Published in The Washington Post on June 12, 2012
By Courtland Milloy
Nile Turner was born Friday, weighing in at a robust 8 pounds. He is now the center of attention at the Turner home in White Plains, Md., cared for by a loving mother and two doting sisters. In what has become something of a luxury item these days, the household even comes with a dad. “Having a son was a pleasant surprise, since I already have two daughters,” said Rodney Turner, 34, beaming as he held the baby, snug and secure, like a running back protecting a football. On the mailbox in the front yard, he’d attached a blue sign: “IT’S A BOY!” Lucky Nile.
Roughly one out of every three babies in the United States don’t get the dad. For black children in, say, Maryland and Virginia, 60% live in fatherless homes. In the District, it’s 80%. Given all that is known about the benefits of fatherhood — kids less likely to live in poverty, more likely to do well in school, stay healthy and avoid incarceration — why is it so hard to have a two-parent household? Why are so many men — especially us black men — unable to live with the women we once loved enough to marry and have children with? On Wednesday, the White House will hold a “Fatherhood Champions of Change” awards ceremony, which honors people who run organizations or programs that promote responsible fathering. President Obama, who was 2 when his father left the family, has made “fatherhood initiatives” a major focus on his social agenda. But what can the president really do to solve this problem? After decades of research, solutions remain elusive. I’ll highlight some of the more vexing issues in future columns. Meanwhile, back at the Turners, Rodney is on cloud nine. “For me, being a father comes down to providing what I call the four ‘als:’ emotional, financial, physical and spiritual,” he said.
Rodney is employed as a banker; his wife, Christine, is a public school teacher. They’ve been married 13 years. Their two daughters are Nadia, 9, and Gabrielle, 5.
“My parents have been married 43 years, and my dad was always there,” said Rodney, who grew up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. “I think that’s part of my fabric. When the going gets rough, leaving is not an option.”
Christine, who grew up in Newport News and whose parents have been married more than 30 years, feels the same.
“To me, commitment means commitment,” she said.
The couple met at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. Rodney was majoring in economics, Christine in secondary education. In their senior year, they got engaged.
“In my mind, I thought we would move in together, save our money and get married later,” Rodney recalled. “She said absolutely not. I thought she was kidding. We’d been sweethearts for three years, and I wasn’t going anywhere. But she was adamant about not living together before marriage. That reinforced what I knew about the kind of person she was. So we decided to move the wedding up a year.”
Said Christine, “If we’re going to build a life together, integrity is essential.”
Of those four ‘als’ that Rodney mentioned, spirituality was most important. And he doesn’t mince words about what that means.
“I pray, mostly for patience,” he said. “And humility. Sometimes, I get prideful and start thinking that I’m all that and a bag of chips. My wife tries to set me straight, but I’ll ignore her, then something will happen. I’ll have to pray on it, and God will say, ‘See, Rodney, you should have listened to your wife. She may not have used the right tone or chosen the best words or had the most pleasant expression on her face, but she did have a point.’”
Christine added that she often prays with her husband. “I say, ‘God, I cannot change this man.’ And He’ll say, ‘That’s okay. I’ll take care of that.’ ”
It works for them. And by working together, they are greatly improving their children’s life chances. For instance, more than 60% of children ages 3 to 5 who live with two parents are read to every day by a family member, compared with 48% of children living in single- or no-parent households.
Reading and talking to a child increases vocabulary, and children who go to school able to read and express themselves have a huge advantage.
Rodney already does lots of talking and cooing around his newborn.
“I’m going to be very active in his life,” he said. “We’re going to make sure the Turner name is a good name, that we have good standing in the community. It’s about legacy. That’s why we named him Nile, after the longest river in the world.”