Single Moms Are Not Fathers

Contrary to a new cultural campaign by Hallmark and others, Father’s Day is not a holiday for black single moms.

I have an idea for a good Father’s Day present: a Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Inside is the definition for father:

  1. A man who has begotten a child.
  2. A male PARENT.
  3. A father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father.

I would give the dictionary to deadbeat dads, but I’d also give it to those being duped into honoring single mom’s on Father’s Day.

The gift idea came while I was in Wal-Mart to buy a card for my dad. My wife, as she shook her head sadly, pointed to the category “Happy Father’s Day, Mom” in the Mahogany section. Mahogany is Hallmark’s brand for African Americans. I looked through the general Father’s Day card section, but couldn’t find the “mom” category.

Hmmm. Why?

Some people insist on making a buck by selling the idea that Father’s Day is also for single moms. Hallmark has been offering the mom cards for a few years, and a Web search also revealed a few entrepreneurs selling T-shirts, mugs and the like. Being a dedicated black father of three grown children who looks forward to this one day that celebrates what I willingly do every day, I find this offensive and even dangerous, particularly for the black community.

Nationally, 1 out of 3 American children live in homes where fathers are absent, according to the Center for Disease Control. The black rate is 2 out of 3. The message to the black community is that single motherhood is acceptable, so celebrate with a Mahogany card.

Bull.

By marketing “some love” to single moms on Father’s Day, the role of dads is devalued, especially in a community that badly needs fathers to step up and be real parents. It’s also capitalizing on a self-inflicted wound. Society should be lifting men who are honoring their role. That’s what the National Fatherhood Initiative is doing. The organization, which promotes fatherhood among all racial groups, is targeting the deadbeat crisis with a Call to Action that aims to mobilize black churches. Urban Ministries, the parent company of UrbanFaith.com, is involved. I recently spoke with Roland Warren, the president of NFI, who agreed that celebrating single moms on Father’s Day doesn’t help. Warren, who like me is a product of divorced parents and was successfully reared by a loving single mom, is a married father of two. (Hear the entire interview on The Wil LaVeist Show on June 22 at Noon EST at www.whov.org.)

I called Hallmark to ask why they’re capitalizing on this crisis, but hadn’t heard back from them. (Update: Three days after this article was published, a representative from Hallmark did contact the author. See Editor’s Note below.)

There are many legit and even painful reasons beyond control for why moms end up rearing children alone: Abusive relationships that wives flee; rapes, where the woman (or girl) heroically presses through the pregnancy; fiancés and husbands who die suddenly. However, there are adult reasons that happen within our control. Since the 1960s, increased divorces and out-of-wedlock births have dramatically spiked the number of households headed by single moms. And, unlike my father who stayed involved with his children, many dads cut and run. It’s also true that many moms force fathers to stay away, reducing them to monthly paychecks.

I also understand that school children, whose dads aren’t around, are often led to make Father’s Day gifts for their single moms to make them feel better. Children don’t need pity. They’re resilient and can handle reality. Having them show appreciation for their next closest positive male role model—an uncle, coach, pastor, or neighbor—is a better option that could help replenish the value of men in the black community among future generations.

I respect dedicated single moms, but understand the definition. A woman can never be a father and a man can never be a mother. Both parenting roles are equally unique and invaluable. Even among same-sex parents, you’ve got two moms or two dads. The idea of Father’s Day was actually inspired by a single dad who reared his six children after his wife died. Mother’s Day is in May. You also have the lesser-known Single Parents’ Day on March 21.

A mother being celebrated on Father’s Day makes as much nonsense as telling a single dad Happy Mother’s Day.

I doubt you’d find a Mahogany card for that.

Why?

It wouldn’t sell.

*******

Editor’s Note: Following publication of this article, columnist Wil LaVeist did receive a response from a Hallmark representative. That email is reprinted below in its entirety.

Mr. LaVeist,

First, let me apologize for our delayed response to the question you left for us last week. We were unable to confirm facts with the Mahogany and Father’s Day card teams prior to the deadline you noted in your message, so we missed the opportunity to provide context. But I thought it might be helpful to share our point of view.

Hallmark’s goal is to offer cards for the wide range of our consumers’ relationships so that everyone who wants to connect with others in positive ways can find a card to meet their need. For years, consumers have expressed a desire for cards addressing this relationship, and we’ve offered them for the past several seasons. The Mahogany Father’s Day collection included 66 cards to help people honor dad and other special men in their lives, and that selection included two cards recognizing mom. Please note that our general Hallmark Father’s Day line also included a “To Mother on Father’s Day” card and several “Like a Father” cards to acknowledge those who play a father-like role in someone’s life.

We’ve shared your post and the discussion in the blogosphere with the Mahogany team. It’s always helpful to have insight from varying perspectives as we plan selections to meet people’s card-sending needs.

Thank you,
Kristi E.
Public Relations | Hallmark Cards, Inc.
 

About the author, Wil LaVeist

Wil LaVeist is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and author of Fired Up: 4 Steps to Overcoming a Crisis, Including Unemployment. Contact him at www.WILLAVEIST.com, and listen to The Wil LaVeist Show Wednesdays at Noon to 1 p.m. on 88.1 WHOV in Hampton, Virginia.
  1. I purchased this card for my mother on Father’s Day and have done so many years past. I have even purchased a cake for her one Father’s Day. Why? Because she held it down when my father was too busy with his own life to give a damn about his kids. She deserves too be celebrated on any holiday representing a parent Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Single Parent’s Day, and if they came out with any other holiday African American Mother’s Only Day. She is the backbone of our family. We have uncles we look up to and will go the extra mile for us. But when the late night tears are there and there is no father to turn to, why not honor her for all she has done. Holding things together is hard enough on your own but with kids it’s even harder. I would have so appreciated an article telling brother’s to step there game up so there wouldn’t be a market for Hallmark to sell too.

    • I do understand your personal issues, but you are not alone in this social crisis. This is a community issue and you seem to be emotionally taken back. Try to understand that there are many young men who need to understand that the role of the father is not one that can be filled by a woman. No matter how couragous she is, just as many men who do the same are not mothers. When you let your emotions get the best of you I can tell you were raised by a woman. You should as a man be able to easily see the point here. No matter how good a mother is she is NOT your father and could never be. We as a community need to send this message out lound and clear. All of the men in our society are fathers and the women are mothers. And we have children to care for as a large community. Forgive your father and heal yourself; then join the fight for community and family.

  2. a thought-provoking good read. hmmmmm!

    • The only thought I had was that if I’d left off doing the father’s job for my daughter, she’d just be another bottom-feeding worthless person, instead of a productive adult. Can’t drop the task because the father walked away. And since I did the job, I deserve the credit. It’s circular (read: silly) logic to say that honoring the double job I did takes anything away from fathers who did their job. Single dads deserve mother’s day cards, too!

      • AMEN. You said it. If you do double the job, you should get double the credit. It does not take away from men who actually are “fathers”. I was the mother & father for all four of my children for 17 years. I made the sacrifice, why should he get the credit? My kids wished ME a “Happy Father’s Day” today. They know and appreciate all of the sacrifices that I made for them because their father decided that alchohol was more important. I did all of the work of the “Father” and I was the only “Father” they knew and respected. By the way, I am not African American, the epidemic of dead beat parents does not discriminate. And incidentally…..all of the children were conceived within wedlock..

      • Just stupid and selfish!

  3. Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

    I am genuinely surprised at the wide range of responses, both for and against.

    Obviously, since I was one of the first commenters, I agreed with Wil’s perspective. However, it seems as though there are others who are framing the issue in a different way, which is why they see it differently.

    So here’s the question I would ask…

    is fathering something that you ARE, or something that you DO?

    Seems to me the answer is… yes. :)

    The people who disagree with Wil seem to think that fathering is more about what you DO… that if you DO Dad-like things (however you define them, perhaps like the stuff on this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOKuSQIJlog ) then that makes you a dad, whether or not you are the biological father or even a male. When people talk about having to play both roles or wear both hats or whatever, this is what they mean. A single mother doesn’t get to only do “mom stuff,” she must do “dad stuff” also. For this reason, she should be commended — on Mother’s Day, and plenty of other days, no doubt. I don’t think anyone disputes this.

    Whereas I think what Wil is saying is that fathering, more than just being about what you DO, is also about what you ARE. And that, biologically speaking, there is a part of fathering that is tied to the physical reality of being a grown man… having all of the features and equipment that come in the package, so to speak. This is the part of fathering that is what you ARE, and that cannot be changed just by doing extra STUFF. It’s about imparting and showing and demonstrating part of who you are as a man, and somehow in the process, passing all of that stuff on to another young boy/man. And the truth is, all men need this, not just young boys. As a 34-year-old man, I need my father just as much now as I needed him when I was 12, I just need different things from him.

    I think what Wil objects to is the idea that working harder to provide and to teach and to support… all things that single moms do every day… that these things somehow qualify women to be fathers. Loving and teaching and supporting and coaching little league and showing your son how to change the oil in the car and all the stereotypically “fatherish” things we can think of are all wonderful and good things, but doing those things cannot make anyone a father any more than going to the OB/GYN can make you become pregnant.

    But what we CAN do is continue to find ways to support and thank and honor those single women for continuing to hold it down. We can, and we should do that, we should take time to honor them for their extreme dedication and commitment.

    Just not on Father’s Day, because that one is for, you know, actual men.

    • Jelani: Excellent assessment. When my children where growing up, I changed diapers, fed them from the bottle and sucked snott out of their noses with my mouth. I wasn’t acting like a mom, I was being a parent. A female parent is a mother. A male parent is a father. The definitions are clear. Now, we have a crisis in the community where 2 of 3 children are being raised without their dads in the home or involved. Much of this is because of divorce and deadbeat dads (but not all, for example, there are fathers who have died). Culturally, the value of women in child-rearing is without question. However, too many men think it’s ok to cut and run because they don’t understand their value to their children. They don’t understand they’re still hurting their kids by not being there. Our prisons are filled with men and boys who tear up when they speak of fathers they never knew. Our daughters are making poor decisions for “love” because there wasn’t a positive dad or male to guide them. Instead of turning this tragedy around, we are in danger of accepting it as the norm. It’s about cultural mindset. You transform your situation by “renewing your mind” by changing how you think, speak and do things. This issue of Hallmark cards and Father’s Day is simply an opportunity to address the problem. Notice that many of those who disagree with me or have said, I “should be ashamed” have fallen for the typical “you’re blaming single moms” trap. Because of their emotions tied to their personal situations it’s difficult for them to see that my position is much more nuanced than that. If we want more men to step up, and we do, then do we really believe (no matter how well intentioned the gesture) that telling single moms that they are “dads too” will help this cause? Do we really believe this makes the child feel better about not having dad around because he/she has a great mom, who was honored the previous month on Mother’s Day? The unintended consequence of this recognition is to again give emphasis to the deadbeat dad on a day that is set aside to celebrate excellent fathers. So I say, we can help turn this crisis around by celebrating those fathers and male surrogates who are doing what they are supposed to do for children. Chastise deadbeats who aren’t, but also give them the tools to “renew their minds.” This is what the Fatherhood Initiative and other like-minded organizations are doing to be part of the solution. As an opinion writer, one of the ways I know that I’ve written a thought-provoking is when people disagree or show passion. The above responses and those I’ve received directly from wise single mothers who “get it” are most encouraging regarding the community’s future.

    • I agreed with both sides until I read your comment which makes so much sense and you are absolutely right, mother’s are not fathers. Thank you for breaking it all down and thank you for recognizing the extreme dedication and commitments that single mothers make.

  4. When I read this on facebook I had to comment. I was reared by a single mom and all my life I have been encouraged to dedicate Fathers Day to her. As I’ve gotten older I realize the negative effect this has on the black community. It DOES preach a message of single motherhood as being okay and both parties, male and female, have their work to do to fix that. I would have loved to have had my father around to help rear me but he wasn’t. However, I was fortunate enough to have uncles and older cousins who were there for me in ways my mother couldn’t be. They advised me then and they continue to advise me now.
    And now everywhere I look I see single young ladies rearing children on their own and their anthem is “I don’t need a man” and that simply isn’t true. They needed a man to make the baby and they will need one to help provide for that child whether it be emotionally, spiritually, or financially.
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t place all the blame on the women because we got into this quagmire together. Men need to not be so willing to lie with a woman and make a baby and then just walk away. Of course no one can make anyone do something they don’t want to do. But the same men who produce babies and then leave were brought up in single family homes themselves and whether they will admit it or not, it affected them.
    Black people are fed a steady diet of single family life, girls running the world, and ballin’. We have to be the ones to stop this cycle because nobody else is going to do it. We have to believe we are better than our current condition and grow through it. We don’t have to believe it because it has been so for so long. We can be the change we keep talking about. I want to be able to see a father with his children and not marvel at it like I’m seeing a precious jewel for the first time. Not that it isn’t wonderful to see but it should be the norm and not the exception.
    Mothers, I salute each and every one of you but please stop diminishing the need for fathers in our lives. And fathers, whether you are in the home or not, regardless of what the media or anyone else says YOU ARE NEEDED in our homes. Even if they are not your children, spend time with a child you know and make a difference in their lives. I truly do believe we will turn this around.

    • The only way to stop the cycle is for black males to step up to the task–AND DO IT. No amount of denial of credit will cause even ONE deadbeat dad to do the things he’s supposed to do, nor will it cause one good dad to stop. Children need parents. And falling back on some excuse that any mom’s attitude actually affects how the children get treated is simply insane.

      • This whole thing is an issue of guilt. Guilt because single moms still feel like they are partly responsible for this missing piece in their children’s lives. But at the end of the day it is what it is. I also think black women are JUST as responsible for this problem. Whites and other races get on BIRTH control to prevent out of wedlock babies. Why can’t we do the same? why can’t we wait for marriage? or better yet, at least TRY…. trust me men want kids TOO, so if we presented it as a package to them, we might increase the marriage rate in our communities as well.. I am just saying. This is coming from a black woman, whose of marriage age (32) and who will wait and try for as long as I can to get married FIRST, then if i make the choice to do this alone at say 36-38 then I will know I did my best to break the cycle.

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  7. Just reading over alot of the comments and to be for real it’s not easy being a single parent female or male.I like what was said about gender not being an issue in raising children.I have pros and cons about that.I do agree with if the father is absence or hardly around the sons will seek look for postive role models else where if he is not mislead.and having a responsible,loving,caring,supportive,and strong male role model is a plus and so needed.Look at whats happening to our youth today their dying, committing suicide,or in jail.There is a big problem alright and more people need to wake up and pay attention and it is no fantasy.

  8. Wow, I’ve only read a few of the comments before posting this but I’ve tried everything to get my son to be a part of my sons life. I’ve tried for 4 years about to be 5 years with no sucess. I’ve tried sending pictures of my son, telling him the importance that a fathers role plays in a sons life. I was googling how a mother can fill the fathers role when I came across this and I was not a lot but a little offended because I thought you were blaming moms saying that we choose this life, to push away fathers because we don’t need them. Then I saw Jelani’s point comment and saw that that’s not what was being said at all. I see that it was meant that marketing could encourage the thought that what is going on around us is okay when it’s really not. This article is right the father could just feel better about it if he thinks well this is the norm everyone is doing that. This article gave me a new perspective about this.

  9. Wil,
    I agree with you 100% and I am a single mother raising a 4 year old boy! One of the many things about this season of my life that genuinly BOTHERS me is when I hear people say things like, “I can do this ALL by myself! I don’t need a man!” OR as you mentioned, a “happy fathers day!” being directed to a mother. #GrindsMyGears!

    PSA women ARE NOT MEN and will NEVER have the ability to take the place of one! Our children NEED their fathers and depsite the popular thought, a woman CANNOT raise a boy to be a man! I have the ability to teach my son how to be respectful, but there are just certain things that I will not be able to teach him and that is where an uncle, or positive male figure comes in.

    I have not seen for myself the Hallmark line that you mentioned, but either way, IT’S A BUNCH OF BALONEY!

    Signed,
    A single mom on a mission to empowering and inspiring young sinlge mothers to live life with hope growth and happness!

    Play YOUR part!
    http://www.samestorydiffrentface.com

  10. I understand the spirit of the article. I completely agree that dads who get involved in raising their kids must be celebrated. That’s the whole point of celebrating the day. The dad is the nurturing caring supporting guiding dad, the one who is genuinely interested and invested in his child’s future. That’s all fair.
    However, what you are doing is to classify people based on their genitals. Gender is a sociological concept. Men and women are biologically very similar, except for 78 genes on the Y chromosome. Those genes have little to do with gender. They have got to do with reproduction. Besides reproduction, the genes and genitals are alike. In fact, the male baby is female for a major part of pregnancy in the womb. It becomes male only due to one of the 78 genes. The SRY gene. In the absence of that gene or if the mother’s body does not recognize the actions of the gene, the baby remains female.
    When we have a child, the first thing we ask is, “is it a boy or a girl?” However, “boy” and “girl” are genders. They are not sexes. Male and female are sexes. Boy and girl are sociological definitions about how we expect them to behave based on their genitals. Specifically, the presence of a penis.
    So what’s the difference we notice between men and women? That’s social conditioning. When we are little, we are told, “boys don’t cry”, which means that “girls can cry, but you cannot because you are a boy”. And girls are told, “girls do not sit with their legs apart, which implies that “boys can, but you cannot”. In effect, the social conditioning begins the day we are born, with pink and blue. If you did not know this before, pink and blue had opposite meanings before 1940. Pink was for boys and blue was for girls.
    What I’m trying to say is that being born with a penis does not automatically imply that you are a man. Being a man or not is a sociological concept. There are certain traits of being a man, which you choose to follow or not.
    The set of traits which you believe a man should have are not necessarily the same as mine. However, society in general across the world considers honor, righteousness, and determination manly traits, while society in general across the world considers empathy, caring and gentleness as female traits. As you can tell, women can have determination and you can be a gentleman.
    Likewise, a woman can have the traits which make a good man a good man, without growing a penis. Essentially, that’s what your article boils down to. The penis. I have one, but that does not necessarily make me a man unless I choose to have the traits which per society makes me a man.
    So riling against single moms who take on that responsibility of filling in for a dad, or riling against gay parents who fill that responsibility exceptionally well per current research merely reflects your inner angst against something that’s bothering you. Don’t take it out on others. By doing so, you really lost the point you were originally trying to make, which is that the dads who stick around need to be celebrated.

    • MDinSFO: You wrote “So riling against single moms who take on that responsibility of filling in for a dad, or riling against gay parents who fill that responsibility exceptionally well per current research merely reflects your inner angst against something that’s bothering you.” You clearly have an agenda, which is fine. Check out the origins of Father’s Day, which I also mentioned in the commentary.:
      http://www.history.com/topics/fathers-day

  11. What a ridiculous comment to make. As a single Mother of a 23 year old who graduated 2nd in her H.S. class and an Honor Student from College you better believe that a Mother should also be wished a Father’s Day. Playing those two roles is not an easy task for a single Mother or a Single Father working full time (sometimes 2 and 3 jobs) at once to make up for the missing partner (for whatever reason it is) , Major Kudos are in order. Check yourself. And Happy Father’s and Mother’s Day to you.

    • Maria: I appreciate your opinion and the emotion you bring to it, but here’s a perspective from a single mom that you might consider: http://www.urbanfaith.com/2011/09/the-single-parent-trap.html/

      • Lots of circular logic in that article; let’s sort it out.
        1. Whatever way a child gets all they need to grow on, they got mothered and fathered. If you get hung up on titles and fail, that’s ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater.’
        2. Too much guilt poisons all relationships. It’s better to celebrate, validate, and support than to criticize.
        3. Honesty is healthy. Giving credit to a deadbeat ruins a child’s ability to develop good judgment. If you owe mom EVERYTHING, so be it. She can be trusted not to turn it into a guilt trip.

        Peace. And love to your mom.

    • Maria, you are absolutely correct! My daughter graduated 2nd in her class, then from college with honors, then med school, now this year from her residency in emergency medicine. I am worn out physically AND financially, but clearly played BOTH mother and father to her. It’s a difficult tap dance. Major, major kudos, props, congrats and pride to you for your success in this same effort; I can’t imagine WHAT that fewl was thinking!

  12. The article was amazing! I have just one issue and it is also a common theme in some of the comments. This montra about it not being alright to be a single mother is highly insulting. It’s a shame that people (men AND women) feel no real need to make a family work, but let’s not say its not ok. Birth control fails, and would we rather have women aborting children to avoid the single parent problem? I know that wasn’t the main point of the article but as a single mother it offended me. I am not happy or proud of being a single mother, but I’ve done all I could do to prevent this.

    The main thing I agree with and feel everyone should get from this article is let’s not take away from the fathers who are there. Instead of bashing your child’s or even your own father, just don’t observe the day. Columbus day is a holiday I don’t celebrate but I don’t spend it bashing those that do or explaining why I don’t celebrate it. Lift up and acknowledge the fathers in your life that are doing what they should be doing as a parent. Spending Sunday bitter putting your business on the internet only perpetuates the angry “baby mama” stereotype. It sets a bad example for your kids!

  13. Do we say to single fathers “Happy Mother’s Day!”? No we dont. A mother that does it by themselves are GREAT MOMS, but will never be fathers and vice versa. Some of the women who want to claim ownership of fatherhood need to work on their mothering skills anyway. There are plenty of terrible single mothers. Many of you know personally know some

    • Yes, we definitely say “Happy Mother’s Day” to single dads; nothing wrong with it. As for ‘terrible single mothers’ I don’t see any. I do see single mothers with not enough support, love and patience given to them, though. Be gentle, and kind, and love mothers so that they can take care of their children. Or not. If not, then it’s just another ‘deadbeat villager’ bringing everyone down.

  14. Very well written article and I’ll go even further we need to stop making excuses in the African American community. Yes there are single moms because men have walked out on their responsibilities. Also so sadly there are women who have gone on and given birth after being raped and abused Such women in both categories need all the support that can be given them from their families and extended families. However a single Mom is still a single Mom and a single Dad is still a single Dad. A woman no matter how hard she may try cannot really challenge a man to be a man because she is a woman. It takes a man to really challenge a man because he knows what it’s like to be a man. Just today I told my grown son that first of all if you are unmarried you should not be having sex which seems to be a novel idea these days. Secondly I told him that a man any man shouldn’t be having sex with any woman that he could not or would not marry should she get pregnant. As people of Faith we need to still call fornication, fornication. Our daughters need to be taught that they need to keep their legs closed until they are married. We need to confront our young men if they are single they should not be sexually active. I remember when my son became a teenager I was asked if I were going to have the talk with him and buy him son condoms. I said I’d talk to him which I did but I would not buy him condoms because he shouldn’t be having sex. There is a standard that as Christians we are not holding ourselves nor our children to. There are still way too many unwed pregnancies in the African American community. If we would raise and keep our standards then we’d have a whole lot less single family households and there would be no need for discussions such as this.

  15. I think single moms would like to take comfort in telling themselves that they are giving their children all they’ll ever need in every area of their lives, but they cannot replace what a “father” brings to the table. It’s not their fault. They work hard, no doubt…they sacrifice to give their all emotionally, mentally, and physically. Their children may grow up to be fine functional adults in society, but there is forever an empty spot in those children’s experience. No one is blaming or hating on the moms, but don’t fool yourselves…it’s not the same.