This piece was submitted from a member of our enthusiastic community of readers. If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, check out our how-to post to learn more.
I’ve always found the concept of fatherhood to be one that is both complex and triggering, especially for members of the African American community.
And over the years, I’ve found myself growing increasingly more at odds with the narrative that Black men are incapable of being good fathers.
I’ve come across a number of data points and think pieces, all of which support the idea that men of color are either perpetually missing in action or lack the wherewithal necessary to be vulnerable and emotionally available to their children.
The supporting evidence is almost stifling:
38.7% of Black children under the age of 18 live with both parents.
57.6% of Black children are living absent their biological fathers.
55.1% of all Black children are living in single-parent homes
Do the above statistics have merit?
But what’s so problematic about the subsequent statistics, however, is the fact that it creates a narrative that isn’t wholly accurate. These statistics and data points fail to recognize the Black men who are very much so present and play an active role in the lives of their children.
I personally know a number of Black men who are incredible fathers and whose actions consistently disprove the deleterious storyline that absentee fathers reign supreme within the African American community.
One such father is two-time Super Bowl champion, community activist, husband and proud father of three, Torrey Smith. For him, fatherhood has been an invaluable journey that he welcomed and continues to embrace daily. His refreshing perspective was one that I found inspiring, and allowed me to take away a few insightful gems that Black men like myself don’t often hear, including:
1. Embrace the Beauty of Creating Life
The act of ushering new life into the world is one of the most impactful decisions we as men may ever make while on this earth — and it’s crucial that you understand the responsibility that accompanies the decision to do so.
Also, allow yourself to experience the excitement that accompanies creating new life. Just imagine the pride that comes along with seeing yourself in the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the mannerisms of another human being.
2. Your Parenting Style Can and Will Change from Child to Child
When raising more than one child, it’s important to understand that every child cannot be parented the same. What may work for one child likely will not work for another, and you will naturally have to adjust your parenting style based on the personality of your little one.
3. Transparency is Key
As the father of young Black men and women, it’s necessary that you open their eyes to the beauty, and sometimes the horror, of the world around them. When it comes to issues such as racism, sexism, colorism and police brutality, you must know that whether or not they fully comprehend what it means as of yet, they can see it, feel it and will inevitably ask questions.
Talk to them about being comfortable in their own skin. Teach them how to deal with confrontation, whether it’s with police or adversarial classmates. While it may be difficult, if they don’t learn how to love and protect themselves at home, where else will they learn?
4. Fatherhood Doesn’t Come with an Off Switch
Work can be exhausting, undergraduate and/or graduate programs can be time-consuming and life in general can be overwhelming, but your children will always be ready for you at the door.
Never be too tired to laugh, dance, sing, play and explore with your children. Allow yourself to see the world through the eyes of a child again; boot up those reruns of Gullah Gullah Island or Hey Arnold (you know you still remember the theme songs), pull out the blankets for those homemade forts and have some fun!
5. Kids Need Fathers to Lead by Example, Not with Excuses
Being a great father doesn’t require money, rather, it requires your time and interest in the well-being of your kid(s).
Your relationship with the mother of your child or with your own father, lack thereof, doesn’t exonerate you from your responsibilities as a father. Moreover, these relationships, both with the mother of your children as well as your own parents, prove to be key as your child develops into a young adult. You set the tone as it pertains to acceptable behavior for your kids, and influence how they will treat women, and you, when they are older.
It’s up to you to ensure that despite whatever emotional barriers you may be battling, you break those walls down and show up for your kids. They will always need you more than you know.
Ultimately, there are a number of Black men surpassing society’s expectations of what a “good father” should be. And while the Census Bureau has yet to catch up, fathers like Torrey Smith, fathers within the Blavity community, fathers like my very own, who continue to dispel a stigma that no longer carries weight, exist and are an inspiration.
To all of those fathers, you are appreciated.