Of dead-end lives, hopelessness and despair


Interestingly, and not inaccurately, a ‘bad parent’, in particular a ‘deadbeat dad’, is usually described as one having children out of wedlock with different mothers, and who is ‘AWOL’ physically and otherwise from the lives of his children.

In short, being ‘the man’ does not automatically qualify one to being ‘the dad’.

This condition of absentee boy-men, particularly affecting Black communities, has given rise to some phrases, seemingly innocuous, but incredibly debasing and primarily descriptive of Black women, like ‘the baby mother’.

This condition of Black absentee fathers is a global phenomenon that is decimating Black communities from Trinidad to Brooklyn to Johannesburg and in between. While all the reasons for this are unclear – including and addressed elsewhere, examples of parents who, despite being present at home, are still absent in the lives of their children – they may include those who are unemployed or worse, unemployable.

Regarding ‘being unemployable’, I recall, standing watch one night more than two decades ago with one of the unsung heroes of our community’s anti-racist struggles, Cikiah Thomas, and confronting a young Black man on a corner of Jane Street and Finch Avenue.

We had been upbraiding him for pushing drugs.

“How could you do this, hurting our community, knowing the cops will get you, and you could even get involved in murder?”

His response, that freezing starless night in a late fall, has remained with me since. In essence, he had graduated from Westview Centennial Secondary School.

Then, unlike now, this had been among the worst of the failed schools in North York. With a staff almost 100 per cent White, and a Black student body almost 100 per cent Black, it had been “reputed as not having graduated a single Black student into college or university in one particular year”.

In fact, it was then among those ‘schools’ which functioned less so, and more like ‘gulags’. Grim garrisons of graffiti masquerading as edifices of education, they were the dreaded corridors to which principals and other Board personnel who had fallen out of favour with Board of Education power brokers, were consigned in disgrace.

These were institutions funded by taxpayers in Ontario for education, but which were functional points of departure for Black youth on track to another familiar Ontario institution: prison.

Our young man “didn’t want to sell drugs”, he’d said. “What he wanted was to drive a big rig.”

Now, leaving home at night, he’d kiss his five year-old daughter goodbye, expecting she’d probably not see him alive again.

And why could he not reach his dream of being able to drive a MacTruck?

He’d left Westview with a grade 12 diploma, still unable to read.

Cikiah and I, as I recall, made feeble offers to assist him to improve on his skills, but lack of communal resources, and our own family needs, took priority over his.

Often have I thought of him, of what had happened to him, and of his daughter. Who or what had she grown up to become? Had she even grown up?

Despite my familiarity with such young men, in community and in school, especially in my last decade teaching, it gave me a view, unlike that which I had previously, of these young men who bring such calumny and disgrace down on the heads of our Black communities.

And while their activities are not to be condoned, yet is there a need among those of us better placed and educated, to better understand the demons which haunt and control their lives because, while cocaine and other such criminally addictive substances destroy individuals, families and communities, there are substances which are worse: being addicted to hopelessness, despair, and self-hatred.

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