The third Sunday in June is Father's Day in the United States and many other parts of the world. It's an occasion traditionally set aside for families to recognize the hard work, affectionate parenting, wisdom and other virtues many cultures associate with fatherhood. But in the United States, tradition is clashing with reality. The so-called absent father syndrome, created by decades of high divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, crosses racial, ethnic and economic lines. It's even a problem for Latino Americans, the nation's largest minority group, and historically a culture that values the father's traditional role in the family.
"'What is the man's place?' It's a very important teaching in Mexican culture," says 51-year old Armando Lawrence. He meets with groups of troubled young men at the Bienvenidos Children's Center in east Los Angeles, to help them learn to face the responsibilities of fatherhood. His goal is to re-instill in the Latino community the values associated with the culture's centuries-old ideal of fatherhood.
"In Mexican culture," he says, "the ideal, core values for fathers are to be able to provide to the family, dignity, respect, trust, and love, affectionate love." He points out that the Latino term macho, for instance, does not refer to a man's physical or sexual prowess, as many Americans assume. "My father was from Mexico, and my father explained to me when I was a kid, a macho was a man who best exemplified manhood in his village or town of being a responsible man -- not only to his family but to the rest of his community. A lot of our young guys basically believe the way they're going to attract a young female is to be a 'bad boy,' as they say."
Armando Lawrence says part of the problem is many Latino parents he meets are afraid to teach the values they were taught. "You know what they'll say?" he asks rhetorically. "'I come from a small town and another country. I'm afraid if I teach them whatever I was taught, it'll hold them back.'" Lawrence says many Latino immigrant parents think if they promote what they were raised in, it will make things more difficult for their children. "I'm here to tell them, 'What is wrong with teaching positive relationships?'"
The immigrant experience has been tough on fathers here in the United States… and on their children, according to Carlos Alcazar, president of the Hispanic Communications Network, the largest producer and distributor of Spanish-language educational and informational programming in the United States.
Alcazar points out that 35 percent of Hispanic children are not living with their biological father, and experts say these children are two to three times more likely to be poor, use drugs, have behavioral problems, and be victims of child abuse.
But the Latino-American culture's strong religious values may save the day, says Andrew Behnke. The professor of family life at North Carolina State University says, "A lot of these fathers call upon their religious community in times of need, [and] upon their faith, and brothers in the faith."
Armando Lawrence, the director of the male responsibility program for Latino young adults in Los Angeles, suggests that it's not an issue facing just his ethnic group. The whole country, he says, is reflecting on the meaning of fatherhood and manhood.
Each American father, he says, has to take the lead: mainly, by loving his family with open affection.