A panel discussion on the effects of a father's absence will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, 17th and M streets NW. Because of misinformation from the discussion organizers, an article in the Sept. 22 District Extra gave the wrong date. (Published 9/23/2005)
Alisha Washington overcame horrific struggles to get where she is today. At 22, the mother of two finally has a stable home in the Parkland section, but she recalls her childhood growing up with a drug-addicted mother and a drug-dealing father who was almost always absent.
She was one of 10 children in her neighborhood fathered by the same man she called daddy. They lived within blocks of each other. Though she knew who her father was, the two didn't have a thriving father-daughter relationship. She would see him around the neighborhood giving money to his other children, but he barely acknowledged her. That is, until she got her eighth-grade report card.
"At the time, I was busy raising my younger sister and keeping myself going; I didn't really have time to think about my father not being there," said Washington. "Then one day, after I got my report card and had straight D's, my mother told me, 'I'm gon' call your daddy.' " Washington was baffled. "I remember thinking, 'My daddy?! Great, where is he?'!"
What was meant to be a firm conversation about the consequences of not doing well in school turned into a brutal, twisted version of "Daddy knows best." Washington's father ordered her to get a belt so he could whip her. When she refused, she said, he picked up the broken end of a broomstick. He beat her face and body until she passed out.
"I remember not crying at all while he beat me," she said. "I was just in complete shock."
Though more brutal than most, Washington's story of an absentee father is not uncommon.
Enter the National Daughter-Daddy Reunion Tour, a D.C.-based grassroots effort with national aspirations to help women and girls deal with the emotional effects of not having a father present in their lives. The month-long series includes workshops for both daughters and fathers where they can discuss and explore the effects their estranged relationships have had in other parts of their lives and make amends to move forward.
The tour's first workshop, "Without Our Fathers: Daughters Speak Out," took place last week at the Arc in Southeast. There, both older and younger women, including Washington, shared their stories.
The National Daughter-Daddy Reunion Tour is the brainchild of Jonetta Rose Barras. The concept grew out of her own experiences with her father. Barras, who grew up in New Orleans, was the product of an affair between her mother and a neighborhood man Barras never even met until she was in her 30s. Barras said she felt unattractive and unworthy of affection as a young woman, not loving herself and instead searching for comfort from many older men. By the time she was 26, she had had three children, all with different fathers, and had been in two marriages.
Barras, a Brightwood resident, has come a long way from her insecure beginnings. By day, she is the Jonetta of "The D.C. Politics Hour with Kojo and Jonetta," on WAMU 88.5 FM, serving as a political analyst. She also writes for the Washington Examiner and has written for the Washington Post's Outlook section and other publications as a freelancer. She has spoken to dozens of audiences about the issue of men growing up without fathers. While researching her book, however, she realized that there were many women who were also dealing with this issue but not getting any real attention.
"I saw women who were not my color, not even my class," who faced this problem, said Barras. "I knew I touched a nerve here."
Barras joined with other women friends who had grown up fatherless, and they created the nonprofit organization Esther Productions. Together, they started crafting a plan in November 2004 to provide a workshop for women to talk about the issue.
"We were going to do this just for Washington, but we thought it was something that could be done nationwide as well. We saw women who were hurting from city to city, so we wanted to make a model that knits within the fabric of a particular city, and not just parachute in and expose these things and leave," said Barras.
Upcoming events include: "In Their Absence: A Discussion About the Effects of Father Absence in Washington," a workshop to be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Charles Sumner School and Museum, 17th and M streets NW; and the "Daughters & Daddies Training Institute," a conference to facilitate reconciliation between fathers and daughters, to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at National City Christian Church, 5 Thomas Cir., NW.
Barras has crafted her project with support from mental health advocates and organizations that provide assistance to homeless youth.
"We need to send a message to fathers in the community that they are important . . . . Mothers can only be mothers; they cannot fill the role of mother and father, as it is often thought," said Judith Dobbins, executive director of Covenant House Washington, a nonprofit agency that serves troubled youth. "Fathers have to take their rightful place."
Trent Tucker, 56, a clinical psychologist with the D.C. Department of Mental Health, stands by at the workshops for immediate counseling should the participants need help after sharing their stories. Because many of the women who are speaking out have survived day to day by burying their feelings, he thinks now is as good a time as any to talk and start the healing process.
"Many of these women feel a sense of deficit; they had no protection, support or family structure growing up, and in the case of that girl [Washington] who talked about her father beating her, when the father was there, he was injurious," Tucker said. "It takes psychological energy to bury, and there is a price you pay. There's this acting out that you are unaware of; it doesn't mean the issue is dead or put away."
Today, Washington is a full-time student at the University of the District of Columbia, studying criminal justice. The last news she had of her father was that he was in jail.