CNN.com, then later on his syndicated column’s website, and at Essence.com. Through the first several paragraphs, the piece seems harmless enough. After all, it’s basically a remix of a well-worn social message from pastors, politicians, entertainers, educators, Christian leaders, and others: Black fathers need to step up and take care of their children.I wonder if Roland Martin anticipated the reactions he’d receive regarding his commentary “Man Up and Be a Real Dad”? The piece appeared originally on
I don’t usually follow his work, so I only read this particular piece in the first place because I stumbled on blog entries and comments from some heated sisters who took issue with what he had to say. After seeing a blog headline, “A Final Word on Roland S. Martin’s Baby Excommunication Black Male Accountability Project (BEBMAP),” I had to find out for myself what all the hullabaloo was about.
Martin starts, and almost finishes, in preaching-to-the-choir fashion, without much identifiable controversy. He begins by explaining what inspired him to revisit this subject. He’s read Darryl Strawberry’s new memoir, Straw: Finding My Way, and sees as one of the primary themes the ubiquitous social figure of the Black community — the “missing-in-action father.” True enough, so no problem there. He goes on to re-document the problem of fatherlessness and its consequences, including violence and families steeped in dysfunction. I’m still not seeing the problem. Well, right around the fourth paragraph from the bottom, he suggests one solution to this persistent dilemma and drops the bomb:
I’ve called on pastors nationwide to stop the stream of momma, grandmother, aunts and female cousins coming to the altar for baby dedications with no man in sight. That pastor should say, “Until I personally meet with the father, I will not dedicate this child.” Somebody has to hold that man accountable for his actions.
Uh-oh. If he didn’t know that statement would cause an uproar, he shoulda asked somebody. He opened up a Pandora’s box that has caused some folks to want to open up a can of something else on him.
His suggestion of withholding baby dedications brings up so many issues that have been rumbling underground in our community but have now erupted to the surface: relationships between unmarried parents (I know they’re called “baby mommas” and “baby daddies,” but I really dislike that terminology); the role of the church in remedying domestic and social ills; the deep symbolism and tradition of baby dedications; barely-restrained hostilities between men and women — whether parents or not; and probably some I haven’t identified.
But I think the biggest issue I have with Martin’s idea is echoed by others who have weighed in on the issue: not allowing a child to be dedicated just doesn’t solve the problem. I think it might shame or otherwise coerce some men to come forward and at least be present for the dedication ceremony, but then what? In fact, the whole thing could even backfire and fall prey to the dreaded law of unintended consequences. Relative to the low-visibility, often thankless job of raising a child, the high visibility of appearing at a public event might actually be the easier of the two tasks. So you might end up with a smiling dad at the dedication, never to be seen or heard from again. I like one commenter’s suggestion that perhaps a better idea would be for the male leadership of a church to band together and form a village around that father for ongoing ministry to him.
Furthermore, it does seem a little heavy-handed and misguided to delay a significant spiritual intervention on behalf of a child because of the dad’s issues. In fact, I would argue that the absence of the father makes the dedication all the more vital. If the dad’s absence at a dedication is any indication of his future involvement, then certainly that child needs the benefit of an early decision by other adults in his life to consecrate him for God’s purposes.
In all fairness, though, Martin does concede that if reasonable attempts are made to find the father and he either can’t be found or refuses to participate, then the dedication could move forward. But in those instances, what has really been accomplished?
On the other hand, maybe just the attempt to get the father to show up at the ceremony could be a catalyst that jump-starts a young father’s interest in assuming his role. Perhaps knowing that someone cares whether he does right by his child will be enough to make him care. While not always the case, sometimes men — even young ones — need to know that their absence is noted and missed. Also, it could set the stage for communication between the parents about what their respective roles should be with their child.
Sometimes we women are too helicopter-like when it comes to allowing men the freedom to fulfill their role as dads. Rather than allowing fathers to parent from their masculinity, we hover around trying to force them to parent like women. I heard a truly profound statement from a young father last week. The mom was “encouraging” him to step up and give his kids a dad. He responded, “Maybe if you step down, I could step up.” It was clear that he felt he needed room to do the dad thing his way.
Another hot point of contention among female responders to Martin’s commentary was that his proposal stinks to the high heavens because it is yet another example of the Black church structure punishing women and children for the failures of men. Women make a legitimate point when they ask why the church can’t spend some of the money it collects for Women’s Day, Men’s Day, Youth Day, Pastor’s Anniversary, Missionary Day, Usher Day, Choir Day, Trustee Day, church anniversary, etc., to start and sustain men’s ministries that go beyond golf tournaments, sporting events, and barbeque cook-offs. These women want more from the men in our churches. They want real accountability that focuses on the man, not the kind that induces more guilt in the women. They want men to get out of the church and into the neighborhood. As a single mother myself, I have to agree with them to an extent.
I have been a single mother for 15 years, and not once has a man in any of the churches I’ve been a member of ever offered to mentor either one of my sons. In one particular moment of desperation, I emailed the Christian men I know and asked if they would respond with their ideas on what it takes to be a godly man in today’s society. I was trying to put together a program for my sons to coincide with watershed birthdays — 13 and 21 — and I thought if I could get men’s views it would help my boys. Only one man bothered to respond. One.
So, while I don’t feel Mr. Martin intended to add salt to the wound, I do feel the sisters’ pain.
At the end of the day, I understand Martin’s desire to move our discussion forward beyond conversational rhetoric to action. I’m just not sold on his suggestion for getting there. But the man himself always advises us at the end of his commentaries, “I’m Roland Martin, and that’s my perspective. What’s yours?” So I’m taking the man at his word and considering his idea just that — one man’s perspective. Now, as Mr. Martin would say, what’s yours?