Today is day one of Black Men and Boys week, and the question we will be exploring today is whether or not women can effectively raise men.
I wrote a piece a while back entitled “Spoiling Our Daughters and Raising Our Sons” in which I discussed my propensity to come down hard on my sons while acquiescing to my daughters’ every whim in an effort to raise strong, productive men and without realizing the effect this might be having on my daughters.
I knew when I composed the piece that my experience might be unique to me. In working with young people from the inner-city, most often the case is reversed. I find myself working with young men in need of guidance who are being raised by single mothers. And most often these mothers are simply spoiling these young men rotten much to their detriment.
So, I did anticipate the possibility that a number of readers would speak out of an experience very dissimilar to my own; however, I did not anticipate the sheer number of readers who would do so. As I watched a conversation around the post develop on twitter, some suggested that my experience was not representative of the African American experience at all. Someone even suggested that I had created an alternate reality with me at the center.
But the reality is that the majority of households in the African American community are headed by African American women. In fact, the last reliable statistic I could find approximated that about fifty-four percent of African American households are headed solely by African American women. And implicit in that statement is that within those households there are surely to be young African American men, and there is perhaps no way to determine how many of these young men being raised in woman headed households have little or no contact with their fathers.
I mentioned this fact to a friend, someone who has been my professional mentor for many years, who then launched into a diatribe citing this fact as the major factor in the number of young African American men caught up in the legal system and/or who are poorly equipped to contribute to the community or the culture in a positive way.
Of course I disagreed with him. And in doing so I cited the scores of African American men I knew or had encountered who had been raised solely by women but had managed to become successful, who had managed to break the cycle of poverty. Additionally, I reminded him that in many of these homes, though there was no father present, no man present, surely there were “other fathers.” There were grandfathers and uncles, teachers and coaches, even mentors like myself who could serve as role models for these young men.
I still remember his retort:
“But the home is where the rubber meets the road. What happens within the home is what counts. Max, you could teach these children to walk on water, you could teach them the knowledge of alchemy required to turn water into wine, but keep in mind that you are with them only a few hours a day a couple of days a week. If what you teach them, model for them, try to instill in them is not reinforced in the home, then it goes for naught.”
Then he finished his speech, “You are too naïve, Max. You are too idealistic, Max. Only a woman can raise a woman; only a man can raise a man.”
I respect his point of view, and I value his life experience and wisdom, but I cannot wholly agree with him. Certainly, while I agree that a number of young African American have been spoiled and cuddled to their detriment, I believe this is the exception and not the rule. Furthermore, I believe that perhaps socio-economic factors have a greater impact that anything single mothers may or may not be doing.
When a mother must devote a significant portion of her time to keeping food on the table and a roof over her family’s head, when a mother must devote a significant portion of her time meeting the basic necessities of life, then that is time taken away from time that could be spent going over homework or teaching life lessons or providing the attention and oversight requisite to the rearing of children.
And to my friend and mentor, thank you for everything you have done for me. You have been an invaluable force in my life. You have been wonderful as a mentor, an “other father.” But with me your job was easy. I was already raised when our paths crossed; you just needed to answer the questions to which I had no answer or could not be found in books. Perhaps if you will come with me only a few hours a day, a couple of days a week, then we could really affect change.
Help me with this one. Can a woman effectively raise a man?
And come back later today for other exhibits and artifacts I have in store.