Iyanla Vanzant discusses the importance of fathers in new OWN special, 'Oprah's Lifeclass: Fatherless Sons'

theGRIO Q&A - 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...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Dr. Iyanla Vanzant has always encouraged people seeking to heal their emotional pain to look deep within. Now the personal growth guru 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.

Calling it a crisis, this Sunday on OWN at 9 p.m. EST, Winfrey and Vanzant will present a two-part special edition of Oprah’s Lifeclass 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.

Dr. Vanzant spoke to theGrio in depth about the goals of Oprah’s Lifeclass: Fatherless Sons, and how the role of fathers is more important than many realize.

Oprah says during Oprah’s Lifeclass: Fatherless Sons that the issue of fatherless sons is one that you most wanted to take on. Why?

It’s a topic I think that we all experience, but we don’t really talk about with a solution in mind. Everyone talks about single moms. Everyone talks about the difficulties we see young men going through.

We’ve made a joke about it in songs. We talk about “baby mama.” We talk about “baby daddy.” We don’t talk about the baby. 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.

While watching a preview of the show, I was really struck by how emotional the men were. Do you think audiences will be surprised at the depth of emotion men reveal?

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.

You take the men on the show through a process to heal these wounds. What do you hope people at home will take away from watching this healing?

There are a couple of things for me. I hope as many missing fathers as possible see this show, so that they understand their responsibility in their sons’ lives, in their children’s lives. I hope that mothers see that, while they are doing the best they can, that there needs to be another level of healing, not for them, but for their children.

Women who have fatherless sons have to reach a place of understanding and compassion and willingness to have these men in their children’s lives. Father’s leave for a variety of reasons, but one of the reasons that they don’t come back is because they don’t know how to deal with the mothers.

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.

On Mother’s Day, OWN will air a companion show focusing on the over 10 million single mothers in the U.S., and how they can best raise fatherless sons. What can we expect from that episode?

Hopefully, how to keep the door open as a mom, when you have a son. It’s difficult. And they [the mothers] ask the hard questions. “Okay, my door is open, but he doesn’t honor his word.” “My door is open, but he doesn’t show up.” “My door is open, but he’s made a choice not to walk through it.”

So, I hope that women will see that this is a multi-faceted challenge, but there is a role that we can play to at least a greater possibility: That even a man who has left, will come back.

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.