Eric Peters, 46, is the black father that is often overlooked when we talk about the absence of fathers in the black community.
That’s really the bone I had to pick with Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Sunday’s column.
Ahead of a major safety policy address on Thursday, the mayor reportedly told community activists he encountered only one black father during his numerous visits with grieving black families.
The implication is that these absent fathers don’t care about their children.
But Peters’ predicament shows this is a complicated issue that often involves custody disputes.
Peters said he left the marital home two years ago with his 15-year-old daughter in tow, while a younger daughter stayed with her mother.
His wife filed for divorce in 2015 by publishing a notice in the local newspaper, according to Peters.
He said he found out a week ago that he is legally divorced and that his wife was given sole custody of both girls.
This is not a column in support of Peters’ claims. I’m sure Peters’ ex-wife would tell an entirely different version the couple’s breakup.
But I am fascinated by this father’s determination to maintain the parental bond.
It is the untold story of many black fathers.
“I am a full-time father with no criminal background. I’m not perfect, but I’m not a bad person either. I’m now struggling to feed my daughter. I just need some help to fight this,” he said.
Nearly one in four single-parent homes are headed by a dad, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. These dads are more likely than married dads to live in poverty. Worse yet, there are scant resources these fathers can turn to when they are fighting for custody.
Peters searched in vain for a lawyer to help him file an appeal to the divorce petition.
“When I read the divorce thing, she made it look like I abandoned her. I just stood there and cried. It killed me inside because I took my daughter with me,” he said.
Peters admits things were not good between him and his wife. During the breakdown of the marriage, she called the police at least eight times, Peters told me.
But he said he has not been convicted of domestic violence, though he knows those police interventions would likely be used against him in any court proceeding.
“I just don’t know what to do. I need some genuine legal aid or somebody with a good heart,” Peters said, his voice cracking.
Legal help is costly, and Peters is a $14-an-hour certified medical assistant struggling to make ends meet.
“I make enough money to take care of me and my daughter. I make sure she eats and I take care of me after that,” he said, adding that he is due for a promotion in January.
Despite the struggle, Peters said he is proud of how his older daughter has blossomed in the suburban school district where they live.
“When my daughter moved in on September 2014, she had failed eighth grade. I started encouraging my little girl and got her a lot of books. She is in a different environment,” Peters said.
“My daughter is an honor roll student now. It takes work, and I put in the work. I have been with my daughters since the day they were born,” he said.
Of course, mothers have every right to pursue custody, but an inequity exists when fathers don’t have the means to fight back.
If we want black fathers to step up, we have to stop holding them down.
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