"First things first, rest in peace Uncle Phil...for real", was the opening line to J. Cole's single, "No Role Modelz" from his album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole then goes on to state that Uncle Phil was the only father that he ever knew, a sentiment that many black children who are products of single mother-headed households share with the artist. With Father’s Day upon us, we not only celebrate the father figures in our lives but also pay homage the TV dads who imaginatively helped raise us.
For those of us who grew up the categorically "broken family structure" Uncle Phil, Carl Winslow, and James Evans provided the blueprint for what the ideal black should be: a faithful husband, a provider, and a doting disciplinarian. I recall watching the 'Papa’s Got A Brand New Excuse' episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. During this episode, Will’s absentee father reemerges with a myriad of empty promises in tow. As Will dramatized the departure of his father “Lou” played by illustrious thespian Ben Vereen, he embraces Uncle Phil while simultaneously bursting into tears. This scene reminded me of my encounters with my own father, the various checks that got “lost in the mail”, and the visits that never seemed to take place. I envisioned Uncle Phil consoling me as well, as I cast my multifarious feelings of disappointment on his shoulders.
Many of the life lessons that I have acquired over the years were instilled in me by the black fathers on television that have taken the place of my own. When trying to debate between purchasing a new pair of Jordans or transferring the money to my savings account, the spirit of frugality that dominated Julius Rock of “Everybody Hates Chris” immediately enters my body. Carl Winslow from “Family Matters” was the first to educate me on dealing with the ills of racial profiling, and James Evans from “Good Times” provided the blueprint for the type of character that a husband and a father should possess.
As the televised black familial construct has taken a backseat to reality television, there is a noticeable absence of upstanding patriarchal figures on television, specifically those that young, black girls and boys can seemingly adopt as their own. This Father's Day, as we celebrate our uncles, males cousins, grandfathers, let us raise a glass to Uncle Phil, Carl Winslow, Andre Johnson, Ray Campbell, and James Evans, for they served as placeholders for a life-long insatiable void.