Timothy Douglas

It’s no secret; black fathers get a bad rap in the media. So when questions arose as to why Gabby Douglas’ dad wasn’t in the stands feverishly cheering her on at this year’s Olympic games, folks went searching for answers.

Almost immediately black media outlets posted positive stories of Timothy Douglas, hailing him as war hero and disparaging the mainstream media for referring to Gabby’s mom, Natalie Hawkins, as a single mom.

One HelloBeautiful article argued:

To let Daily Mail UK tell it, Douglas is that same little lonely girl–fatherless and lost. It’s a common theme in a lot of “inspirational” movies. The little black kid from the ghetto who is exceptionally talented in something overcomes the obstacles of being poor and fatherless. That’s not 100 true. Gabby and her father have a relationship.

Gabby’s father, Staff Sgt Timothy Douglas of the Air National Guard, yes, THE National Guard is not a dead beat dad. Word to Bow Wow. Sgt Douglas is serving in the 203rd Red Horse civil engineering squadron in Afghanistan. He loves his little flying firecracker and was only not in attendance during her major win because he was busy serving our country! Gabby’s father was first deployed when she was nine and as a result, Natalie Hawkins (Gabby’s mother) identified as a single mother because the parenting responsibilities were left solely on her.

Indeed, Staff Sargent Douglas is a member of the armed forced but his absence in Douglas’ life can’t simply be explained away by his deployments. According to Douglas, her father has been estranged from the family for years.

The gymnast explained to the New York Daily News:

“It was really hard for us growing up – my dad had left us, so he wasn’t really in the picture anymore,’ she told the New York Post.

“So my mom had to front all these bills. My dad didn’t really pay the child support. He was short [on money]. It was definitely hard on her part and she had to take care of me and the rest of my siblings.”

And in a recent interview with Oprah, Douglas admitted that she still hadn’t spoken to her dad since winning a gold medal last month and she didn’t feel like she needed to just yet.

(skip to the 9:20 mark)

The rush to prove the 16-year-old star just wasn’t another “tragic, fatherless black girl” was telling.

Although I didn’t see any reason to attempt to “legitimize” Douglas by trying to prove she wasn’t from a “broken home”—her family’s commitment to her dream and her gold medals should have been uplifting enough—rushing to prove that her story was somehow misrepresented by the media says more about our need to “not embarrass the race” and be “respectable” in the eyes of others, than her actual life—which serves a true testament to hard work, parental sacrifice, and a complete dedication to your dreams.

Watching the black media attempt to rewrite Gabby Douglas’ relationship with her father (and how many commenters latched onto it) reminded me of how few representations of positive black fatherhood actually exist. I mean, if we have to create a feel-good story and fabricate a beautiful father-daughter relationship out of thin air, then there most certainly is a problem.

Good black fathers do exist—I know, I grew up with one. But the narrative we see played out on TV and in the media is not one of dads like Barack Obama who sits down to eat with his family every night, or the countless other men who work hard all day for their families and come home to them when it’s done.

No. Just like the media often presents a skewed view of black women, black fathers are almost always seen through the extremely problematic lens of Maury Povich or some other degrading realty show.

But the answer to this “image” problem is not to create a hero out of an herb, but rather highlight the men we see every day who are doing what parents do and not seeking kudos for it.

Men like Fred of Mochadad, Lamar Tyler, Terrance Gains, Eric Payne, Nick Chiles, and the scores of other married black men who stand up for their families—these should be our “images,” not one based on speculation and hope.

In the end, whether Gabby and her father mend their broken relationship is their business. But knowing that he was or wasn’t there does little to either affirm or tarnish her amazing feat. She’s a champion, an inspiration to girls all over the globe, and no one can ever change that.

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