I have helped to raise five daughters and I have been blessed to see all five of them grow into womanhood. All children are influenced by their parents, but they will all "seek their own path." A corny cliché, perhaps, but absolutely true. My children are all different in their interests and pursuits and I have attended events over the years specific to each daughter: plays, dance and choral recitals, performance art, track meets. I have learned to appreciate the talents, the quirks and the unique personalities that makes each of these five women special.
Another cliché has certainly proven to be true in my parenting experience: "youth is wasted on the young, wisdom is wasted on the old." The oldest child gets the youngest father, the youngest child gets the benefit of more parenting experience. While all of my daughters have heard some of the same comments from me at one time or another, there are lessons I was able to share with my youngest child that I didn't quite understand when my eldest was just a little girl.
As a father to girls, I always wanted them to know that I am a warrior and that I would protect them (if this is sexist or chauvinist, I'm sorry, but I feel that this is simply my job). They also know to look for a warrior spirit in the men in their lives, be they romantic partners or otherwise. For example, my girls all know that any man dining with them in public better not sit with his back to the door! This suggests that this man must not be conscious of his responsibility concerning their safety.
However, as my children matured, and as I matured, the need to show my "war face" was not so much the priority. All of my daughters know that tenderness and visible emotion are not gender specific, but expressions of humanity that are as appropriate for men as they are for women. All of my daughters have seen me shed tears for both joy and sadness, which in no way, shape or form negates the fact that I will readily snap someone's neck to protect them if need be.
Being a person whose consciousness was forged in the fires of the Black Power Movement of the '60's, I always stressed to my daughters our history and the necessity of resistance. A member of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, my militancy was also infused with the knowledge that women were fully equal "soldiers" in our struggle. As an individual, I was not plagued with issues of misogyny, but I admit to being ignorant to its heinous impact on the lives of our sisters here and women worldwide. I did not fully understand the contemptuous and dismissive attitudes that many men have toward women. It is largely because of my relationships with my daughters and their mothers that I have come to recognize just what sort of challenges our women are facing and as a result, I am keenly aware of the need for men to step up to address them.My advice to young fathers who are raising daughters (and sons) is to actively combat the cultural attitudes and images which continue to denigrate the very humanity of the female gender. As fathers and as Black men, we must fight misogyny with the same fervor and zeal that we fight racism.
Brothers must also realize that while a man may not always be there with his children, a FATHER will always be there for his children. Regardless of the relationship to their mothers, men must take whatever steps are necessary to be present and profound in the lives of his children. If you can live with them, even part-time or in a joint custody situation, I encourage you to do so. There are too many of our children who have never had the experience of having breakfast with their father before school or telling him about their day at night. And even if you are physically separated for extended periods of time, make it your business to call, email, text as much as you can.
It is most important to acknowledge the fact that my girls have mothers (yes, it has been a blended and extended family—we are Africans and Africans don't deal in "stepchildren" and "half-siblings") who are intelligent, warrior women whose loving influence and guidance has help to shape the outstanding women that I happily and proudly call call my daughters. Despite significant challenges, their mothers and I have worked to prioritize the needs of our children and to co-parent to the best of our ability. I have the utmost respect for my children's mothers and I want other brothers to know just how important it is to maintain a healthy, peaceful relationship with the woman who brought your child into this world. It may not always be easy (I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes), but it is absolutely essential for daughters to see their mothers treated lovingly and respectfully by their dads.
In my youth, I doubt I would have believed you if you told me I'd be raising five girls. Yet, it has been the greatest blessing a father could ask for. I am truly glad to have had a hand in shaping these dynamic women's lives and I only hope that more of our brothers will step up to the plate and accept the beautiful challenge of fatherhood.