In the African American community, single mothers abound leaving many black children to grow up without experiencing a father’s love. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 48% of black children lived with a single mother in 2002. The outcome can be debilitating when these children grow into adults who feel hurt and rejected, leaving them with a void to fill.
Wilbert Hurt, 43, an accountant with Verizon Wireless in Alpharetta, Georgia, witnessed early on the painful aspects of his father’s impact. After years of physical abuse, Hurt’s mother left his father, having suffered a miscarriage after a violent episode. Hurt was 6 at the time. “My father gave me life and I respected him for that. He was a hard-working man. But the violence that he subjected my mother to affected me in not wanting to be like him in that way,” he says.
For many, the widespread effects run deep. “One of the impacts of fatherlessness in the African American community is generational. There is an absence of role models of what being a good father is,” says George R. Williams, executive director of the Urban Father-Child Project of the National Center for Fathering in Kansas City, Missouri. “We don’t know how to be a good father, which sometimes leads us down a destructive path.”
In addition, there are self-esteem issues to conquer. “Individuals who grow up without a father in the home struggle the most with self-identification, which makes it difficult for them to have relationships with other people,” says Joyce Morley-Ball, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist and certified marriage and family therapist.
As a young adult, Hurt worked through the effects of his experience, though he continues to deal with the tendency to overcompensate. “I think I do too much for my children because I didn’t have a dad there,” says the father of four girls. “I don’t want my children to feel that hole in their heart like I felt.”
Men are not the only ones struggling with this issue. LaTrease Birdsong, a 26-year-old teleconferencing company customer service representative in Dallas, was raised by her mother alone. “Growing up without my father has made it really hard for me to trust men,” says Birdsong. “I have a hard time trusting any man, regardless of who he is.” So what’s the reason for such a lack of trust? “This is because each one-the adult man and woman-is trying to find affirmation outside the person who was supposed to quench their father thirst-their dad,” explains Williams.
Getting past the hurt and frustration of fatherlessness can feel insurmountable, but there is room for healing and reconciliation. In her book Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl? The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women (Ballantine Books; $13.95), author Jonetta Rose Barras says a first step for people who have grown up without their fathers is to recognize that it did have an impact. “In the feminization of society, we have very much downplayed the impact of fathers,” says Barras, who grew up fatherless.
For more information, read Absent Fathers,