As the father of three children (two daughters and a son), I often worry about their future. As a man with two daughters, I am particularly concerned about the type of men who they will eventually date, marry, and ultimately have children with. I have always believed that fathers have an obligation to instill confidence and self-worth in their daughters. Yet the responsibility of fathers goes beyond telling their daughters that they are beautiful, intelligent, and can be whatever they want to be. I also believe fathers have an important role in teaching their daughters life lessons ranging from how to manage a budget, how to drive a car, and most importantly how to avoid the pitfalls of life. One particular lesson I want to share not just with my two daughters, but with everyone’s daughters is the importance of having children within wedlock.
There is no coincidence that the estimated 65% of children in the African American community who grow up without the involvement of their fathers, almost matches the number of children who are estimated to be born out of wedlock at 70-75%. Although many have disputed these percentages and point out the numbers of fathers involved with their children are greater than statistics show (an argument I also happen to support); it is clear that when children are born out of wedlock, there is a greater possibility that the father will not be involved. Indeed, when we are talking about children and father involvement, the number of children born out of wedlock and those raised without father involvement are not two separate issues, they are the same thing. Yet what is often missing in the conversation is why it is important to be married before having children. The answer lies in the difference men and women have in bonding with their children, as well as the commitment a man has in creating a family with a woman.
Women bond with their children on a genetic level. A child is conceived within a woman and develops inside of her for 9 months. With few exceptions, the bonding process between mother and child has already begun at this point, and it is solidified once that child is born. Mother and child are bonded the first time the doctor lays a baby on her chest…during the first suckling….a lifetime bond has been formed. In contrast, men don’t bond with their children on a genetic or biological level, men bond with their children by spending time with them. Men bond with their children by changing diapers…feeding their children…taking them to school every day….taking them to the park each weekend….playing with them. It may take months for a man to be bonded with his children. In some cases it may take years of daily contact for a man to bond with his children. The type of contact and time men need to bond with their children is only going to happen if a man is with the child’s mother, and that is most likely to be in a marriage.
Commitment is important in this equation as well. Despite what many people believe, marriage isn’t the biggest commitment two people enter, children are. Children permanently tie two people together for the rest of their lives. When you have a child with someone (whether in marriage or outside of it) you will be forever linked. Whether you love or loathe that other person, they have to right to attend future school functions, an untold number of birthday parties, family functions, graduation ceremonies, future weddings, etc. More importantly the permanent link will manifest itself through having grandchildren together, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren. The permanent link will continue even after you die, as you will be the ancestors of an untold number of generations after you. In comparison, marriage does not create a permanent link (unless children are born within that marriage). If you marry someone and divorce them without having children, you never have to see or hear from that person again.
Because children are the biggest commitment two people can enter, the environment and conditions they are conceived are what is most important. This emphasizes the importance of marriage. In a marriage, a man has made a commitment to take care of a woman and be by her side. A man has pledged to spend the rest of his life with a woman, and he has demonstrated his commitment to a woman by valuing her enough to make her his wife. The man has demonstrated through his actions (not words) how he feels about the woman. Ideally this man will be providing for this woman. He has created a home for this woman….he is committed to her. It is only in this type of commitment that a woman should be secure enough to enter the “greatest” commitment possible to a man, bearing his children.
Even if a marriage ends in divorce, most men will have developed a bond with their children and will still remain involved in their lives. Children are the greatest gift a woman can give to a man….I truly don’t believe enough women today realize that. If you look at animals…the female of most species make males fight for the right to mate….to prove themselves worthy. Those females will then only mate with the male that does that. How much above animals are we? This is why having children within marriage and with a man who proves himself worthy of being a father is important.
This February as we celebrate Black History Month, reflecting on the achievements and contributions African Americans have made in the United States, it is also important to discuss the challenges we face. The challenges facing the African American community are many. The African American community continues to face inequities in education, employment, income, and health care. The African American community continues to face racial injustices and discrimination, yet perhaps the biggest challenge that threatens the prosperity and wellbeing of the African American community has been the decrease in marriage and relationship stability. But this particular challenge, unlike many facing the African American community, is one that we have the power to change. It is time to begin having conversations about the need to improve and repair relationships between black men and women in the African American community. It is also time to have discussions about the importance of marriage and having children within marriage, in order to ensure our children have more stable families and better futures.