...Growing up fatherless affects how women view their own relationships and their pregnancies. Because so few of our clients have known men who consistently met their family responsibilities, they rarely demand responsibility from the men they date. Even women who want children generally view adult men as a fleeting part of the household. Men flit in and out of women's lives, exotic but untrustworthy creatures, exciting but ultimately irrelevant to the formation of a family.
We see some boyfriends who want to be responsible. But men too suffer from the lack of strong models of paternal and spousal responsibility. Our observations coincide with the findings of Jennifer F. Hamer, author of a study of the attitudes of black non-custodial fathers published under the title "What It Means to Be Daddy" (though not with her policy prescriptions). Hamer believes that marriage is not a necessary or even a superior way to harness men's desires for fatherhood. But even the men she studied who tried to be more than "absent fathers"--more than statistics--didn't do many of the things that distinguish reliable fathers. Because they didn't marry the mothers of their children, they didn't refrain from fathering children by different women (thus splitting their resources and attention, and creating "drama"), or become stable fixtures in their children's homes. Women didn't demand this--and the women's mothers sometimes even shooed the men away, viewing them as threats, rather than encouraging men who wanted to take responsibility to do so. (In my experience, mothers are also at least as likely as boyfriends to pressure their unmarried pregnant daughters to have abortions.)
The women we counsel say they want to get married, just as the men Hamer interviewed want to be good fathers, but they have little sense of how to get what they want. ...When marriage is a chimera, there's nothing to wait for, no reason to be chaste. There's nothing for a woman to demand from men, no reason for her to put "responsible" above "fun" on the checklist of qualities to look for in a potential boyfriend. When responsibility is almost unknown, where would a man acquire the notion that the best thing he can do for his girlfriend is stop having sex with her; or, if she conceives, that the best thing he can do for his child is marry and love the mother? Instead of attitudes conducive to marriage, fatherlessness fosters the second huge problem, fatalism.
And when I interviewed the guy who worked with the boyfriends who came to our center, he pointed out that a lot of the younger black guys would use the term "wife" to mean their "main girl"--their steady girlfriend, basically--but they'd still have, as he said, "a side dish or an appetizer"....