D’Anthony Marshall Smotherman is a dedicated teacher and track coach who recently moved to Atlanta. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, he speaks of his choices in life with spirited regard. Offered several opportunities for college, he chose Grambling State University, receiving a full athletic scholarship in track. “Grambling? Man, that’s the best college in the world. It’s the campus where everybody is somebody!”
Graduating with degrees in electrical engineering technology and math, D’Anthony earned his masters in the art of teaching from Linwood University in Missouri. The avid member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity belongs to another exceptional society of men, where the rites include unconditional love and mindful presence—the fraternity of fatherhood.
D’Anthony was 27 years old when his son, D’Anthony Kaylen, was born. Living with his namesake’s mother at the time, the couple had been engaged twice. “I had no intentions on parenting alone. I wanted to be married. Loved my son’s mother dearly. I still do.” After a six-year relationship, the new parents decided to finally go their separate ways. No arguing, no tug-of-war ensued. D’Anthony became a single parent. “My son’s been with me since he was 2.”
A single working father, overwhelmed and adjusting, he recalled the words of his mother. “She said, ‘This is going to be hard. You’ll need a lot of patience, and don’t let pride get in your way.’ ” Not one to ask for help, “I didn’t know what to do, I just did it. There’s morning care, daycare, diapers, toilet training and that whole thing. Taking him to the doctor, getting the doctor’s bill, what are we going to eat… and all on one income.” Realizing that the finances and logistics were all on him, “I had to take on the mentality: It’s just you, D’Anthony. You have to do this.”
Kaylen was 4 years old before his father accepted that he had a support system—his birth family. D’Anthony’s life changed when his own dad, retired teacher William Smotherman, stepped in. “My brother and father were a big help in St. Louis,” says D’Anthony. “My dad took his grandson to school everyday, to his games. I was able to change my routine. As time went on, I realized there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help.”
Kaylen, now 8, loves sports, reading books, and is always looking for the next adventure, his father says. “He’s a friendly, outgoing kid. I try to expose him to a lot—going with me to track meets; he’s in Boy Scouts. I recently took him to the Tuskegee Airmen [National Historical] Museum. It was great. We built a model plane together, and he actually flew an airplane while I watched from the ground!”
Supported by his familial village, the single dad has the privilege of a nightlife—or at least he can go out once in a while. “Again, it’s all about being responsible,” he says. “I pick and choose when I’m going out and who can watch my son. But I’m able to date. I’m currently dating. I’m now able to balance the things that are important to me.”
D’Anthony’s mom, retired principal Dr. Theresa Smotherman, is inspired observing her son as a sole parent. “D’Anthony demonstrates the wherewithal of every attribute that the Mother of the Year would demonstrate,” she says. “I am not just saying this because he is my son. He juggles his time between work as a teacher and a coach to be an involved parent. He attends PTA and parent-teacher conferences. Kaylen is involved in Scouts, basketball and soccer.
“Each evening, the two of them review the day and determine any improvements needed and how to get better,” she continues. “My son teaches his son how to be considerate and at the same time to man up. Kaylen thinks highly of his dad’s words, actions and deeds. You can see the love between the two flowing.”
Enriched by the offerings of sole parenting, D’Anthony states, “Fatherhood has given me wisdom, taught me patience.” Pausing, he adds, “And fatherhood has actually helped me be a better educator.” Students embrace him as a father figure; he takes the role seriously. Whether there are two parents in the home or not, he believes all kids deserve exposure and attention.
“The activities I do with my son, I bring back to the kids I teach,” he says. “Some kids don’t even get out of their own neighborhood. I get them out there to experience different things [in life]. I have one biological child, but I feel like all of the kids I teach and coach are my children. I treat them like my own.”
Coach Smotherman proves that becoming a person’s father is different from choosing fatherhood—it’s a practice, perhaps an art. D’Anthony looks forward to marrying one day and having more children. Until then, he’s cool with perfecting his position as Kaylen’s father. “I want my son to say, ‘My dad is an understanding person, a disciplined man. He’s a loving father, a caring father and a great protector.’ ”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.