No Father, No Peace
By Kevin Thomas | April 17, 2017, 10:43 EDT
It’s baseball season and I relish taking my sons to a game or, sometimes, a good baseball movie; or even a bad baseball movie … like the one my oldest and I watched 16 years ago.
I slouched in my theater seat when I suddenly sat up, straining to hear the lyrics to a song a youth baseball team was singing.
It was a rap number that had become a theme song for the team, especially its pitcher who found his groove on the mound by swaying to the tune.
In the movie Hardball, Keanu Reeves plays a white gambling-addicted loser named Conor O’Neill, who is forced to coach an all-black youth baseball team from the projects in Chicago, as a way to help pay off his massive gambling debts.
The film’s most meaningful and sorrowful scenes are of the projects themselves, where poverty and lawlessness reign, and boys and girls have little chance of enduring a childhood without fear. The movie makes one reference to the lack of fathers, when one of the players ridicules a book about a character waiting for her father to return – “‘cause where I’m from, nobody’s father come back.”
Big problem. Obvious, right?
But when we read about horrific environments for kids, the lack of fathers is rarely mentioned. Instead, the emphasis is on the easy access to guns, gangs, the economy, poor schools … all real problems.
But what about family, the notion of a mother and father, committed to each other, and to their children? I know, it sounds so sappy.
Not as cool as the song the kids in Hardball eagerly listen to, and sing along.
“I love it when you call me Big Poppa
Throw your hands in the air, if you’s a true player, because
I see some ladies tonight that should be having my baby, baby.”
Anyone see a connection?
One of the leading causes – if not the leading cause – of these children’s heartrending condition is family instability and father abandonment.
But let’s sing about using women for our enjoyment and status – maybe impregnating them if we’re enough of a ‘player’ … because that has just done wonders for the community.
This is not a rant against rap. There is plenty of abusive music in other genres. Cue Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young. Can there be a more loving, caring line than “Sooner or later it comes down to fate. I might as well be the one”?
Do songs create the problem of fatherless children? Obviously not. The lyrics do perpetuate a culture that ignores the cornerstone to stability: family.
The statistics about unstable and fatherless families are consistent. Children in those homes are more likely to experience poverty, alcoholism, and drug abuse, and a decrease in physical and emotional health.
It is a problem that extends beyond race and nationality. But here is where I cautiously bring up Black Lives Matter, a movement that has been politicized and misrepresented beyond recognition. Former President Barack Obama said the movement “simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African-Americans that needs to be addressed.” That is inarguable.
But the movement’s website, blacklivesmatter.com, goes well beyond that notion. In its guiding principles, it speaks of black families (mentioning mothers, but not fathers) and “black villages,” stating:
“We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, and especially ‘our’ children to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”
If that line is meant to support the struggle of single mothers, good for them. But it seems to be going further. Roland C. Warren, president and chief executive officer of Care Net, wrote an opinion piece after viewing the website:
“I was shocked, especially as a black man,” he wrote. “It is clear that the Black Lives Matter ideology sees no role for black men, especially not as husbands and fathers.”
In my hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida, certain (poorer) areas experience increased violence. And while politicians and community leaders create programs to combat the problem, Tampa Bay Times columnist Bill Maxwell knows the dilemma has deeper roots.
“No honest person will deny that something profound needs to happen to reverse the status quo … I am still waiting for a black leader to publicly bore down to the heart of the matter and address the vital role of the home – the family – in stopping the carnage … Boys, who do not have healthy homes that enable them to grow up, turn to the street where they learn from unsavory role models. These boys, in turn, become role models, and transmit what they have learned.”
Again, the issue of is not simply racial. In my mostly-white state of Maine, 43 percent of births in 2013 were to single mothers, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. Its investigation reported that the situation is “creating a generation of children who struggle in school, will have a hard time qualifying for a decent job, and are more likely to have run-ins with the law and suffer from mental health problems.”
Tell me again about the need to disrupt the nuclear family structure.
When I talk to my class about these issues, I actually show them scenes from Hardball. It is not a critique of a bad movie or a thoughtless song, but a reasoned approach to why family is good. Marriage is good. And the marital act is for, you know, marriage.
I understand my prudish opinion is in the minority. But there is something to be said about prudence. Rather than urging boys to sing about the glories of fornication, should words like consequences, respect, and responsibility enter the conversation? Tell them that instead of you’s being a true player, you could become a true man of integrity.
The alternative is a place where nobody’s father comes back.
Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.