Exploring the father factor

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | June 18, 2015

The book “The Other Wes Moore, One Name, Two Fates” became a best seller in 2010 and was lauded for its inside look at the crucial role support systems play in a young person’s future. The premise of this true story dates back to 2000 when Wes Moore, the author, was featured in the Baltimore Sun, his hometown newspaper. He was highlighted as the first African-American graduate of Johns Hopkins University to be named a Rhodes scholar. The same page contained a story about another Wes Moore who was on trial for a robbery attempt in which a police officer was killed.

The author, struck by the story of the man who shared his name, later wrote to the other Wes Moore who was serving a prison sentence. They began exchanging letters and the author later made visits to the correctional facility.

Although their lives took much different paths, they shared similarities. Both grew up without fathers. Wes Moore, the author, was just 3 years old when his father died. Wes Moore, the convicted felon, saw his father only three times in his entire life.

Both got into trouble. The author skipped school, got into fights and was arrested for spraying graffiti. The other Wes Moore started selling drugs as a teen and, at age 16, fathered the first of his four children.

Readers of the book can draw their own conclusions about why one Wes Moore became highly successful and the other’s life took such a tragic turn. For example, the author’s enrollment in a military school stands out as a pivotal moment.

When looking at the absence of a father, the story of the inmate Wes Moore is extreme. By no means does his path suggest that a fatherless household ensured his life of crime, but, in his case, it likely had an effect.

Statistics strongly support the positive impact of a father’s involvement. In the United States, 24 million children — one out of every three (U.S. Census Bureau) — live in biological father-absent homes.

According to data (U.S. Census Bureau), children in fatherless homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. A study indicated that 12 percent of children in married-couple homes were living in poverty, compared to 44 percent of children in single mother families.

Children raised by single mothers are also at higher risk of emotional and behavioral issues. Data from the Fragile Families Study showed that children of single mothers displayed higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers.

An article by Jay D. Teachman entitled “The Childhood Living Arrangements of Children and the Characteristics of Their Marriages” (Journal of Family Issues 25), offers data that indicates that being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy.

“Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” an article written by Cynthia C. Harper and Sara S. McLanahan (Journal of Research on Adolescence 14) examines father-absent homes and imprisonment. Even in household situations of similar income, youths in fatherless homes had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families.

Wes Moore, the author, had numerous father figures and mentors in his life including his uncle, Howard; his grandfather, Rev. James Thomas; and Captain Ty Hill, a leader at Valley Forge Military Academy. He wouldn’t have achieved his level of success without his mother, Joy Moore, who was strong enough to take on an expanded role when his father died.

Recognize dads this Sunday and all those who may not be dad in name, but who help to fill that role in a child’s life.

Happy Father’s Day!

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