I am frustrated. I am caught between a rock and a hard place.
I am a black man working in an urban school with kids that have a number of disadvantages. The students that I deal with consist of mainly African American and Latino individuals. I serve my school as both a teacher and a counselor so I see a lot of students and I work with a lot of parents. One thing that I see is the contrast between what happens when I deal with the female students versus the males in my school. So, the young ladies, when they have academic issues, we get to the root and we deal with it; I may have to call mom, and when I do, mom is able to tap into something where she gets the young lady to respond. When it comes to the young men however, particularly the African American males, I get frustrated.
I get frustrated because these young men are the ones who often times have issues that cannot be resolved with a simple call to mom. Mom has the same frustration as me. She cannot seem to tap into whatever she needs to get her son to respond. After I have initially done my due diligence to work with the young man, I may have to make a call to mom for some interventions on her part. The next thing that I hear is how she has talked to him and cannot seem to get him to respond. She's restricted privileges (taken phones away, the video games away, the television is gone, etc.) and he's punished by not being able to go out, but nothing seems to work. The young man is still failing a number of classes, and possibly the one that I am teaching. This is the norm. I can name the names off the top of my head of these students whose mothers have told me this and continue to tell me this. So my next response is quite naturally, "How can I help?"
I might as well have provided those moms with a blank check because their answer represents about 15 zeros after the number 1. I've had a mother whose child that I am currently counseling say to me, "I've done so much with him, I've called his father and nothing is working. He just needs a male figure to stay on top of him, can you please do that because I can't." I've had the mother of a student I've taught in the past say to me, "Please stay on top of him. He needs a mentor to just rein him in; he's my youngest of three and I give up...I cannot do it anymore." Another mother of a child I work with told me that her son needs "someone to stay on top of him to do his work, can you do that?"
These mothers, mothers of African American young men, come to me, one of the only African American men in my school, looking for me to wave a magic wand and/or create the magic potion to cure what ails their sons. I may sound a bit dramatic, but when you look at the statistics of the dropout rates of African American men, the numbers of black men in college versus prison, and the number of black males who are being raised fatherless, you may not think that I am being overly dramatic, there is a correlation.
I feel for these mothers. I have no doubt that they are working super hard trying to keep their sons on the right road. I know what it is like growing up a black male in a world where the black man is marginalized and ostracized by society. Fortunately for me, I had a black man to show me the way, my father. So quite naturally, I ask myself, "where the hell is this boy's daddy at and why the hell isn't he doing his job?" Honestly, I know your son has needs that are legitimate and need to be addressed, but I respectfully am not his daddy and truthfully I don't have the time to be what your one son needs.
Like you, there are other mothers who need someone to stay on top of their sons, in addition to the other students who need and deserve my attention. On top of that there is the bureaucracy of education; all of the meetings, all of the forms to fill out, all of the reports to write, all of the lesson plans to construct, all of the referrals to make etc, all of that makes it virtually impossible to do both the jobs of a counselor and teacher to the fullest. This is why it is so important that Daddy is around because he is, or should be, the primary counselor and teacher.
President Obama made a call to all the fathers of our nation to stand up and be fathers. Now, I am not President Obama and I don't have his mighty resume, but I am calling on all fathers to stand up and be fathers to your children and I want to specifically reach out to the fathers of young black males -- your sons and daughters need you. I wouldn't be nearly as prepared to navigate through this world as a black man without one showing me how. One may not need a biological father to show them the way, but that doesn't mean that nature designed it so that the father's job was complete after the sperm passed through his body. Being a father isn't just paying the bills and being in the house, it is also loving the mother of your child and mentoring your children via meaningful conversation. They learn how to have a conversation with an adult about serious topics, they learn how to express themselves to an adult in a respectful manner and they also learn that their feelings and ideas are valued. I dare to say that if more children received this sort of interaction at home, we'd see fewer Black young men with discipline problems in our schools.
Nevertheless, when that mother comes to me, seeking someone to help turn her son around, despite my frustrations and my inner spirit shaking its head, my answer to her will continue to be "How can I help?" because my job as a teacher and counselor is to meet the needs of my students where I can, each day they walk through my door. Yet my question is to the absent fathers, absent physically and/or emotionally -- how will you help, because it is not his fault, but I am not your son's father... you are.