Sex & Relationships
The Umbrella Effect : An Open Letter to Black Fathers

Dear Black Men;

This is a letter to those of us who might not understand the purpose of being in the house, or close to the house, of your wife, girlfriend, and children.

Have you ever been caught in the rain, opened your umbrella and the covering was torn or ripped completely off?  What happened? Everything that was supposed to be covered probably got wet. This is what happens when men leave their wives, girls, and children uncovered and not protected by their presence. The responsibility that you had is left to someone who is not equipped to handle it. It leaves your family unprotected and at the mercy of the rain and inclement weather.

I call it “The Umbrella Effect.”

Men, you should compare the traditional family structure to that umbrella. We are supposed to be the covering to our umbrella. We are supposed to protect and keep whatever might fall from the sky away from what is under our covering. Although you are still the head of that family, when you are either not present, or in and out of your family’s life, you are a ripped umbrella. As the protector of your family you have to be all in, or everything under the umbrella is exposed to outside influences that were never suppose to reach those you were charged with covering. You are meant to be the first line of defense from the storms.

Here are a few disheartening facts about children who grow up without an “umbrella:”

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are 70% less likely to drop out of school.
  • 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)


African American children already face the “storms” of racism, systematic oppression, educational biases and a myriad of other factors that handicap their success in life. When there is no father there to be that umbrella, it increases the exposure to these factors. In fact, many studies show that the number one indicator to the happiness and success of a person transitioning from childhood to an adult is whether they grew up in a two-parent home.

This is not to say that a child who grows up in a one parent home is doomed for failure. If I leave the house every day without my umbrella, I might not get wet. Depending on where you live, it might be sunny and mild most of the time. However, there is only one thing I can almost guarantee:

One day there will be rain.

Although you are the most important part, keep in mind you are not the only vital piece of the umbrella. The covering is is the most important part of an umbrella, but it would be useless without the rod, handle and spine holding the covering up. Without these parts the covering would not be able to stretch itself to its full potential and be the protector it was designed to be.

Who are the handle and the spine? It is the wives, fiancées, girlfriends and the mothers of our children. Although they are not the covering, they are needed to make the umbrella complete. They keep the umbrella propped up and able to activate the covering when trouble comes, and bring the covering to rest when all trouble has passed. The great thing about the covering is even when it is not being used but is at rest…it still covers the rod. Likewise men, no matter what state you are in, you are supposed to cover the rod and handle of your umbrella.

Subsequently, umbrellas have no use if they have nothing to cover or no one to hold the handle. The occupants make the umbrella important and useful. Families are the users of the umbrella. Our mothers, wives, sons and daughters are the reasons why we are there. They often use us and then throw us in the corner until another change in the weather comes, but that is our purpose because we were built for such times. What is so special about the covering is it doesn’t mind protecting the occupants and would rather take the beating from the storm than to have them harmed or in danger. This is the purpose of our existence. Although the children feel so safe under the covering, real men know that during the storms the only reason we endure is because our rods and handles lift us, and our spines hold us in place. It keeps us stronger when we know we are not doing it ourselves, but are covered by SOMEONE higher and mightier than us.

But what happens when the covering is not on the umbrella and the rod and handle, and occupants are left unprotected? What then happens to the rod and handle, and the occupants of the umbrella??? Although the rod is still strong and the spine that holds the covering are still there, they were not designed to protect alone. They cannot cover the occupants completely. The metal spines start to rust and the handle begins to grow weak. Soon the occupants either get sick, bitter, or seek other shelter. The storm does not stop because the covering is missing but instead beats harder and the people who are supposed to be covered have to endure every downpour. Even a five-minute drizzle can ruin something important when left out in the rain. Such is the case when the storm comes and the covering is not there to protect the rest of the umbrella. Small storms have ruined just as many rods, handles, and occupants as big storms, due to the lack of protection.

So men, it is our purpose on earth to be the covering for our families. This responsibility does not end with those whose blood run through your veins, but extends to our people and communities as a whole.
And to everyone else, remember to treat your umbrella with care. Even when you feel you don’t need it, remember: one day it will rain and you might something to keep you covered.

Yours truly,

A Black Man


About the author

Robert Chatmon is an inspirational speaker who plants seeds of courage. He seeks to help young men achieve "staying power."

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