Fatherhood

His Story, His Future

Being a father to one’s offspring is something that some men may have to figure out on their own, or something they may have seen first hand. But, fathers who are consistently present and forming quality relationships with their children do exist as they always have. How to change the public perception then becomes the challenge for African-American fathers. Though they shouldn’t have to, for the world to change, one must first start at the microcosmic level. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
It starts in each household where boys are encouraged and empowered by their families, and the community of adults in their lives who remind them of their greatness as often as possible.
The narrative about fatherhood in the African-American community fails to tell the whole story. The flawed tale told where black men are father to many different children with many different women, and the stories of young women taking pride in relevance gained through whomever they share children with… these pictures fall short. There is more. These portrayals don’t tell the story of the young father on Campbellton Road I see walking his son to daycare every morning, rain or shine. With his dreadlocks and sagging pants, he is there, fathering and being a consistent force in his son’s life.
The stories must be shared of the dad who takes his children to ballet and art class every Saturday. And, the city councilman walking the streets of Baltimore to keep the peace in the community he represents and lives in with his own children. And, the father who works three jobs to provide for his family, yet still makes time to attend his daughter’s swim meet. And the dad who travels for work but calls and Skype’s everyday to stay connected to his kids from afar.
I am reminded of this as I see my own son who is now three years old. As I watch him put on his daily outfit that he chooses to wear—swim trunks, a hoodie and crocs–I realize how precious this time is. He has yet to realize how wearing a hoodie affected a young man born on his same birthday 17 years before him. Or of the historic tensions between law enforcement and men of his ethnicity. My son only knows that he wants to play soccer like his hero, Neymar, who by coincidence was also born on his birthday and that munchkins from Dunkin Donuts are the best culinary invention ever. Each day, my husband and I pray over him and speak a blessing to let him know of the greatness that lies within. Every day, when his sisters are at school and Daddy’s at work, I hug him and let him know I love him, everything about him so that he may grow up with a sense of purpose and acceptance unrivaled by the challenges I know lie ahead.
I repeat these positive affirmations because I choose to believe that as boys grow up with the acceptance and validation that each of us need, they have less reason to prove it elsewhere. While it is true that where the adults in our society fail our children–and we see them seek the acceptance and validation by acting out–it is also true that changing how a person views himself isn’t impossible. As Frederick Douglass once said “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”
Watching the fathers of the Metro Atlanta area, the fathers in Baltimore, in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland and around the country, I see those strong children who have grown up and are now the strong men that will change the perception of African-American fathers and tell the whole story in the process.