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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop Barriers and Incentives to Involvement A number of factors may influence the degree to which a father is involved with his children. Considerable discussion at the workshop focused on the involvement of nonresident divorced or unmarried fathers. Within these groups, poor fathers received the most attention during the workshop. This focus resulted from the perception that ability to pay often sets the terms and frequency of a nonresident father 's involvement with his children, both financial and otherwise. Even among resident fathers, however, there are marked differences in the level of involvement. This section explores some of the barriers and incentives to fathers' involvement with their children. FINANCIAL AND JOB-RELATED FACTORS The ability to provide financial support plays a large part in the level of fathers' interactions with their children. McAdoo (1988) has found that fathers who are economically able to provide financial support to their families are more nurturing in their interactions with their children than fathers who cannot provide financial support. Among African American fathers he studied, those who could fulfill their provider role were more likely to be involved in other aspects of child rearing and more likely to have stable families (McAdoo, 1993b). The emphasis that both society and fathers themselves put on the role of breadwinner can have a negative effect on the involvement of unem-
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop ployed or poor fathers with their children. Research going all the way back to the Great Depression has shown that when men cannot financially provide for their families, they may leave or limit their involvement with their families (Elder and Caspi, 1988). Ross and Sawhill (1975) estimated that separation rates are twice as high among families in which fathers are unemployed as in families whose fathers experience stable employment. Both longitudinal studies and aggregate data consistently show that unemployment is related to marital instability and growth in female-headed households (Wilson, 1987), which in turn affect fathers' involvement with their children. Nowhere can the impact of unemployment be seen as clearly as among the inner-city minority poor. In the last two decades, the inner-city industrial base has crumbled; the unemployment rate among black men was 15.2 percent in 1992 (Bureau of the Census, 1993). For young black men the situation is even worse: 24.5 percent of black men aged 20-24 were unemployed in 1992, as were 42 percent of black teenage males. Besides extraordinarily high unemployment rates, young black men also face high rates of incarceration and mortality. About one-fifth of all 16- to 34-year old black males are under justice system supervision. The rates of homicide deaths for blacks are six to seven times higher than those for whites, and homicide is now the leading cause of death among black youths (National Research Council, 1993). At the same time, single-mother households are on the rise, with 65 percent of African American births being to unmarried women in 1990 (Bureau of the Census, 1993). Hoffman et al. (1992) have attributed about one-half of the decrease in marriage among African American women to the declining labor market prospects of African American men. Most children born to unmarried women are unlikely ever to live with their fathers or to receive support from them (Hawkins, 1992). This combination of factors in the inner city does not bode well for strong father-child involvement. For employed men, research is beginning to show that the type of employment can have an effect on their interactions with their children, as well as their wives. Men who experience high levels of stress at work tend to withdraw from their wives, denying them support in dealing with the children (Repetti, 1989). These men are also more likely to withdraw from their children than those with less stressful jobs; when they do interact with their children, these fathers are more angry and impatient (Repetti, 1994). Workplace qualities other than stress may also influence father-child interaction. Greenberger and O'Neil (1991) found that men in complex jobs, that is, in jobs in which there is a high degree of challenge and autonomy, tend to devote more time to developing their children's skills, particularly for their sons. Workplace policies and schedules may interfere with fathers' desire to
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop be more involved with their children. Gerson (1993) found that most fathers she studied were constrained by rigid work schedules. Paternal leave policies were rare; when they existed, few men took advantage of them, fearing the negative effects on their careers. ROLE MODELS AND TEENAGE FATHERS Not only have jobs been lost in the inner cities in the United States, but the social organization of many inner-city communities has also changed. Along with the outmigration of jobs, there has also been a departure of middle- and working-class African Americans (Wilson, 1987). A poor child growing up in the inner city 30 years ago saw examples of intact families and working fathers in the neighborhood, but today those role models are mostly gone. A number of workshop participants talked about these older male role models, or “old heads ”—men who worked in the factories, looked after their families, attended church, and obeyed the law (see box). These men held a position of moral authority in the community by dint of their economic roles. They served as models and surrogate fathers, helping young boys make the transition from childhood to manhood. With the exodus of these old heads from the inner city or their loss of employment and concomitant loss of respect from the younger generation, the social structure of many inner-city neighborhoods has drastically changed. Without the moral guidance of the old heads, many young inner-city males find the allure of the drug trade and gangs hard to resist. Without the role models of the old heads as stable family man, more and more young innercity black males are becoming unwed fathers. Data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience, Youth Cohort (NLSY) suggest that young black men are becoming unwed fathers at rates much higher than young men in other disadvantaged groups. In 1988, nearly one in three young black men was an unmarried father, two to three times the rate for Hispanics, poor whites, Asians, and American Indians (Lerman, 1993). Teenage fathers are more likely to come from an economically disadvantaged family and to have completed fewer years of schooling than their childless peers (Marsiglio, 1987; Pirog-Good, 1992; Lerman, 1993). Although teenage fathers earn more money than their nonfather counterparts up to age 20, by age 29, those who deferred fatherhood earn roughly 74 percent more than the teenage fathers (Pirog-Good, 1992). Teenage fathers are also more likely than their childless peers to commit and be convicted of illegal activity, and their offenses seem to be of a more serious nature (Pirog-Good, 1992). Given their low educational attainment and low earnings, it is not surprising that absent teenage fathers are less likely to pay
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop child support than those who fathered children in their 20s. By age 27, less than one-third of absent teenage fathers paid child support, compared with 51 percent of absent fathers who had their children at age 20 or later (Pirog-Good, 1992). Lacking good economic prospects, young inner-city males may see paternity as a means of earning respect. Marsiglio (1993a) found that economically disadvantaged youth were significantly more likely to agree that “fathering a child would make them feel like a ‘real' man.” As a workshop participant noted, young men who can't afford to take on the traditional role of breadwinning spouse and father “do the next best thing. They have sex, OLD HEADS Elijah Anderson read this excellent description of the role of old heads in the African American inner-city community at the workshop (Anderson, 1992a:69-70): The relationship between old heads and young boys represents an important institution in the traditional black community. It has always been a central aspect of the social organization . . . assisting the transition of young men from boyhood to manhood, from idle youth to stable employment and participation in the regular manufacturing economy. The old heads acknowledged role was to teach, support, encourage, and in effect socialize young men to meet their responsibilities with regard to the work ethic, family life, the law, and decency. But as meaningful employment has become increasingly scarce, drugs more accessible, and crime a way of life for many young black men, this institution has undergone stress and significant change. Now the traditional old head was a man of stable means who was strongly committed to family life, to church, and most important, to passing on his philosophy, developed through his own rewarding experience with work, to young boys he found worthy. He personified the work ethic and equated it with value and high standards of morality; in his eyes, a workingman was a good, decent individual. The old head/young boy relationship was essentially one of mentor-protégé. The old head might be only 2 years older than the young boy or as much as 30 or 40 years older; the boy was usually at least 10. The young boy readily deferred to the old head's chronological age and worldly experience. The nature of the relationship was that of junior/ senior, based on junior's confidence in the senior's ability to impart useful wisdom and practical advice for getting on in the world and living well.
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop babies come, [but] they remain at home with their mothers and play the role of father part time and husband part time.” Few young men who father children outside of marriage subsequently marry the mothers of those children and live with them. Almost three-quarters of young fathers who live away from their child at birth never subsequently live in the same household with them (Lerman, 1993). But not living in the same household does not necessarily mean lack of involvement with their children. Lerman's analysis of the NLSY found that nearly 80 percent of unmarried fathers who lived near their children visited them every day or several times a week. Ethnographic work also suggests that The old head was kind of guidance counselor and a moral cheerleader who preached anticrime and antitrouble messages to his charges. Encouraging boys to work and to make something of themselves, he would try to set a good example by living, as best he could, a stable, decent, worry-free life. His consistent refrain was “Get yourself a trade, son” or “Do something with your life,” or “Make something out of yourself.” Displaying initiative, diligence, and pride, as a prime role model of the community, he lived “to have something,” usually something material , though an intact nuclear family counted for much in the picture he painted. On the corners and in the alleys of [the community,] he would piont to others as examples of how hard work and decency could pay off. He might advise young boys to “pattern yourself after him,” [this man who has a family.] In these conversations and lectures, he would express great pride in his own outstanding work record, punctuality, good credit rating, and anything else reflecting his commitment to honesty, independence, hard work and family values. The old head could be a minister, a deacon in the church, a local policeman, a favorite teacher, an athletic coach, or a street corner man. He could be the uncle or even the father of a member of the local group of young boys. Very often the old head acted as surrogate father for those he considered in need of his attention. A youth in trouble would sometimes discuss his problem with an old head before going to his own father, if he had one, and the old head would be ready with a helping hand, sometimes a loan for a worthy purpose. . . . Through this kind of extension of himself, the old head gained moral affirmation that would be his reward, an important if subtle incentive for helping other young boys. Reprinted with permission.
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop inner-city young black males usually acknowledge their paternity and that the community supports the young father's participation in informal child support arrangements (Anderson, 1992b; Sullivan, 1985). INFLUENCE OF OTHER RELATIONSHIPS One theme that was articulated throughout the workshop was the effect of a father's relationships with the other adults in his children 's lives on his involvement with his children. Even in intact families, the roles played by mothers and fathers are negotiated by the couple. Some research in two-parent families has shown that, after controlling for men's attitudes, the major factor in the amount of a father's involvement is the mother's attitude toward the father's ability to provide child care (Hochschild and Machung, 1990; Beitel and Parke, 1993). Cowan and Cowan (1992) found that even among couples who had planned on equal parenting responsibilities prior to the birth of their first child, the major responsibility very quickly fell on the mother. Most of the mothers in the study were disappointed by their husbands' lack of involvement. A few of the full-time mothers, however, may be threatened by the fathers ' involvement with the child. As one of their female subjects asked: “If John does well at his work and his relationship with the baby, what's my special contribution?” (Cowan and Cowan, 1992:103). Several participants cautioned that this discussion sounded like mother blaming. One participant noted of her work with poor, rural families “fathers don't get involved in these programs largely because they undervalue and devalue the parenting role. So we are very hesitant to blame the mothers for that when the mothers have filled the vacuum, so to speak.” Following separation or divorce, the history and nature of the relationship between the mother and the father may have a large impact on the amount of father-child interaction. Children are still more likely to live with their mothers than their fathers following divorce, so that mothers' control over children increases dramatically after divorce (Seltzer, 1993). A mother may either encourage or discourage father-child interaction. One participant noted that a mother may limit a father's access to children to put pressure on him to increase child support payments or that a mother may not be comfortable with the father's child rearing practices. In light of the growing number of reported cases of child physical and sexual abuse, some mothers may limit fathers' access in order to protect the children. The participant went on to describe mothers' anxiety about losing custody of their children: “Because men control more economic and social resources, I think women are understandably anxious about relinquishing control over their children. By facilitating fathers' independent involvement with the children, mothers are at risk to losing their children because men have greater resources and greater relative power.” In contrast to this view,
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) note that a mother's conviction that it is good for her child to have contact with the father is strongly associated with sustaining contact after divorce. In births to unmarried teenage mothers, a father's involvement with his child may be influenced not only by his relationship with the child's mother, but also by his relationship with her mother or his mother. The mother and maternal grandmother may limit the father's access if he cannot help support the child. One workshop participant described this as the “if you can't pay, you can't play [house]” scenario. Hernandez (1993) reports that nearly one-fifth of children living with never-married mothers are in the household with a grandparent, who may have notable influence. The paternal grandmother also can play a role in encouraging or discouraging the young man's involvement. If she likes the mother and is convinced her son is the father, she may encourage marriage or at least child support; if she thinks her son is not the father, she may discourage him from involvement (Anderson, 1992a). A workshop participant who works with young inner-city fathers noted that his program now includes sessions with the grandparents because of the role they play in helping or hindering father-child involvement and in discouraging further pregnancies outside of marriage. Professionals who work with families may also play a role in keeping fathers at a distance. As was noted above regarding fathers of disabled children, services to families in need are often geared to mothers, and service providers are usually women. These factors can make fathers uncomfortable about participating in service programs. The attitudes of service providers toward fathers may also keep fathers away, a participant noted. Another workshop participant told of his experiences working in a hospital clinic for mothers and babies: “What depressed me was seeing so many mothers and babies with no fathers around. Fathers would be sitting in the parking lot or they'd be in other parts of the hospital.” After tracking these fathers down and talking to them, he discovered “they were intimidated by the doctors and nurses and social workers—not necessarily by what they said to them, but [by] their behavior when these fathers came to the clinic.” Research by Wattenberg (1987) tends to confirm these perceptions. She found that social service and hospital programs for young, unmarried mothers tend to reinforce the mothers' autonomy from the fathers. Furthermore, they provide little or no information to these young mothers on the benefits of establishing paternity or on how to go about doing it. SUMMARY Many economic and social barriers contribute to fathers' noninvolvement with their children. The prominence in our society of the father as breadwinner leaves men who cannot financially support their children feel-
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America's Fathers and Public Policy: Report of a Workshop ing as if they are bad fathers and may lead to their avoiding their children and families. Unemployment, which has been shown to be related to marital instability and to the growth in female-headed households, has taken its toll, particularly on the inner-city minority poor. The high rate of births to unmarried women in inner cities has been partly attributed by some to lack of employment prospects for young men. The loss of jobs in the inner city has also led to a loss of male mentors and positive role models for young men. For employed men, workplace policies frequently do not allow them the flexibility to spend more time with their children. Even in companies that have paternal leave policies, many men do not feel free to avail themselves of the leave. Workplace environments may also have an effect on men's interactions with their children: fathers who work under high levels of stress tend to be more angry and impatient with their children. Attitudes of other adults towards fathers' involvement also play a part in the role a father takes. In two-parent families, a major factor in the amount of a father's involvement, after controlling for men's attitudes, is the mother's attitude toward the father's role. The attitudes of grandparents may also have an influence on a father's interactions with his children. Professionals who aim services primarily at mothers and children also serve to keep fathers at bay. Service programs that use family-centered models may encourage fathers' involvement.
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