Women should step up, too

Joan Coy looks up at her son Evon Reid, who made headlines after receiving an email from a Queen’s Park employee containing the term “ghetto dude.”


Many mothers need to deal with their own self-esteem and responsibility issues before `cycle of pain' can be broken

Aug 20, 2007 04:30 AM

Staff reporter


Gail Jordan is a revolutionary disguised as a bespectacled black woman in her 30s, pretty enough, but unprepossessing in a crowd.

But here's where the guerrilla tactics come in.

Yesterday, the Toronto Star reported on a hidden crisis of single mothers, mostly black, mostly in public housing and routinely living with fear and violence. We asked everybody we interviewed to offer solutions.

Jordan's advice was as blunt as it gets: The problem lies as much with the women themselves as with men who turn out to be absent dads.

"Single moms need to get together as a sisterhood and help one another, not bring each other down," she says. "They need to stop trying to steal each other's men and being hurtful to other women. They need to stop seeing other women as the enemy."

Jordan, a single mother of four boys at Sparroway public housing, at Leslie St. and Finch Ave. E., knows her comments go against popular culture, which teaches girls to compete for boys from a young age, finding identity in how they measure up. Ultimately, they revel in the triumph of a boyfriend stolen or another woman trounced.

These are trappings of bondage, insists Jordan.

At first, she offered different advice. At Sparroway with several other single mothers, she talked about the need for more educational programs in low-income housing. But with thought, she came to realize the main issues are "a lack of a sense of self-esteem and responsibility, anger and apathy, which has been passed down unfortunately from generation to generation."

And these issues must be dealt with first, by both men and women.

"The cycle of pain and despair has to be broken ... and I believe that personal responsibility is part of it. People need to stand up and say enough is enough," says Jordan. "It's time to focus on the big picture. Our children are our future. The community programs are there as a support system, however, it's not up to the community at large to raise our children. It's up to us."

In that light, here is a sampling of other ideas to tackle the problem:

Absent dads must get involved in parenting

Jordan is tough on women, but equally tough on men. She had no help from her "baby father," and her own father stopped talking to her because she was a teen mom. She says "men need to lose their `macho' attitudes of `breeding,' or being proud of having five, six or 10 kids out there. Are these children being taken care of? If not, why are they proud of scattering their seed everywhere? I find it unattractive, personally."

She adds: "Men need to get it in their heads that being a father means being there for their children and showing their children the importance of fatherhood. It doesn't mean getting a woman pregnant and leaving her to raise the child alone."

Jordan says women must encourage their boyfriends to take care of their children, even the ones they don't have together.

Women should think about birth control

Whatever the method, women agree they should take control of their own bodies with birth control and also ensure girls are educated. But Jordan says it's not always so easy. When she asked for a tubal ligation after the birth of her fourth two years ago, she says the doctor refused, telling her to talk it over with the father. It was the man's first child with her and, according to Jordan, the doctor said men usually want another child.

However, the women we interviewed stressed they love their kids and don't regret having them.

Make fathers take financial responsibility

A key problem is that couples often haven't married and women haven't sought paternity tests, or taken results to court to seek support. It leaves them strapped. Some women continue to make excuses for fathers who check out. Said one: "Men don't like it when women are overbearing and they tend to give up responsibility for their kids."

Too bad, says Doreth Brown, telling women to get tough and break the cycle. "I was too proud to go to court when my first child was born to fight for money and I regret that now."

Women should demand respect

Natashia Fearon, a 21-year-old student and poet, says women must stop being victimized and insist men treat them properly. For instance, she believes words like "baby father" and "baby mother" are "gangster words, and I don't like that. I tell my friends that I only want to hear words that I can understand and see in the dictionary. ... I take no joy in hearing it, and I see it as nothing but ignorant."

Take back your own lives

This advice from several people applies to both sexes. It argues there's a good reason the absent-dad syndrome is a multi-generation problem. According to Pentecostal Pastor Al Bowen, from Etobicoke's Abundant Life Assembly, "the whole tradition of fatherless families came from slavery." He calls the import of Africans as slaves a "travesty" and single-parent families, "slavery's curse." Men, he says, were used to father children and then forbidden from raising them. "That's how the black single-parent family developed."

Fearon says slavery was "part of our culture and our race and men had no choice in leaving their children ... but some people still live in those times. We still allow ourselves to be enslaved by old patterns of living, such as fathers being separated from their children."

Phase out public housing

This may seem an out-of-the-box solution, but many insist living in public housing strips men and women of pride. "Your mentality comes from where you live," says Bowen, "and we compel these families to live in rat-hole conditions and we don't offer rent-to-own, or other solutions." If she had her way, Fearon would tear it all down tomorrow and start again with mixed housing throughout the city and rent-to-own plans. "(Public housing) gives you nothing to feel good about, nothing to take pride in. To start bringing pride back to fathers, abolish public housing and let them work on homes of their own," she says.

Mothers, if Dad's not around, be your own role model

Fearon, who studies graphic design at George Brown College, hopes she's a role model to her nieces. Her sister, at university in Australia, and a cousin at the University of Toronto, also set positive examples. Show what you can do, she says, and children will heed.

During interviews at Sparroway, children – and especially girls – hung on their mother's words. Cheyenne, 13, was glued to her mother, Michelle Smith, and Jaylin, 11, listened intently when her mom, Natasha Downey, said she hopes she's a role model for her children.

It's too soon to know for sure, but Jaylin's response when asked about her future was a good sign. At 11, she already has a plan to be a pediatrician.