One of my favorite poems of all time was written by a poet named Daniel Beaty.
The title of the poem, “Knock Knock” tells the painful tale of a fatherless son. Sorrowfully, the poem serves as an intense and frightening narrative, giving voice and texture to a very real predicament for many young Black boys.
Too often, our young soldiers are left to pilot through the jungles of America without any true counsel of a healthy male role model.
As mentioned by Beaty, the absence of a father not only means not having someone to teach you the basics like how to dribble, shave, or connect with women, but the unavailability of a father also means that young Black men move about in this world without knowing how to express their rage and pain constructively, how to command respect with their presence, or how to stand firmly against oppression and racism.
As Black mothers, the majority of us raise our sons with a heart full of fear. We are conscious of the fact that there are both blatant and subtle conspiracies at play that are meant to annihilate the Black man. Whether overt or subtle, White supremacy will murder the Black man’s spirit and mind if he is not protected. That creates an intense level of anxiety for the Black mother and in response, she has learned to act as the first line of defense for her son.
Young Black boys need to see their fathers and other Black men:
- Behave like gentlemen. We can preach to our boys that a condition of manhood is the way they treat others, but seeing other men model this behavior is a strong reinforcement. To understand how a man should conduct himself, these young men need to see Black men opening doors, pulling out chairs and speaking respectfully to elders and woman. This demonstration of compassion and kindness is what our boys need to see from their fathers.
- Hold themselves accountable for their actions. Young men need to understand that manhood is not about being perfect, but being willing to face your mistakes and make amends when necessary. Young Black boys need to witness Black men setting aside their pride, apologizing and altering actions when required.
- Express their emotions. The affection and love of a father is unmatched. A mother is taught to provide tenderness and compassion to their children. But when a father is emotionally expressive towards his son(s), this display of affection naturally trains boys to understand that they are permitted to be emotionally in tune and that it’s OK to manage and show emotions other than rage and aggression.
- Work to provide. A man who does not work does not eat. This is a principle of vitality that needs to be embedded in the minds of young Black men. We must get back to a place where men find it honorable and their duty to sustain themselves and their families. When young boys get to witness their fathers working hard and providing for his family, it reinforces the idea that men are contributors to the home. We are aware that there is an epidemic of absentee fathers in the Black community. But the father doesn’t necessarily have to reside in the home to teach his son the importance of working hard and supporting himself and his children.
- Respect a woman’s body. The value of the woman is greatly diminished when young boys are raised by their peers. Most will emulate the behavior of the closest thing they must a father figure, that is often an equally disadvantaged older male or a media figure. Both individuals provide a warped understanding of how to treat a woman. Media today teaches young black boys that a woman’s body is not only their possession, but that she is used primarily if not solely for sexual pleasure. When a young male can observe a father or father figure treat women with dignity and respect, it molds the way young boys view women. This relationship can greatly decrease the ideologies men have that support rape culture.
As badly as we wish to believe we can prepare our boys for manhood, ladies, there are simply some things we cannot teach our sons. The importance of a father figure is to assist young boys as they transition into manhood. We can speak these things into their spirit and attempt to give them the wisdom, but we cannot be an example for them.
Jazz Keyes is a clinical psychologist, poetess and a nationally certified Life Purpose and Career Coach. She has devoted a great deal of her time and energy on mastering the art of communication in order to create healthy, dynamic, long-lasting relationships. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @jazzkeyes.