To have eight godchildren in today’s society is to know a multitude of different family dynamics. Some of my boys are married to the mother of their children, some are just dating, and some are separately co-parenting with little to no direct contact with her. As a friend, I never judge their relationship statuses’ because I’m proud to say that not one of my friends is an irresponsible or absentee dad.
Several years ago I had a eye-opening experience with one of my closest friends who was a single father at the time. As I chilled with him and his newborn daughter at the park, a gorgeous young woman approached us and started to chatting us up about the happy young baby girl in the stroller.
Now you need to know that my boy is one of these dudes that looks like he can be T’Challa’s stunt double in the upcoming Black Panther flick, and he loves the attention. He’s ripped and has big muscles so he wears smedium, bright-colored shirts. He has 360 waves and bright white teeth, so he’s always smiling his ass off and dancing even when there’s no music. He loves women and they apparently love him, so I knew he would take this opportunity to run his 2001-Morris-Chestnut game.
Everything was cool and the conversation was flowing fine until she applauded my boy for “actually taking time to babysit your daughter” which elicited an unnerving response from him through tightly-gritted teeth as he said, “You need to go.”
Never in all my life of knowing this man had I ever witnessed him turn down the affections of a stunning woman, but there we were. As we walked away confused, my childless self confronted him and asked him what his beef was. He intensely stared straight ahead and tersely uttered:
“I’m not a goddamn babysitter bro. I’d die for this girl. You think a babysitter would do that?”
The truth is I had never even thought about how that could be construed as an insult to a man until my dude really broke it down for me that day. And while I suspect that somewhere in the world, there are men so comfortable with one another that they regularly and openly share their most impassioned beliefs, I don’t have that sort of relationship with my friends. For him to be vulnerable like that was truly eye-opening. It was at that moment I realized the gorgeous girl hadn’t committed some act of intentional disrespect, she was just as ignorant as far too many of us are in regards to how fathers view themselves as parents. The fact of the matter is that fathers do not babysit their children – they parent. To call it anything less is a symptom of the archaic remnants of a benighted society.
The problem with this offhand comment is that it is rarely applied to mothers, but far too often doled out to fathers as if being compared to a temporary, mostly-emotionally-removed paid caregiver is some sort of compliment. Babysitters receive money for taking care of kids not so much because of the kids, but mostly because it’s a job. The idea that the act of babysitting should ever be used in context with a man bonding with his child is insulting and reductive, predicated on played-out, ignorant social ideologies that many fathers are fighting to reverse.
— RFlavour (@RFlavour) May 31, 2016
But, to be honest, in our modern society it has become incredibly easy to disregard, underestimate and misrepresent the role, its significance and the value that fathers have, especially regarding Black fathers. Pseudo-sociologists constantly trot out the “70% of Black women are unwed mothers” statistic without any analysis of modern family dynamics or any context of new-age co-parenting. They just throw that statistic out there without mentioning the fact that many studies have found that Black fathers are the most involved parents of any other group of fathers. Black men deeply love their children and the offhand “babysitter” remark just frames their role as little more than begrudging caregiver.
And there’s also a gender component here that is deeply toxic to women. By equating fathers to babysitters, we unwittingly place the entire burden of parenting on the mother. That’s how we find ourselves having discussions where women -especially Black women – end up being unfairly blamed for their children’s actions, with little to no mention of the father’s responsibility. We give women this unequal blame because we are intent on propagating the ideology that women are the “real” parents. That is an extremely toxic weight to heap upon any soul.
A fathers’ love knows no tangible or perceptible bounds as a fathers’ importance in their child’s life is immensely meaningful and exigent. As we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day, the one gift we can all collectively give the many great dads around us is fully crediting them as parents and never ever referring to them as babysitters again.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscience.com. He’s author of the book, “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.