The absence of fathers

Globe & Mail Editorial

With frightening regularity, young black men are shooting at and being shot by one another in Toronto. Yet few people are talking about the conditions in which many of the shooters and the shot at are growing up. They are being raised without fathers in communities in which gangs promise the lure not only of extra cash but of affirming the young men’s budding sense of masculinity and of belonging to something greater than themselves. Meanwhile, community leaders are grasping at useless symbols. The University of Toronto is proposing to scrap its century-old sport-shooting range. Ontario’s Attorney-General wants a national ban on handguns (which are already tightly controlled).

The vicious cycle that affects young black men is familiar by now from countless urban centres in the United States. Economist Ronald Mincy of New York’s Columbia University, who is black and grew up fatherless, writes of a generation of inner-city men who drop out of school and are thus poor marriage prospects. Unmarried, they are unlikely to stay connected with their children. Uneducated, they are not likely to find good jobs, since the decent-paying, low-skilled jobs have mostly disappeared. As for the low-level jobs that immigrants take, Prof. Mincy says young black men don’t want those because they are used to a higher standard of living on welfare.

Even the booming job market of the past 15 years hasn’t helped young black men. In American inner cities, more than half drop out of high school. In 2004, 72 per cent of black males in their 20s who had dropped out of high school were jobless; the figure includes those in jail and those who were free but not looking for work. By comparison, just 34 per cent of white high-school dropouts were jobless. If high-school graduates are included, half of black men in their 20s were jobless.

Prof. Mincy is one of countless voices, black and white, in the United States raising the issue of father-absence. At a time when nearly 50 per cent of all black children in Canada have just one parent in the home, compared with slightly under 20 per cent of Canadian children generally, who is raising the issue in Canada? Where are the fathers? Where are the programs to encourage responsible fatherhood? Talk about fathers is as absent as the fathers themselves.

“Black people will never reach economic parity if black children have to depend on one income and white children depend on two,” writes Prof. Mincy. That’s as true in Canada as it is in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it from the silence.