Father’s Day is here and millions of dads will wake up in the morning and think, “today is my day.” The day is full of text messages, phone calls, social media posts; all acknowledging the efforts of Brothers throughout the county. Families will recount stories of sacrifice, conflict and success that highlight the importance of being an active parent.
Fatherhood is a gift that fills your heart with joy while you watch your children grow, learn from their mistakes and realize you know everything (almost). When my son was born, my wife and I welcomed him into a loving family willing to make every sacrifice to ensure his success. Watching him grow fills me with pride and fear because of the obstacles Black males encounter. Father’s Day is always bittersweet for me. Although I cherish being a dad, I often wonder what my biological father’s day must be like.
As a father and husband, I acknowledge that life is complicated, particularly for Black men. We have to overcome high unemployment rates, subpar education and policies that created what law professor Michelle Alexander refers to as an “undercaste.” Fighting against the tide is taxing for Black men who care about being involved in the lives of their children. Perhaps my father feels like the barriers I described prevented him from becoming the type of father that I worked hard to become for my son. While I remember having a relationship with my father early in life, at some point things changed. This occurs far too often for children throughout the United States. We have to make sure fathers have the tools to raise physically and emotionally healthy children. My biological dad might not have been there, but surrogate fathers and role models played an important role in my development.
In spite of my father’s absence I benefited from relationships with my grandfather, stepfather, Uncle Cornell and members of my extended family. I’m fortunate because I had role models that taught me valuable principles that continue to guide my life. That said, unfortunately on Father’s Day, some Black children have to endure the aching feeling that something is missing. Despite my support system, I know that feeling all too well. It occurs during quiet times when no one is around and you wonder “what if.” Personally I channeled that feeling by pledging to be a nurturing father years before meeting my wife while working through graduate study on Howard University’s campus.
As an educator and father I realize that Black men play an important role in the lives of their children. Fathers are the standard bearer for children and adolescents struggling to find there way in the world. How we help our sons define manhood is important. According to the University of Oklahoma’s Dr. T. Elon Dancy II: “too often, relationships between fathers and sons follow narrow scripts that articulate manhood in terms of gender domination and superiority. We desperately need more fathers who transgress and talk back to illogical and irrational social norms that try to disguise fear and domination as love.”
Dancy continues, “the best fathers do not regard acts of nurturing as a woman's role but rather wholeheartedly embrace this work knowing that it supports a healthier environment for children to negotiate their worldviews, responsibilities and relationships.”
I have friends and family members that epitomize what it means to be a great father. They take their children to school, discuss important issues, spend time on homework and attend athletic or academic competitions. Rarely do you hear stories about these phenomenal brothers who don’t expect a pat on the back or recognition from society. They represent a counter narrative. Some of these fathers have secure relationships with their biological dads while others have minimal or no contact. The brothers who don’t have a relationship with their fathers but love and take of their children are like me. We are not broken and we don’t need to be saved.
To support new or soon-to-be fathers, Black men have to create safe spaces where Brothers can ask questions or seek advice. The African proverb, “it takes a whole village to raise a child,” is more than a catchphrase. It is rooted in principles related to collective responsibility and shared experiences. We have to help struggling fathers understand that there are Brothers who are willing to become mentors. Black women shouldn’t be expected to carry the burden by themselves. They are the heart and soul of our community but are forced into difficult circumstances. Collectively Black men have to “reach one teach one” by showing brothers how to navigate life’s choppy waters.
Despite not having a relationship with my biological father, I’m proud to look into my son’s eyes and see how they shine bright. Fortunately he doesn’t have to bear any of my emotional scars. He is loved, secure and ready to change the world. One day he will be a better man than me and raise a family. Years from now I will have the chance to honor him on Father’s Day.
Dr. Larry J. Walker is a consultant and former Capitol Hill staffer. He is the co-editor of “Graduate Education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A Student Perspective.” Follow him on Twitter: @LarryJWalker2.