Milwaukee’s inner city needs good fathers

By SHANNON WHITWORTH | July 11, 2014

Recently I celebrated Father’s Day with my wife and two small children. A day specifically to celebrate what we bring to the table as men and fathers is a wonderful gift. That day highlights for me how important my presence is in my kids’ lives and how much of their future may be predicated on the stability and love that I bring into the home.

The reality is that not every family will be intact. As a black man, though, it is my observation that broken families are not an exception but a way of life in our inner-city black communities. The conditions some of these children are forced to grow up in are enough to reduce a grown man to tears. The ramifications for the economic and cultural survival of the black community are devastating and destructive.

A report published by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute last year provided a thumbnail sketch of the state of marriage in Wisconsin and beyond. The portrait it painted for blacks in Wisconsin was as depressing as it was dire. Among the most damning statistics: Every year close to 75% of all black infants are born out of wedlock into single-parent homes. According to a study of the Milwaukee area, the percentage exceeds 85%. In Janesville: 91%!

This is a disaster for the affected communities as well as for America. Only an idiot could not predict the outcome. The black people who live, eat and sleep in those communities know very well the ridiculous amounts of violence, drugs, gangs, poverty and hopelessness that pervade their neighborhoods.

Most residents confront these issues every single day.

Good fathers and intact families are key to preventing such chaos. Good fathers set boundaries, impose discipline, defend the home, show affection and set positive examples for their children to follow, leading impressionable children away from the abyss.

Unfortunately, the presence of a father in a home in the inner city is an anomaly. Not only does the welfare state create short-term economic incentives to keep the father out of the home, but also the cultural norm now is to make decisions according to short-term considerations, and that impulsive perspective dictates behavior.

Conversely, statistics show that one of the greatest indicators of a child’s economic success as an adult is whether he or she was raised in a home where the familial unit was intact and both parents had made a commitment to one another that family came first.

What can be done?

The community must demand that these fathers return to their homes, man up, work and raise their children. The government has to stop creating well-intentioned but counterproductive programs that validate the notion that making babies comes with no responsibilities for men.

As long as young men keep getting the message that they are unnecessary or unwanted or that the mothers can make more money if they are not in the picture, the downward spiral will continue. No amount of government intervention will change this dynamic.

Only when people can stand on their own, make their own money, pay their own bills, save their money, reject chaos and make commitments to their spouses and children will they be stable. And stability breeds economic success.

The day when all black men with children are worthy to be celebrated on Father’s Day will be the day when economic circumstances in the inner city will change for the better. And until that day comes, the inner-city community will continue to be as lost as its children are.

Shannon Whitworth of Cedarburg is a veteran attorney and a fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty in Milwaukee. This column represents his personal opinion.