“He didn’t want anything to do with me! I mean, he just treated me like I didn’t even exist! How could he do me like that?!” She screamed at me.
My client, Shantice*, a 16 year-old African American young woman, was hysterical. Her eyes were full of tears, as she was throwing glasses, knives, forks, spoons, plates, and books—really, anything she could get her hands on, across the room. It was clear that she was in crisis and she was out of control. She was falling apart right in front of me and there was nothing that I could say or do to help her. I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach.
I had come in response to a frantic call from her mother, in response to a surprise, first (and what would be the only) visit of her biological father. Needless to say, my client’s self esteem and self- image was shattered! It would take years—decades, really, for her to heal from that father-shaped hole in her heart. This incident happened in 1995, and she was one of my first clients that I saw, fresh out of graduate school. That incident was traumatic for me to witness—imagine how much more traumatic they were for her to have lived through?
Today is “Independence Day” in the United States, and this day commemorates that day in 1776, that the original thirteen colonies declared that they were no longer subject to Britain’s King George III. Today, there are tons of teens who are spending the day with their entire families—fathers included, but for the vast majority of the African American teen population, this is not the case. Because the sad reality is that almost 60% of Black teens will spend Independence Day—and every other day of their life–without the consistent presence of their biological fathers. In the United States, Black teens are, indeed not free. They are enslaved by the national crisis of fatherlessness.
Black teens are living independent lives from those of their respective fathers, and it’s not anything to celebrate. In fact, the website, Fathers.com reports that “more than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.”
In the midst of living in a country that boasts to be the most free, powerful, and prosperous in all the world, Black teens are paying a high price for absent fathers.
Help Bridge the Father Gap
So, as followers of Jesus, what can we do to help to restore our broken youth back to wholeness? There are real things that we can do to help to ensure African American teens can indeed celebrate. We can connect with, advocate for, and mentor teens—both in and out of the walls of our churches.
There’s something to be said for being the person who runs the youth programs in church, but you may not feel that you are particularly gifted to do that. Do you feel like you might be interested in working with the youth in your church, but you need some training? Reach out to church leadership. I promise you: they won’t turn you down. If formal ministry is something that is too intimidating for you, that’s fine. Find a way to plug into your church another way.
You can take an interest in and talk to teenagers in your church. You can ask them their names and learn about their interests and find out when their birthdate is. You might think that they might consider anything from you as unimportant, but anything you get for them or do for them, any attention that you pay them will be greatly appreciated and remembered. That means that when you and I take the time to love on a teen (in healthy, constructive, and uplifting ways), we are showing them that, no matter what is happening in their lives with their biological fathers, they matter and they are important.
Additionally, you can get involved in mentoring teens in your local, middle school, or high school or volunteering at your local library or after-school programs, or community youth mentoring programs like YMCA, Boy’s & Girl’s Clubs, or Big Brother’s or Big Sisters. A wonderful resource to make church-civic involvement a reality is the Tony Evans National Adopt a School Initiative. You can learn more about this amazing and effective program here: https://churchadoptaschool.org/tony-evans/
The Original Promise Keeper
The Bible declares the eternal promise that God will never reject teens, and when even their fathers have kicked them to the curb, God never will: “Do not turn your back on me. Do not reject your servant in anger. You have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me, O God of my salvation! Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close” (Psalm 27:9, 10, NLT).
But have you ever stopped to consider the mechanism by which God makes that promise? God, in effect, has made that promise through the church, which is His hands and feet. Can you imagine what an incredible force for good the church could be if a focused group of men from the church; a group comprised of men from all ages and stages of life (single, married, divorced, active fathers, retirees, fathers-to-be, etc.), got together and dedicated just one hour a week to mentor and connect with teens both in and out of their local church and community? Can you imagine the power of life on life transfer?
Today, we can resolve to help the Shantices in our world. We can resolve to give teens independence from a life of low expectations, low self esteem, low self image, and all the untold damage and destruction that comes with doing life without a father present. The church could begin the process of healing the epidemic of fatherlessness in the Black community. We could begin the process of healing the hole in their hearts, not just with words–but with our lives.
*Not her real name