Ten years ago the Morehouse College Research Institute in conjunction with the National Fatherhood Leaders, hosted a conference to explore Black fatherhood.

During the meeting, “Turning the Corner of Father Absence,” topics were discussed and dissected and policy recommendations were made.

This past April, just months before the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Father’s Day, the organizers of the Morehouse confab reconvened to see what had changed and what progress had been made.

“Ten years ago the fatherhood movement was relatively new,” explained Obie Clayton, a professor of sociology at the college. “There were just a hand full of organizations out there, and men were an almost forgotten part of the family especially as it related to children’s well-being.”

Some of that has changed, noted Clayton, adding that there are hundreds, if not thousands of organizations out there pushing fathers to reconnect or stay connected to their children. There is a federal initiative as well to get fathers involved.

“There have been some sublte changes,” acknowledges Clayton. “When Congress looks to reauthorize TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) next year, there is a move to have all of the money collected from fathers go directly to families and not to reimburse the state.”

The major difference the Morehouse sociologist has seen in a decade is that there are now many more organizations encouraging responsible fatherhood.

“Right now you are beginning to see more men having custody of their children. It’s a small percentage, but it’s been a steady increase, and that used to be unheard of,” Clayton added.

The marriage rate is increasing slowly in the African American community, and the number of children being born to teen mothers has declined over the last few years (despite a recent bump up in the last year).

There has been an increase in the number of women in their 20s heading single-parent households.

There have also been a number of studies yielding research that paints a very different picture of fathers, particularly African American dads. One of these is being jointly conducted by researchers at Princeton and Columbia universities.

Called The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this massive research project is following a nationally representative group of nearly 5,000 children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. About 44% of the unmarried mothers and 47% of the fathers are African American. (Fragile Families are defined as unmarried parents and their children.)

The majority of children in the study were born to unmarried parents compared to those born to 1,200 married individuals.

Among the study findings is that about 80% of the couples in the study were involved in committed and quasi-committed relationships, at the time their child was born.

The study also found that father involvement was high around the time of birth–80% of fathers gave money to the mother or bought things for the child during the pregnancy; 88% visited the mother and baby at the hospital; and 84% of mothers said the father’s name would be on the birth certificate.

That involvement decreases some as children grow and is most definitely impacted by the parents’ relationship.

Given that 70% of African American children are born to unwed parents, these findings are vitally important in providing a more real picture of Black fathers and dispelling the myth that these men are deadbeat and absent fathers.

Clayton also noted that while many younger African American fathers cannot provide financial resources to their children, they quite often take on the care-giving responsibilities, particularly when the children are younger.

But while there has been progress on some fronts, Clayton said a number of the problems that were present in 1999, cling stubbornly today. These include the number of children living below poverty level and the number of youngsters living in single parent households, remaining virtually the same.

Clayton thinks what will help turn this situation around even further for Black men are two things: education and jobs.

“I’m not talking about education in the sense of sitting in classrooms, but educating them why two-parent families work best for kids,” Clayton explained. ” . . Both men and women want families but social forces work against them. You overcome that through education, providing people with jobs and not by rewarding bad behavior.”