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The Apple Doesn’t Fall Too Far From the Tree?

In my daily travels, I often see people with their children and I wonder who the child takes after when I observe the way they interact with others, the way they respond to their environment, or the way they adhere to rules or commands.  Then I gaze at the parent, or whom I assume to be the parent, and try to relegate or label them based on their appearance, their demeanor or merely by picking up any energy I sense.  Believe it or not, just watching the child can oftentimes give me some insight into the parenting of the mother, father or both.  Why do I do this, primarily to prepare myself in the event our interaction goes beyond a cursory or fleeting one.  I tend to tailor my countenance, my body language and even my reception to another by the observation I make of them, their offspring, then them again.  I can be really jovial and welcoming when I see a well-mannered but equally vivacious kid.  But if I notice an irreverent child, who is too rambunctious for even his or her parent, well then I give off this “don’t even think about coming anywhere near me” expression.

We have all heard the saying that “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” particularly when we are talking negatively  about someone’s child or adult child.  The funny thing is that I usually hear this aphorism with regards to a father and his son or a mother and her daughter, as if only boys imitate their fathers  and vice versa.  While it is obvious that a son who watches his father live an unremarkable life or engage in sociopathic behavior will be more likely to mimic that, or daughter for that matter, how do we explain when this is not the case.  Should we attribute a boy who has grown up to be an upstanding member of society to sheer luck when his father was no choir boy.  Or should we credit that father in taking efforts in ensuring that his son did not grow up to be anything like him, leading down a more favorable path.  Well, there is no set answer.  In my travels, as an attorney, counselor, etc. I met young boys who were habitual troublemakers, and I automatically assumed that either his  father was not in his life or that his father was confined to state prison.  But after being wrong on a number of occasions, I had to accept and appreciate, that it has little do with the example of a man he had in his life.  No, more often than not it had to do with how that child felt about himself.   As parents we contribute or have significant impact on how our children value themselves but overall there are other factors that contribute to the type of person they grow up to be.

This woman I met recently told me that as she raised her five children, that she lived a model life for them choosing to forego or refrain from partaking in certain activities.  She maintained the life that she wanted her children to live, being exemplary of  a strong and purposeful individual.  I believe that we should all revert to this way of being too, but unfortunately it does not result in any guarantees.  You can live a pristine life, raise your child to be the same way and the child still grows into being a social misfit.  We must

Apples on a Tree

be mindful, the apple can fall anywhere, it is our job to catch if before it rots!

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The Government and Black Family

I recently attended a Father’s Conference and a lot of things came up as a result.  The main thing that became crystal clear as I watched, listened and took it all in that I witnessed, Big Brother’s interest in the Black family does in fact exist.  Yes, believe it or not the federal government has taken, which continues to date, efforts to address the issues that run rampant in the Black community, the destruction of the family being one of them.   It obviously makes sense to devise a plan to address issues such as childhood poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, the economic impact of allowing them to run amok is asinine.  However, getting to the root of or the impetus for these , however, makes much more sense.

The U.S. Dept. of Health, Administration of Children and Families is the agency responsible for researching, promoting and funding healthy families.  The Healthy Marriage initiative has been in place for more than a decade.  The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative (www.aahmi.net) is the component of ACF that aims at promoting marriage, responsible fatherhood and strong families in the Black community.  And although the original objective of ACF’s Healthy Marriage initiative, which arose out of Congress’ findings that marriage is fundamental to a healthy society, was to promote and strengthen marriage, the Obama administration deviated somewhat.  In 2005 the Deficit Reduction Act was enacted, this directed that $150 million each year for the research, training and programs that promoted marriage, fatherhood and families.  Consequently, the Bush administration allotted $100 million of those funds to marriage and the remaining $50 million to fatherhood programs.  Obama, on the other hand, increased the allotted amount to $500 million, but he designated that half of that budget be used to fund fatherhood programs, with a “marriage component” while the other half go to programs that will improve the lives of children by helping their parents to get jobs.  Obama does not minimize the importance of marriage, on the contrary, what his goal is is to broaden the legislation’s base by focusing on families.   As it stands, there are more single parent households in the Black community than married ones, there is no debating this.  So putting emphasis on fatherhood programs certainly widens the reach of the funds for many Black families, by eliminating the requirement of marriage.  Some argue that this only perpetuates the Black community’s stance on families, only supporting our belief that we don’t need to be married to have a family.  While others think that he merely took a more realistic and pragmatic approach to a very critical predicament.  Although I promote marriage, I think ignoring where we are today can have a much more deleterious effect than trying to affect change prospectively.  An ideal program will encourage fathers to consider marriage as a viable option to eliminating poverty, improving  their relationship with their child and even ameliorating their economic predicament, and not just focus on being a good or better father.

Great Husband or Better Dad, If You Had to Choose

Of course I had a discussion with a friend of mine about this, that is typically the source of my blog entries.  So yes, a girlfriend and myself had this exchange when we were talking about potential mates for both of us.  And of course many of us would opt for a better husband because after all, it is all about our happiness.   But after forcing her to give it some real thought, she slowly changed positions and thought maybe if and when she had children, they would benefit more if they had a great father than she would if she had a great husband.  This is not to say that the two cannot mutually exist, but if we had to choose then….

My take on the issue is one of not self-preservation, but community preservation.  You see, I can live a great, meaningful and fulfilled life even with a mediocre mate.  My existence is not compromised any by foregoing a great husband, nor is my purpose thwarted by the fact that my partner does not excel  in the “husband” department.  I will still strive to be the best that I can be, still welcome opportunities for growth, still live a passion-filled life whether my husband is above average in companionship, love and romance or not.   However, this does not minimize or ignore the importance of having a supportive, open-heart & open-minded and grounded partner to complement me on my journey.  No on the contrary, I believe for any union to thrive these attributes are very important for both parties, particularly if they want to last.  It’s just that he does not have to be exceptional at all (or any) of these qualities for me to continue to move onward and upward.

Being a great father, though, is something entirely different.   I believe the purpose for each of us is to ensure that children blossom and flourish to the be spiritually, emotionally and psychologically grounded.  Our focus of most of our actions, beliefs and thoughts should be to guide children in the right direction, this holds true particularly for parents.  Mothers and fathers play different roles in facilitating this, neither of which can completely replace the other.   It is no mystery that the presence of fathers impact the self-esteem, self-worth and value system of children.  So a great father will only heighten the probability that the child will grow up to not only value his or herself, but will more than likely have respect and appreciation for others.   This, in turns, means  that they will probably be more loyal, reverent and reliable.   Again, not that a undistiguished father is insignificant or that he can not nurture a productive member of society, not hardly.   These days I say that a half decent father is better than no father at all.  But my point is that if I had to choose between a better husband or better father, I would opt for the latter because of the long-term effects on our community as a whole.

What does a great father look like you ask, well just look at the father that provides for his child, not just financially either.   I am referring to the father that ensures that his child is safe, happy and healthy despite his circumstances.  For example, I recently represented  two fathers in court on child support and/or child custody matters.  Father #1 fought to have his children returned to New York after the mother (his ex-wife) absconded to Georgia without his knowledge or consent.  He fought diligently to locate his children, to facilitate their return and to maintain some contact with them.  He spent thousands  in this process, despite the fact that he was no longer working.  To many, he was to be commended because he did whatever he needed to ensure their safe return because he loved his children and wanted to be a part of their lives.  Father #2, however, was involved in his son’s life since birth.  He accompanied the mother to prenatal visits, bought separate nursery items for when the child spent time at his home and even tried to forge a relationship with the mother for the sake of their son.  Which one did I think was a good father, #1.  But #2, was a great father, his actions supported his concern for his son’s safety, happiness and well-being as opposed to #1 who loved his children but had little concern for their safety or happiness by the methods he used.

If you are a parent, look at your child(ren), what sort of person do you foresee them growing up to become?  Is the father, if he is in their life, a good or great one?  If you are married, is your husband (or are you) a good or great one? Of the two, which one do you see playing a greater role in that person you would like your child(ren) to be?

We Know Sticks and Stones Break Bones, But Do Words Really Not Hurt?

        It seems to have been the topic of conversation lately, telling my SO to “shut up” when he’s speaking words that have little value, what is that called gibberish right?  Well, right or wrong my SO has no problem with that, (it’s other things I say that irk him) because he knows I mean no disrespect to him.  But when I mentioned this to a few of my girlfriends over the weekend, they looked at me in astonishment.  The irony is that in the beginning of our courtship, I made it clear that certain verbiage would not be tolerated by me, and that was one of them.

      Let me take a moment to explain the significance of how we communicate with each other.   I was raised by a somewhat liberal Southern woman, who was the matriarch in my family, and absolutely forbade some things and while others went unsanctioned.  My mother was not the ideal example of what a wife should be, because her role in that capacity was fleeting.  So my ideas of how to treat a man and how I should be treated by one came from friends, pop culture and past experiences which work (my clients always remind of what not to do.)  What I surmised is that, at least in my head, is that if he spoke to me to me a certain fashion that he would be predisposed to going over the edge and trying to physically abuse.  So “shut up” was a precursor to a blackened eye or a busted lip, something that was always on my list of “oh Hell no”. 

         The thing is in each relationship, what is acceptable or unacceptable is or at least should be something that is discussed and agreed upon by the parties.  My “shut up” is uttered with love and affection and is said with no intention of ill will.  Seriously though, my SO does not have an issue with that, he jokes a lot and in response I blurt my oft-spoken response.  The thing that I am precarious about is the tone we use when we communicate because that seems to have a much more piercing effect.  We constantly talk about what we want our children to be exposed to, so we try to be mindful of expressions, communications, behaviors, etc.  Children do what they see, and although we don’t have any yet there is nothing wrong or futile about getting in the practice right now.   

        So hopefully by the time the children come I will have found another much more constructive way to hint that what my SO was asinine.  But for right now “shut up” is not proscribed.

Really, Why Do Blacks Marry Interracially?

        Pew Research recently (2008) conducted a study where they found that Asians and Hispanics are more likely to marry interracially than Blacks.  More specifically, out of the newlyweds in the study Asians’ interracial marriages comprised 31% of the group while 28 % of the Hispanic  newlyweds were married interracially.  The interesting thing is that in the past few decades, the influx of Asian and Hispanic immigrants has increased exponentially, making the pool of prospects greater for these groups.  And although interracial marriages have increased almost 7% within the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the disparity in number across racial/ethnic groups is noteworthy.  Which begs the question:  If the availability of  potential mates for Asian and Hispanic increases with the influx of immigrants, why do these groups choose to marry someone other than Asian or Hispanic, respectively?

         Well, the question is not about why Asians and Hispanics marry outside of their race/ethnicity more frequently given the surge in immigration from Latin and Asian countries.  Deductively, we should explore why Blacks marry interracially despite this being the case for us.  When the Census estimates that by the middle of the century the minority will be the majority, they are not referring to Blacks.  Blacks do not migrate to this country in record numbers this day and age.  But let’s look at the factors that affect their choices to intermarry:  many Latin and Asian countries have strict cultural standards and societal expectations that inhibits or denounces intermarrying (although historically more Asians intermarried than what is believed by many).  So it should be of no surprise that coming to the U.S., the land of the free, that they would choose to exercise and/or explore the “forbidden fruit” since it is much more acceptable here .   In addition, since many foreigners come to this country to realize their economic dreams of acquiring riches, it would seem obvious that they would marry someone other than a compatriot, opting for someone who theoretically would give them a financial or economic “head start”.   However, the fact that the study indicates that it is the American born Hispanics and Asians that are more likely to intermarry than their immigrant brethren, shoots holes in those theories.  So the real question then becomes:  What perceived benefits do Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans have in intermarrying that Blacks overlook? 

       According to the same study, only 16% of the Black newlywed couples were interracial, which is third in the sample group of Whites, Asians, Blacks and Hispanics.  Although the numbers change according to the region of the country the couples reside, i.e. Black interracial marriages make up 38% of the marriage population on the West coast, in all four regions of the U.S. Blacks still come in third with the number of interracial unions.   And since some studies indicate that middle class and educated Blacks that are more likely to marry non-Blacks than lower-income or uneducated Blacks, which is not necessarily the case for Asians and Hispanics, it is clear that getting that “head start” is not necessarily the motivating factor for us.  This does not mean, however, that Blacks who marry other races are not interested in achieving economic success, it just indicates that the lower-income Blacks do not see “marrying up” as a priority. 

          Do the beliefs of self-hatred or rebellion have any validity?  Or is our loyalty to our race much more widespread than we would like to think?  I would like to hear your thoughts.

Learning Relationship Skills: Is it the Parent or School’s Responsibility

        I recently posted an entry about Emotional Intelligence because I thought about how it played out in our personal lives.  However, when I attended the conference in Denver recently (see my post Emotional Intelligence = Relationship Success) I had a discussion with a psychologist who specialized in couples counseling and he mentioned the need for teaching relationship skills to children beyond merely the level taught in daycare/pre-school.  He emphasized that a lot of couples face issues not because they do not want to cooperate with each other, they want to have conflict or they do not understand their roles but because many of us are not taught these necessary skills until we are in relationships and even then many of us still have no clue. 

        I always mention to people that my parents (really my mother because my Dad was not in the home) did not teach me how to be a mate, she only admonished about the things I should be aware of and/or to avoid in a relationship (none of which really mattered when I think about it.)  Now that I am in a committed relationship, I realize how much I do not know and am yearning to understand.  Grant it, much of it is trial and error, growth and just life experiences that enlightens us…but much of it is what was or was not learned from young.  In today’s society it is easy to have relationship, either romantic or platonic, and have very little social interaction given the popularity of texting, emailing, social networking and the like.  So highly essential social skills like courtesy, consideration, compassion and respect have almost completely escaped our evolution. 

        How does our lack of relationship skills manifest itself?  Well, it is almost commonplace for men and women to invade the other’s privacy, to ignore explicit boundaries and to outright show a total lack of disregard for another’s feelings, all without any remorse or concern.   For example, I was in a supermarket and walked up on two cashiers discussing going through their boyfriend’s cell phone to read messages and to see the call history.  One of the cashiers was cavalier about her constant invasion by stating that all girlfriends do it, while the other cashier (and me too once I chimed in) emphatically disagreed stating that it was “disrespectful” and “not right”.   Now that is one lesson that my mother did teach me that I hold steadfast to til this day, it is not right to invade anyone’s privacy under no circumstances (unless danger is imminent of course.)  This I learned at a very young age, and have only developed an understanding of how significant it is as I matured.  Or how about the recent incident where a wife had to find out on Facebook that her husband was pursuing a divorce from her, how humiliating for her and socially inept of him.

        I believe that if children are taught in school and at home, then we have a win-win.  Some educators actually do agree that it is their responsibility and do try to implement these valuable lessons into their curriculum or lesson plans.  (Read http://teachers.net/gazette/wordpress/susan-fitzell/relationship-skills-and-our-role-as-teachers-and-parents/ In addition, not only does it reduce bullying in younger children but relationship abuse and violence amongst teens are also diminished, which in essence minimizes the possibility of being in high conflict relationships as adults.  Learning relationship or social skills include learning interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills and conflict resolution, all of which are essential in intimate relationships. 

         Although we are far from seeing relationship skills lesson plans becoming systemic in the school system, we are making strides in that many educators are aware of the need and are making personal and professional choices to incorporate it.  If we want the Black community, Black family and Black relationships to last and to grow, then we must insist that our children learn early on that the world does not revolve around them.

For All the Single Mothers, Please Don’t Leave Daddy Out

      I celebrate all the mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.  But I especially laud the single mothers out there.  I don’t have any children yet but I know that once I do my life will metamorphose into something I cannot fathom right now.  I watch my family, friends and clients perform this most challenging task and am often amazed by their ability to remain sane even in the most crucial circumstances.  I rebuke anyone who minimizes what mothers endure on a day-to-day basis, especially single mothers who hold it down with little or no help from the fathers of their child(ren).  But…..I don’t condone the single mothers who consciously, and without cause, choose to alienate the fathers.  For the life of me, I cannot understand why a man is good enough to share the intimacies of your existence but cannot cut the muster of being a part of his child(ren)’s life.

      My readers from my law practice blog know where I stand on this issue, which we refer to as parental alienation (see my post on the topic http://www.traceyabloodsaw.com/blog/2008/violation-of-court-ordered-child-visitation-its-meaning-and-its-implications/), and thus have some understanding on my position on the topic.   Although Black men have been highly noted for having children out-of-wedlock, choosing to absent themselves from their families or preferring cohabitation over marriage,  which all contribute to the destruction of the Black family, in most cases economics is the culprit, not personal or moral choice.   Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that having a child out-of-wedlock is a choice, whether conscious or unconscious, and can be avoided in most cases.   However, not being a part of the family dynamics is, in many cases, a consequence of a Black man’s societal and particularly, economic status.  I am not making any excuses for the man who plant seeds all over the place, leaving the single mother, the extended family or the government to take care of his responsibilities, that man deserves all the berating he gets.  I am referring to the Black man that makes every attempt to take an active role in his child’s life but is constantly met with contention and discord from the child’s mother.

     Little Black boys and little Black girls desperately need to have both parents in their lives, in some form or another.   There are mounds of research out there that indicate that fatherless children have increased suicide rates, are more likely to become delinquents and thus imprisoned, drop out of school at higher rates, become teen mothers, amongst a slew of others dysfunctions.  (Go to www.center.americanvalues.org for research and data on the topic.)  And  although the research is just about equal with regards to fatherless boys and fatherless girls, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu’s book Raising Black Boys, the message is clear about just how imperative it is that Black mothers acknowledge the need for Black boys to have their fathers in their lives.  Again, we all commend those single mothers who are doing a phenomenal job without the father, but the ones who have that option available to them should certainly consider exercising it. 

     Remember family is what you make it and how you define it.  The unemployed father who is willing to pick up the slack by babysitting or playing taxi driver, the father in another relationship who tries to blend families, the father who lives in another state who tries to stay in touch via technology, the father who just wants to be a father to his child deserves the chance to do just that.  I have represented them all in one or many legal proceedings, and find that more often than not fathers just want to be included.  Many acknowledge that they don’t feel adequate because of their financial predicaments but would welcome the opportunity to spend more time with their child if the mother allowed them to.  It is a travesty how many women confuse financial support with emotional and psychological support.  Although a parent should be there to support their child in every sense, the inability to provide one should not automatically bar a parent from providing in other ways.  In fact, in most courts (certainly in New York Family Courts) a father’s inability to provide for his child financially does not absolve him of his right to access to his child.  Conversely, if a mother willfully and maliciously interferes with a father’s access to his child, the judge may suspend child support  until she does. 

      Again, when I champion fathers being active in their child’s life, I am not referring to the abusive, neglectful or deadbeat dads.  I am speaking for the ones that do the right thing but is constantly met with resistance, confrontation and deliberate interference from the mother.   So you single mothers, being a good mother means doing what is right for your child, while your own interests take a back seat.  Seeking vengeance, being malicious and so-called “protecting” your child serves no one any purpose, certainly not that model citizen you are attempting to raise.

What is Family to You?

     I have friends from all stages of my life, those I grew up with, those I went to high school with, those I met in college and then law school, those I met at the myriad of jobs I had, those I met through other friends, the list goes on and on!  The thing is I absolutely love meeting people and exploring their experiences, not that my own life is boring, trust me I keep them intrigued, but it feeds my soul!  So I am hardly put off when someone tells me that their immediate family consisted of a woman she met while working at some random job who decided to take on the role of “Mom”.   I mean to the extent that the only way you knew this woman was not her biological mother was when I would be attending a gathering and her biological family would show up with a different mother.  I have friends who have adopted the family of an ex, even maintaining a sibling type relationship with that ex when it was all said and done.   The thing is these folks filled a void that we all want filled, with love, nurturing and support, despite the absence of biological connections.

     Well today family is what you make it!  Same-sex couples, intergenerational, adoptive, etc.  all constitute family if those key elements are there (although a family devoid of those key elements is no less a family).  I approach this topic today because I recently, and do on a recurrig basis, had a discussion with my significant other about the hybrid situation within his family.   We all remember the 80’s and the impact the crack epidemic had on the Black family.  Well, many of us were directly affected, including myself, to the point where our immediate family was extended by my mother adopting two of my sister’s children because of her crack addiction.  In my SO’s family though, his maternal aunt adopted her grand-nephew, but here’s the thing… they all still live in the same house.  So, maternal grandmother, mother, adoptive mother/great aunt and the boy all live under one roof and have been for the past fifteen years.  I remember when my mother decided to take on two more mouths to feed, I thought she was crazy considering she was not getting any younger and not in the best health.  But she, like many other family members who took on this difficult feat, was determined to keep our family together. 

     So to date, I rarely raise an eyebrow when I hear of an unconventional family situation, unless there is abuse of course.  On the contrary, I exude compassion and appreciation for that individual who, whether deliberately or not, put themselves in the position of mother, father, sister or brother or whatever, giving someone else a place to call home.   Especially when, but for that adopted family, that person would have to take this journey without the trials and tribulations of family ( we can all testify to what our families put us through-whew!).   I know for me when I was dating as soon as a man told me he either had no family or did not have a relationship with his family and was okay with that I bolted.  Family keeps us going, growing and grounded, whether it’s the ideal family, the incomplete family or the adopted family, it does all of our bodies (and minds and spirits) GOOD

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Hello Visitors!

Hello,

Welcome to Reclaim Black Family!  A discussion about the state of today’s Black family, Black marriage, parenting in the household of Black family and the Black community as a whole.  Our focus is to uplift, encourage, inspire, educate and share our views, beliefs, ideals, suggestions, comments and insight on all things that pertain to the Black family.  As a family law attorney, family mediator, social activist, writer, speaker and spiritualist I have had the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge on the social, psychological and economical ills that plague our families.   Everyday and everyone I encounter presents additional opportunities to learn s0 I welcome all thoughts.