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Black Fathers

Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby

I totally heart me some President Barack Obama, I promise you this. But he ticked me off to the highest of ticktivity a few years ago when he took to the pulpit in a black church on Father’s Day to excoriate African American dads for falling down on their job as parents, saying that all-too-many of them “act like boys, not men.” He added infamously:  “Any fool can have a child.  That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Of course, there are plenty of men who make babies and then walk away from the awesome responsibility of raising them, and those fathers—whom come in all races, from all cultures, from all corners of the earth—do deserve to be taken to task and held accountable for being what they are: deadbeats. Still, I was incensed that Obama, then a presidential candidate looking, it seemed, to right himself in the eyes of social conservatives who thought him too “radical” and “black” to lead America, used Father’s Day to advance the stereotype of African American fathers as lazy, no-count children too self-centered and foul to do much more than abandon the children they helped to create.

(Seriously—imagine if someone stood up on Mother's Day and said the majority of black moms suck. No one would be that disrespectful on the day meant to honor and show appreciation to moms, and the person who'd ever dare would be gutted, filleted and fried like a Friday dinner fish plate, with a quickness.)

It’s a stereotype that consistently hitches itself, like a giant, nasty, pus-filled scab, on the backs of all black fathers—jumps off book pages and television news stories and especially out of the mouths of policy makers with Freddy Kruger finger-knife precision, particularly when folk need to conjure up scary images for a sensational headline, a bunch of finger-pointing, or to score political points.

It’s hype I simply can't swallow whole.

Refuse to.

Especially on Father’s Day.

Because while I know there are plenty black children who have survived without/missed/wished for a stable father figure in their homes—and suffered because their dads didn’t live up to their promise—there are so many more who are doing right by their kids. Fathers like my Dad, who, without the benefit of a caring, nurturing father to show him how to love a child, turned out to be the most loving, nurturing father this girl could ever have.

And like my husband Nick, who consistently reminds me that I picked well when he makes my girls giggle and helps them sort out tough math problems and teaches them Taekwondo moves “so that they can fight off any boy who steps to them wrong,” and throws blue “footie” pajamas in the cart at Target so his girls will be “cuddly” warm in their beds.”

And like Ruby & the Booker Boys author Derrick Barnes, who writes so eloquently on MyBrownBaby.com about his journey raising four beautiful boys—one born just this week! Congrats, Derrick!—to be intelligent, thoughtful, strong, committed black men.

And like dad blogger Eric Payne of MakesMeWannaHoller.com, who pens pitch-perfect stories about his blended family and his abiding love for both his children—his daughter by blood and his son by marriage—and knows enough about how to be a good father to write a book about it, “Dad: As Easy As A, B, C.”

And Shawn Dove, head of the Campaign For Black Male Achievement at the Soros Foundation's Open Society for Foundations initiative, who, while raising with his wife four beautiful children, has committed his life to mentoring and creating programs for black boys and helping to reshape the image of black men—and Lamar Tyler, who, with his wife, Ronnie, does the same with his website, BlackandMarriedWithKids.com and their documentary films, most notably, “Men Ain’t Boys.”

I see committed black fathers out on the soccer fields and at the swim meets and cheering their babies on at the school plays—in the grocery stores shopping for dinner, at the pediatrician’s office, making sure their children are healthy, on FaceBook, telling their world of friends about their kids’ birthdays and their report cards and graduations and how proud they are to be their daddies.

I know good black dads exist because I grew up with them and lived with them and went to school with them and am friends with them and work with them and watch them and learn from them and love them…

The fathers who bring their paychecks home…

And kick in toward the mortgage/rent, or pay it outright…

And rub the swollen feet and sore backs of the pregnant women they love…

And change diapers and warm bottles and bounce babies on their arms, even when they haven’t a clue, really, what they’re doing, or we stand over their shoulders, ordering them to do it our way…

And play horsey and helicopter over and over and over again, their exhausted bodies energized only by the glee in their giggly children’s “please, Daddy—one more time?” pleas…

And dole out discipline in healthy doses—with great love and the profound knowledge that setting their kids straight will go a long way in helping them become better human beings.

And make their families feel protected, even when deep inside, they’re scared crapless…

And find a way to raise kids with their children’s mother, even if the love between them isn’t there any more…

And, if they are committed and/or married, kiss their significant others passionately because they think after all these years, she’s still hot…

And do it in front of their kids, so that they can know that they’ve seen true love…

And love the Lord…

And their children with abandon…

I see them. All of them, in their many manifestations.

And they are... beautiful.

Open your eyes, and you will see this, too. 

Read more of Denene's posts on her personal blog, MyBrownBaby.com.

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