(Every year, fathers – biological and non-biological – are honored for their impact on their families and the community and placed in the Memphis Training Camp for Dads Hall of Fame. Ovr the last few weeks, The New Tri-State Defender has highlighted past award recipients in the series, “Where Are They Now?” The fourth annual event is Saturday (June 14th). This commentary is by keynote speaker Etan Thomas, an NBA veteran and author of “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge.”
It’s an honor to be a part of the 4th annual Memphis Training Camp for Dads, which Mayor A C Wharton Jr. will host on Saturday (June 14th) beginning at 9 a.m. at The University of Memphis Fogelman Executive Center.
Since the release of my book, “Fatherhood Rising To The Ultimate Challenge” and my CD, “Fatherhood Words Of Passion,” I have traveled the country to encourage young people that they can be anything they want to be in life no matter what their circumstances.
It always amazes me how much hearing that message from an athlete or rapper or actor they recognize resonates with them. It’s the reason why I started a fatherhood movement and connected with a wide a range of men to give personal accounts about responsibility, triumphs, struggles and what it takes for young people to succeed.
What’s reaffirming to me is that the young men we encounter want to do something with their lives – they want to make the right decisions and have an impact on the world. They just are looking for guidance.
That fact is sometimes lost on many who still see young people as the scourge of society.
Many of the young people who will attend the 4th annual Memphis Training Camp for Dads will be from single-parent households and will be starting their own families soon, if they have not already. While panelists will discuss fatherhood from different perspectives, we want all the young men and adult fathers to know that being a good father is the most important job they will have in life. You can be a great father even if you didn’t have one growing up to learn from.
That will be our overall message. Will there be obstacles? Yes. Will it be easy? Absolutely not!
And yes, the statistics are alarming:
• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in November of 2009 there were approximately 13.7 million single parents in the country, with those parents responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26 percent).
• 63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (U.S. Dept. of Health/Census) – five times the average.
• 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
• 85 percent of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Centers for Disease Control)
• 80 percent of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes – 14 times the average. (Justice and Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
• 71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – Nine times the average. (National Principals Association Report)
• 75 percent of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average. (Rainbows for All God’s Children)
• 70 percent of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
• 85 percent of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Fulton Co. Dept. of Correction)
Still, there are many examples of successful men from so-called “broken homes.” They made the right decisions and became wonderful fathers. Most notable among them is President Barack Obama. That’s not to say that he didn’t feel the pain and anger of not having his father around.
In “Dreams of My Father,” President Obama described meeting his wife’s family for the first time as “the vision of domestic bliss.” He continued:
“Upon seeing the joy of the Robinson house, for someone like me who had barely known his father, who had spent much of his life traveling from place to place, his bloodline scattered to the four winds, the home that Fraser and Marian Robinson had built for themselves stirred a longing for stability, a sense of place that I had not realized was there.”
Mr. Obama’s words reflect how deep-rooted feelings for a father can remain in the heart of someone years after reaching adulthood; feelings that can affect lives and the future.
On the eve of Father’s Day Weekend in 2009 at a White House Town Hall, the president made these powerful and inspirational statements:
“I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my life. I had a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents who helped raise me and my sister, and it is because of them that I am able to stand here today. But despite all their extraordinary love and attention, that didn’t mean that I didn’t feel my father’s absence. That’s something that leaves a hole in a child’s heart...
“Some of the young men who are here today might have their own concerns one day about being a dad. Some of you may be worried that if you didn’t have a father, that you may not know how to be one when your turn comes. Some of you might even use that as an excuse to say well, if my dad wasn’t around, why should I be.
“Let’s be clear, because your own father wasn't there for you is no excuse for you to be absent also. It’s all the more reason to be present. There is no rule that says you have to repeat your father’s mistakes. Just the opposite. You have an obligation to break the cycle and to learn from those mistakes. To rise up where your own fathers fell short and to do better with your own children. That’s what I try to do in my life.
“When my daughters were born I made a pledge to them and myself that I would do everything I could to give them the things I didn’t have. And I decided that if I could be one thing in life, it would be to be a good father. I haven’t always known exactly how to do that. I’ve made my share of mistakes. I had to ask a lot of questions. But I have also learned from men that I admire.”
That’s why events such as this 4th annual Memphis Training Camp for Dads are so important. People need to hear words of encouragement similar to this from the people who have their attention. Not that any one of us believes we are some fatherhood experts who have all the answers, but if we can provide not only some motivation but some helpful tools from experience, we can and will have a positive impact.
The goal of this event is to show everyone the beauty of fatherhood, not from a shaking our finger at them standpoint. But from the sharing of other’s experiences. Helpful tools. Resources to help you along the way. None of us are fatherhood experts, I don’t even think there is any such thing, but we can all learn from each other.
(For more about Etan Thomas, visit: www.etanthomas.com.)