Spiritual leader Dr. Iyanla Vanzant has partnered with Oprah Winfrey in an attempt to address societal ills that are a product of a widespread form of individual suffering: the growing number of fatherless sons.
In the United States alone, 24 million children live in biological father-absent homes — and 1 in 3 children grow up without a father. It’s time to end this epidemic. Calling it a crisis, Winfrey and Vanzant present a two-part special edition of Oprah’s Lifeclass on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) that speaks to the millions of people currently hurting because they grew up — or are growing up — without a dad. Vanzant hopes Oprah’s Lifeclass: Fatherless Sons will empower viewers to soothe these wounds and help ameliorate the many problems communities struggle with that have been linked to a lack of fathering.
Oprah says during Oprah’s Lifeclass: Fatherless Sons that the issue of fatherless sons is one that you most wanted to take on. Why?
Fatherless sons are the babies in the midst of the drama between the mother and the father. And they’re dropping out of high school. They’re ending up in jail. They’re killing each other. All of these things are going on. We just seem to have our hands tied. We have to talk about the impact on a young man’s life when his father isn’t there. We have to talk about the humanity, the human qualities, of what happens when a child has a missing parent.
Do you think audiences will be surprised at the depth of emotion men reveal on the show?
Yes, because America is a society where we love to talk about the problem. We never talk about the impact of it. We talk about the high incidence of incarceration among minority males, and now teenage males. We talk about the situation in which young men are not coming out of high school and going into college. We don’t talk to the young men. We love to talk about things, and see how horrible it is, without looking at the actual humans in the midst of it. How many times have we asked the fatherless son, “How is this experience impacting your life?” We don’t do that.
Do you think women will be surprised that the show addresses the role they might be playing in creating what you have called the fatherless son epidemic?
I hope they’re surprised, shocked and horrified. I really do. I hope they are surprised at hearing from their sons, because, as a mother who had a fatherless son, I never asked my son. I made the choices and decisions about how his father would interact in his life. I did that.
I also hope that women will be a little more conscious about this willingness to have children with men who aren’t ready, who aren’t committed. They go into relationships for their selves and their needs, and never really consider the impact that it’s going to have on this male child.
Now of course, there are all kinds of ways fathers leave. Through divorce, through separation, through irresponsibility. So, I’m not putting the full weight and responsibility on women. But then there are the women who have children with men who really aren’t committed and aren’t ready. We have to look at that part.
African-Americans have been more deeply impacted by the fatherless son epidemic. Do you think there is a more specific message for this group?
Other than go back and get your children? Go back and get your children. It is doable. Go back and get your children. I think that that’s critical.
In a portion of Oprah’s Lifeclass: Fatherless Sons, it is stated that a mother can’t be a father. Can you elaborate on that statement?
Fathers protect, fathers provide, fathers perform. In the absence of a father, a mother can protect, a mother can provide. A mother cannot perform the roles a father is expected to perform, because she’s not a man. My right hand can’t do what my left hand can do. It just can’t happen.
There are some things that a father gives both a male child and a female child that a mother cannot because she’s not a male. If you look at the energy of it, a male is very different. Classic case: a father will take a boy child or a girl child, throw it up in the air, and catch ‘em on the way down. That teaches the child that, “I’m secure,” that, “I’m safe,” that “I can go into unknown, uncharted territory, and I’m gonna fall, and that’s going to be okay.”
Mothers never throw their children up in the air! (Laughs.) They just don’t do it. Because our propensity is to do the softer, the gentler, the more nurturing kinds of things. We don’t even have the energy to do it the way men do it. There’s an energy that a mother can’t bring. There’s a mindset that a mother cannot bring, because she’s female and not male.
Doesn’t mean she can’t protect her children. Doesn’t mean she can’t provide for her children. But she can never, as a female, perform the things that are specifically performed by a male. She just can’t do it. Doesn’t take away from her what she does. But she can’t do what a man does.
After your show on fatherless sons, will there be a show about fatherless daughters?
They’re called “daddyless daughters.” A boy needs a father. That’s a role. That’s a demonstration. That’s a model. A girl needs a daddy. That is an energy. That’s a position. That is a place in her heart. Very different. But yes, we will do something on that.
If you are a father separated from your children and need help, please contact the Men’s Divorce Law Firm today. As a father and family law attorney, Jeffrey Feulner knows firsthand the importance of children’s relationships with both of their parents. He believes that every member of the family benefits from shared parental responsibility and timesharing (custody) — especially the children.