While I’d never say that my dad was perfect, he did a damn good job taking care of his children. In far too many situations throughout my life, I have found myself in a minority of people who can say the same thing. I’ve even felt guilty at times for wanting to say nice things about my father, because simply mentioning that I had one who was around seemed to open up painful wounds for other folks who weren’t so lucky (and what an insane thought that one is “lucky” that both of the two people who chose to create them opted to participate in their post-conception life, right?) as I.
As a community, we certainly cannot allow the “missing father” narrative to define how we speak on and examine the Black dad (Denene Miller takes this on wonderfully here), nor should we be handing out participant ribbons to men simply for staying around. You don’t get a prize or a pat on the back for simply doing what you are supposed to do. We must challenge ourselves to continuously examine what it means to be a good father (and mother, for that manner) and commit to both nurturing, supporting and encouraging that behavior. To do so, we absolutely must confront our issues with those who were not present, either because they didn’t want to be or simply could not. But we also have to remain mindful of those who have done what they are supposed to do.
I’ll never be afraid again to talk about my father’s stern lectures, or the Black Power songs he made me sing growing up, or the funny text messages he sends me to this day. My affection for him should not live in the shadows because so many others have failed to do right by their children. I’m happy to let anyone who will listen know that great dads exist and that they should not resign themselves to any other suggestion. I truly wish that more Black children had/will have the same relationship that I have to my dad, but I also feel that we can encourage that by highlighting just how much better life can be with the love of a good father.
That is not to say that a child cannot grow up without a dad and become a wonderful, well-adjusted person. Though many dads are the product of generations of good fathers, grandfathers and great-grands, mine grew up never knowing his own. As President Barack Obama once said about his own life, my father’s experiences were largely defined by the lack of his dad’s presence. He has long cited this as much of the reason that he has worked so hard to be a good parent: he knows what it feels like to want for a father and vowed to ensure no child of his experienced the same longing. We must work to use these stories to drive us to be or encourage the sort of dads we need to have.
Tomorrow, many of us will reflect with gratitude on what our fathers have been to us, while others will mourn what they lacked, celebrate those other fathers who have done what they should have or ignore the day all together. Let us understand the charge we face as a community to support fatherhood as best we can by treating Black fatherhood as an opportunity, not an unconquerable challenge or something that does not exist.