”. He always strived to appear robust emotionally and physically, so he would never verbalize how desperate he was for affirmation. He did not get many compliments at his janitorial job at the local school, so he loved hearing that his jokes were funny and he made her laugh. Growing up, his home lacked a dad, and he never met the guy. His Mom always worked at least two jobs, so there was usually no one around to say “good job”, “you got what it takes” or “hey handsome”. His Mom was like so many moms who love their children but had the difficult task of providing for their child and raising the child as well. His teachers at school seemed too preoccupied telling him what he did wrong versus what he did right in class, so there were few affirming words there. That night she told him she thought he smelled good, and that she loved his rich ebony skin. They talked about how he would like his own janitorial company one day, and she told him she believed he could do it. This woman gave him something we all need: validation.

In my present-day suburban Georgia neighborhood, African American dads at home with the kiddos are as common as burgers at a barbecue. I glance back at my upbringing and I realize I came from a shielded environment in which black dads in the home (including my childhood home) were the norm and not an exception. I was twenty-six the first time I ever met what people refer to as “the baby daddy”. He was an African American man who smiled and laughed easily. He now was trying to live a spiritually guided life. He had left his two kids and their two mothers behind in another city; another lifetime, it seemed to him. He expressed a romantic interest in me while trying to avoid discussing the kids, but he finally relented. I could tell he really loved the kids as he explained he never planned his family to be split versus being unified with one mother instead. I would learn over time that his father also left home when he was a baby. His dad, he said, could not afford to feed him and his brother once his job at the auto plant went overseas. At age twenty-one, he married his first girlfriend after she informed him of her pregnancy. He stated the marriage was very stressful because they were so young that they both lacked the skills needed to land well-paying jobs. After the marriage ended, he moved back in with his mother. He admits that he really had no romantic feelings for the next woman he became involved with when his marriage ended. He told me he enjoyed being around someone who made it clear she admired him. Before he knew it, she too was with child and because he still could not gain a family-supporting income, he said he fled to another city.

In years to come, I meet many men of many races in similar circumstances. I noticed, however, that some men in our society appear to have an easier time supporting their offspring than some men of color. I will never forget a black male friend who graduated from a California State University with a degree in finance. He was very excited about the expected job prospects coming his way. After graduating and job hunting for nearly a year, he took a job as a bus driver. My friend had assumed that graduating with a 3.9 GPA would earn him a job in a finance-related field. I have lots of respect for someone that provides transportation for others, but my friend aspired to spend his days behind a desk, not a wheel. The driving gig paid him enough to support his son that he had while he was a college sophomore. Caucasian friends, he attended classes with before graduation landed jobs in the areas of Human Resources, Accounting Information Systems before graduation. One year after working as a bus driver, he met another woman and got married. He confided in me that as a married man with now three children (he had two more with his wife), paying child support is challenging because, like so many other jobs, a bus driver’s salary did not keep up with the needs of a growing family. When someone appears to be obstructed from being able to support their loved one’s basic needs, are we denying their humanity?

Perhaps the guy who has six kids with six women is irresponsible and I have to agree, but I now look at the “baby daddy” with a different lens. Is it possible that a man of color raised in a country that tells him from the time he is a boy, he is a “problem,” has reason to feel invalidated by the time he reaches adulthood? Black boys, for example, get suspended or expelled from school the most (the conversation,2021) as teachers react harsher towards black youth males than they do other children. According to the Brookings Institute, black boys born poor in the U.S. will probably remain poor in adulthood (Brookings,2020). Not being able to look forward to better outcomes for your life is disheartening. After meeting so many accidental dads, it appears some men seek the validation they have craved since childhood, in someone’s arms. When validation is coveted, birth control may not remain top of mind. They want what we all want, which is for someone to say either verbally or nonverbally “you’re ok”. The “baby daddy” seeks the same validation most of us have had all along.

Loomis, A. (2021), Millions of kids get suspended or expelled each year — but it doesn’t address the root of the behavior,https://theconversation.com/millions-of-kids-get-suspended-or-expelled-each-year-but-it-doesnt-address-the-root-of-the-behavior-164539#:~:text=Black%20students%2C%20especially%20boys%2C%20are,they%20respond%20in%20harsher%20ways.

Reeves, R.V., Nzau, S. and Smith, E (2020), The challenges facing Black men — and the case for action, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/11/19/the-challenges-facing-black-men-and-the-case-for-action/

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