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Raising Boys To Men Takes Dads, Too

March 2, 2005

I don't know if O'Neil "Wallah" Robinson was a good daddy, as one of the many lady friends he impregnated said at his funeral last weekend.

But his proclivity for procreating - 12 children with four different women - certainly made him a `mack daddy,' a womanizer of the highest order.

As we rehash the rash of violence and deaths in Hartford of the past week, one thing we should talk about even more is the absence of positive males as heads of households in urban communities.

Half the households in Hartford are headed by women, a third by single women with children. Raising boys to men has been chiefly the burden of African American and Latino women. The results have been uneven.

"It's a tremendous problem in a sense that young males of color are in a matriarchal system," says Pastor James Lane of the Northend Church of Christ in Hartford. "In order to display what they think real masculinity is, the outcroppings of that has been through the violence, and through the aspect of making babies and maybe not taking care of them."

For 11 years, Lane has run a Saturday breakfast program that has mentored about 500 city youths, ages 7 to 17, about morality, spirituality, honesty and respect.

Davilla Campbell, 32, is the mother of two of Robinson's dozen children. She says her man, recently unemployed, spent ample time their kids, many times watching them while she worked. Campbell says she didn't endorse Robinson's steppin' out lifestyle, and talked to him about settling down, but realized the 34-year-old Jamaican native would have to do it in his own time.

"From a woman's standpoint, it's not something you want to be part of," she said. "But there are kids involved. I didn't accept it, but I had to live with it."

Campbell's 4-year-old son, O'Neil, won't be the same type of "party animal" that his dad was, she promises, at least not while he's under her roof.

"He's going to be a productive citizen, that's for sure," says Campbell. "Not that his father wasn't. But all that partying and all, he's going to have to make that decision when he gets much older."

Young boys learning from women about how to become men has its place. But there is no substitute for a real man in the house, someone the mother views as more than just her "baby's daddy." The courts and jails are filled with "baby's daddies."

A beleaguered public defender sent me an e-mail the other day bemoaning the problem. His clients are poor, young and many have drug or mental health issues.

"By far the biggest common denominator is the absence of marriage between the parents of my clients and the lack of a positive male role model," he wrote. "Show me 100 gang members and I will show you at least 99 young men born to parents who never married and to fathers they never knew or with whom they were not involved in growing up."

Kenneth R. Darden, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford, knows the deal. The large majority of the kids coming to the new Asylum Street club are from homes with single moms.

"Having several young women with kids all over the place, that's been the downfall of the black family," Darden says. "You can't have much of a family if everyone's scattered, and you're having all these babies that you can't take care of.

"A lot of the role models that our young males are following are only the negative ones, the ones they see on the rap videos and listen to on the radio," Darden says. "Unfortunately, that's what they're responding to. They're not responding to those positive individuals out there really doing some significant things."

Darden mentions the late Gordon Hamilton, the recently deceased Watkinson School basketball coach and city youth counselor, as an example of a young man worth modeling. Hamilton, 31, received little attention until he died in a January car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike.

`Wallah' Robinson was killed in a bar, according to police, in a beef with another man about a woman. Davilla Campbell says she doesn't believe that to be the case.

No surprise.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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