Book Review: "Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America"

Reviewed by Eva M. Starner, Ph.D., CFLE
CFLE Network
Content Area
Diversity and Inclusion
Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts
Parent Education and Guidance

Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America. 2011. Michael E. Conner, M. E., & Joseph White, 2nd (Ed). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-88367-2. 290 pages.

Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America, 2nd Ed., was edited by Dr. Michael Conner and Dr. Joseph White. This book was published by Routledge, New York, NY. This second edition of Black fathers built upon and continued the tradition of the first edition by looking into the soul of Black America and seeing the integral role that the Black father plays.

According to the editors and contributors of the text, contrary to popular social culture, the African American father is an active and important presence in his children's lives. According to the editors, the myth that "African descended fathers are deadbeat, deficient, lacking, uninvolved, uncaring, and absent" (Connor & White, 2006) is unfounded. The first edition presented stories of African American males who played an active part in their children's lives. This second edition takes the process further. There are changes to the format; the editors give more insight into the phenomenon of being a Black father by including research and theory and including more stories and examples of Black fathers, while introducing a program to help young, Black males.

This second edition is divided into three sections. Section I is entitled "Impact of father engagement." In this section the editors present a thorough overview of African descended men in the United States beginning when the first African men arrived in South Carolina in 1526, to the present when the Black father's presence is invalidated in America. Stories in this section include stories from both male and females indicating the experience that Black fathers had in their lives.

In Section II, African American men share their experiences with their Black fathers or they talk about what it means to them to be a Black father from the perspectives of being married, unmarried, involved and uninvolved. Fathers share what they learned from parenting their children, the good, the bad and the ugly, and how it made them be better men and the change that Black fathers had on their lives.

In Section III, individuals give their thoughts and reflections on issues that are affecting Black males today (such as adoption, the importance of a supportive spouse and taking care of one's health), and how they affect the ability to be effective parents. This section also looks at the African American mindset and attempts to explain behaviors as cultural norms that, to those in the dominant culture, appear to be deviant. It also addresses sociological theories and established paradigms in society.

The final chapter of the book goes beyond conjecture and lays out a very specific, research endorsed theory and shows ways that young Black males can be taught to be responsible and active members of society by using the "Manhood Training Curriculum." This training is designed to help young African American males, who haven't had access to successful male parenting, gain skills needed so they can become successful men and parents. The training can be used for any young male who has lacked the social construct of male parenting in his life.

The content for the trainings follows the structure of this second edition. For example: an historical overview of Black men in United States history, information on the Middle Passage, the enslavement of Africans, and American culture. The training additionally includes the topic of parenting. It explains the various parenting styles and how children are affected by the way they are parented and the importance of caring for the needs of children across the life span. Males are further guided through personal and social development and finally they are given vocational training and ways to give back to the community through service to others.

This book was written for those in the social sciences who are concerned about the direction of the family. This text would be helpful to those who are interested in getting a better understanding of the history of the African American male and father, as well as ways to enable young African American males to master responsibility as a means to success for future involvements.

This second edition of Black fathers includes theory as an explanation of how African American males are perceived by society and the norms they are expected to foster. There are also many stories that represent the editors opinions on the topic and would lead the readers to the conclusion that Black fathers in America are not invisible to their children, but to society at large.

The book does well in presenting their argument for the Black father in America; however, it could be improved by including more research on the topic including fathers from different cultures and ethnic groups. I would recommend this book for students, professors, and administrators of college and university multicultural education classes. As an instructor in this area I have noticed that students of other cultures don't understand the uniqueness of the African American family, and many subscribe to the Moynihan conclusion that African Americans are the cause of America's ills due to their differences in family values from the norm. It never ceases to amaze me when I present the African American family in a positive light with their closeness, their high regard for family, and the importance of caring for each other, that some student will comment, "but how can they be a family without a father." This pervasive notion of the invisible Black father continues in society today. There is the need for this text and many more like it that can shed a positive light on the role the Black father plays.

The book is an easy read with 290 pages. It is well organized by chapter and section and allows the reader to choose the topic that most interests them. The stories contained in the text are riveting and thought provoking. Some will make you angry and others with make you laugh, while still others will make you cry. Anyone teaching the subject of Black families should read this book. I plan to use this as a supplemental text in my multicultural education class drawing on the poignant stories as clarification on the subject of the Black father and his family.

Reviewed by Eva M. Starner, Ph.D., CFLE. Eva Starner is a full time Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL teaching undergraduate and adult learning students and an online professor for Liberty University in the Counseling and Family Studies department teaching Masters students. Her areas of expertise include Developmental Psychology and Research.