D.C. court program teaches absent fathers how to be good dads

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011; 8:53 PM

Where are the fathers?

I get that question every time I write about women and children in peril.

I write about the broken families of homeless women, their daughters and the grandbabies sleeping in cars, on the streets and trying to get into shelters in alarming numbers throughout our region.

And the readers ask: "Where are the fathers?"

I write about women who are working hard at good jobs, then racing to their day-care centers to pick up their kids - all of them single, all of them praying that the government doesn't go through with a threat to cut the child-care subsidy that keeps it all together.

Where are the fathers?

"Your article really upset me. Where are the daddies here? When I was a young man, I worked two jobs to support the children. It was hard but I did it. As a man, you have to face your responsibilities," boomed Clarence Lowe, 69, when he left a message on my voice mail.

When I called to talk to Lowe, a Capitol Heights locksmith, he went on further.

"Men today have to step up to the plate and be a daddy. No matter how hard it is, there's a way to do it," said Lowe, who has seen the devastation of broken families firsthand as the foster parent to nearly two dozen children. "We, the citizens, shouldn't bear that burden of raising your children. But we do. Now do your part."

It's a troubling, complex and painful cycle that keeps playing itself out in America's struggling families and especially in African American communities. A Brookings Institution report on fragile families lays out the scope of the problem: 70 percent of black children in the United States are born to unwed parents; more than half of unwed mothers don't have high school degrees; and as for the fathers, black men are incarcerated at an exponentially higher rate - one in 12 - compared with their working-age white counterparts - one in 87.

Twenty-five years ago, one in 125 American children had a parent in jail. Today, it is one in 28, according to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust on the economics of incarceration.

Before his drug life caught up with him and he changed his ways, Christian Carter was one of those missing dads.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company