Single fathers frequently get a bad rap. They are often categorized as deadbeats and called “baby daddies.” The very real and tragic social epidemic of single mothers and absentee fathers has become an accepted part of culture.
But, truth be told, there are many underlying issues that have contributed to this problem, the first of which is the systematic breakdown of the family unit. The welfare system encouraged women to have more and more children out of wedlock. This, coupled with the social-economic dynamic, has resulted in generations of children being raised by their mothers with little to no contact with their fathers or positive male role models. These children oftentimes grow up and repeat the cycle. But this is not always the fault of the fathers.
Rodney Harraway is on a mission to educate the public about this dilemma and to help single fathers who desperately want to be part of their children’s lives. Harraway hosts an Internet radio program on SAR-FM Radio called “Real Talk with Rodney.” The show is dedicated to the issue of single fathers, a subject Harraway knows well.
“The fatherhood initiative is my main focus,” Harraway told the Amsterdam News. “This is my platform. It’s a call-in, counseling and helpline. If you want to talk or vent, this is where you can do it. I rarely talk about anything else because this is my passion,” he said.
“This was based on my life choices. I have five children by five different women, and now, in my early 40s, I’m facing the consequences of these choices. But instead of crying and complaining about a situation that I put myself in, my choice was to do something about it. I help other people by using my life as a blueprint.
“I grew in a two-parent home, but my parents were not around. They were always working. My father had other women while he was married to my mother. They divorced, and my father remarried three times. I found out as a teenager that I had an older brother.
“I became a single parent at 21 when my daughter’s mother dropped her off at 6 months of age and never came back. My life changed forever. My daughter was about to be taken away by ACS. A friend called me and advised me to file for custody. I was a basketball star. I had two scholarship offers from Temple and Rutgers, which I had to turn down because I couldn’t leave my daughter,” he told the Amsterdam News.
“Later, I was involved in several long-term relationships, which produced my other children. These relationships, despite my best intentions, did not work out. I found myself repeating the cycle because I had no positive male figures in my own life,” Harraway said.
“Most men from the inner cities don’t trust the system. There are myths that if you don’t pay child support, you’ll go to jail–totally untrue. There are programs in place that fathers are unaware of. I help them navigate the system. Incarceration is a last resort. It’s the biggest misconception that fathers have because information is just not available to them.
“There is also a lot of communication breakdown between the custodial and non-custodial parent. This has been coined as ‘baby mama drama’ and has been blown out of proportion. I see mothers that don’t have support orders keep the hope alive that the relationship will be rekindled with the father. Once the father has gone on with his life or remarried, there is a revenge factor that takes place. Some women are not able to handle that.
“The men, in general, are getting a raw deal, but the kids just want their fathers. These kids cry because their fathers are not there. It’s so unfair to deny them their other parent.”
Harraway has discussed this issue with mothers, fathers and the children who still clearly want their fathers in their lives.
“There were two young ladies, ages 16 and 18, and two young men ages, 17 and 18. I asked them if they would rather have the money from their dad or their dad in their life. In most cases, the mother has built a barrier. During the course of the interview, the boys were disrespectful and inattentive, texting on their Blackberries. They suppress their feelings. The girls were more emotionally attached. The young men wanted the money. They wanted the material things. The girls wanted their fathers,” he said.
Harraway raised interesting issues when he talked to the mothers.
“There were a lot of contradictions. They said that the men were deadbeat dads. ‘He never comes around to see his child.’ But it has to be done on their terms and by their rules. It’s unfair. A man might be working two jobs or on the weekends. If it’s not conducive to the mother’s schedule, then he is denied visitation. If he wants to be there, then why not let him be there. The umbilical cord to the relationship is still there with hope that he might come back.
“I’m not against child support,” Harraway said. “If you have them, you need to take care of them, but some men may not have the monetary means to do that. But he can help out in other areas like picking the children up from school or taking them out to give their mother a little down time. There are other ways to be a good father besides just giving money.
“According to New York State Law, if you pay your child support, you are considered to be a good father. The Clinton administration made non-child support a crime but it did not fix the problem for fathers. The system needs to be revamped so that these guys do not go from mother to mother.
“We only hear the bad part about these fathers, when in fact, according to the 2008-09 Census statistics, only 10 percent of them are truly deadbeats, resisting to comply with the court order to actively be involved in the care and support of their children.”
President Obama released a bill in June for $130 million for programs to improve father/child relationships. New York City was the first to receive these funds. Mayor Michael Bloomberg started a program called NYC Dads as way to open up better relationships for fathers and their children.
“There is a wealth of information on the website, www.nycdads.com, including job placement, help with filling out petitions, father-to-father mentoring and legal assistance. These are things that people in the community need to know. New York State will be the blueprint for the rest of the country to follow,” Harraway said.
He is shooting a documentary called “Silent Suffering” based on the ill effects of child support-related stress. He offered some staggering statistics; “Every year nationwide, 24,000 men commit suicide due to child support-related stress, most of which are from hangings in jail. This number is likely to increase. There are close to 250,000 men incarcerated nationwide due to failure to pay child support. It’s an ongoing business.
“In New York State, for every $100 that is collected for child support, $11 goes to the city to maintain the system. There is an incentive to keep this going. The child is not getting 100 percent of that money. It’s a cancer syndrome. My documentary will shed light on the lower-level fathers, the Jamals and Pookies who work in Foot Locker making minimum wage. These guys cannot afford to maintain their lives. There are a lot of men who are destitute. They are paying their child support, but they are living in rooms or shelters.
“The main question that men need to ask before they start a relationship with a young lady is what is the relationship with her father? It tells a lot. If she has a bad relationship with her father and you have a child with her, chances are that she’ll take out all that anger on you if there is a conflict. The angst from her father will rise up, and she’ll become angry and bitter with you. Whereas, a woman who has a good relationship with her father is more likely to be understanding in the raising of her children because her father was in her life. I think men need to use this as dating tool instead of a nice dinner or bottle of wine. This needs to be part of the dating process. The woman needs to ask a man what’s his relationship like with his mother. It works both ways. We need to dig further into the family tree.”
Check out “Real Talk with Rodney,” broadcast every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. on SAR-FM radio. It’s available via Internet only at www.sarfmradio.com.