By Sonny Gillespie
At one point in time it was widely believed that involved and engaged black fathers were mythical creatures. The concept of black fathers were relegated to hacky sitcom characters or a immasculated male pushover who’s the defacto mom because he’s compassionate, sensitive, and carries snacks in his purse. Black daddies are considered rare. Fantastical. Most people think it is easier to run across a white, winged, single-horned-headed horse than it is to find a black man who’s at home and active in their child’s life. But, contrary to popular belied, Black fathers are not unicorns.
As often as possible I make time to spend with my daughter. We got out to eat, go to the movies, go to the park, Chuck E. Cheese, the grocery store, wherever and for us it’s just a normal day out as father and daughter. During these excursions, someone will, without fail, manage to make an awkward observation of disbelief.
“This your little girl?” They always ask despite the fact my kids face looks God or mother nature copied and pasted it from mine. “Yes” I reply.
The moment then transforms into something they consider a sincere gesture of admiration, but for myself and many other black men in their children’s lives, is just odd at best. “There aren’t a lot of black men taking care of their children, so thank you for being a good dad.”
I usually respond with “Ummmmm, thanks?”
We all understand that the intent is not malicious and meant as praise, but truthfully, it comes off as media driven, misinformed, condescending rhetoric that’s perpetuating the image of the absentee black dad. It’s like walking up to a black person in a parking lot and thanking them for not stealing your car.
Although black fathers are more likely to live separately from their children—the statistic that’s usually trotted out to prove the parenting “crisis”—many of them remain just as involved in their kids’ lives. Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and just 32 percent of Hispanic dads.
- Centers for Disease Control
It’s true that black fathers are not as easily visible as their peers of other racial ancestry, however it is not true that they are less involved. Last year theCDC released data that proves contrary to that very stereotype, showing that fathers of African descent are more involved than fathers of other ethnic origins. Beyond statistics you can also see it in popular culture. Steph Curry’s relationship with his daughter became a popular meme. Chris Brown named his latest album after his daughter and put her on the cover. Even reality stars are fighting to stay involved in their children’s lives. If you ride public transportation as I do, it is impossible not to encounter men trying to wrangle multiple children while conducting everyday errands. Black men are even committing to the once-taboo duties of stay at home fatherhood. Anyone who doubts the proportion of highly-involved and truly committed Black fathers obviously has their head in the sand and bases their opinions hearsay than actual evidence. They probably also believe flamingoes make great role models.
I’m not saying Black fathers don’t need a pat on their back. Anyone taking on the difficult duties of raising children should be acknowledged, but sometimes the way it’s conducted is a bit condescending. To many of us, the sacrifices and grand-scale parenting acts are oft overlooked and under-appreciated, but simple acts like spending time are overpraised as if a miracle had been performed. In truth most of us don’t see ourselves as “good” dads. We’re just “daddy.”
The amazing spectacle of familial bonding to others is just called “Tuesday” to us. So please, by all means keep praising Black men (all men, really) who are present for their children, but don’t bring up the negative stereotype of absentee black dads as a reason for the admiration. We’re not that rare after all. If we are, then it’s a new day for unicorns (A shiny new nickel to anyone who gets the reference).