Saturday, May 25, 2024

A Word about Black Fatherhood…

June 12, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Los angeles, California – Three black men sit at a table in the bar area of a Los Angeles restaurant one Saturday afternoon, engaged in animated conversation.

One, in a green Ralph Lauren Polo shirt and khakis, looks to be about 50. The other two, card-carrying citizens of the Hip Hop nation in dutifully oversized, sagging jeans and cocked baseball caps, are in their mid thirties, tops.

Ignoring High Definition sports blaring on a flat TV screen above the bar, the three are preoccupied with digital images each have pulled up on their cell phones and a Blackberry, which they enthusiastically pass to one another to see.

Naked women? Video games? Strategic eavesdropping reveal the images on the screens to be those of children–specifically, their sons and daughters. Accordingly, the men share stories among themselves regarding both the never-ending challenge and unrelenting joy of fatherhood.

Swigging imported brew, they are bantering about private school and college tuition, the conundrum of teenage clothing trends (Humph–the brothers in the sagging designer denim should talk) and the expense of feeding youngsters with furnaces for digestive systems.

They discuss the secret to braiding the perfect pigtail for a little girl, and joke about the proverbial shotgun that subsequently becomes the humble greeting of choice at the front door the day bumptious boys come calling on said little girl.

The men speak over one another, often boisterously, regarding the miscellaneous woe and probity of nurturing “little people” who will ultimately morph into adults with independent ideas and concepts, and perhaps one day, children of their own. Heard loudest, however, is the untempered pride these men have in being fathers.

Fatherhood is arguably the closest mortal man comes to Godliness.

It’s true. According to the Good Book, God created man in His own image. Man, with profound and unparalleled assistance from a woman, more or less does the same thing when his seed creates a child.

However, biology is usually where comparisons to the sanctified end. For fatherhood is also where mortal man’s love and hubris often intersect to commit shameless, impassioned acts of self-importance–like the bouncing baby boy who gets dubbed Junior. Or Daddy’s Girl, who, in honor of daddy Michael, is christened Michaela, or Frankie derived from Papa Frank.

In any case, despite the grim stats, honorable black fathers are not an anomaly; the institution of American black fatherhood simply suffers a monumental case of bad public relations. Not that the lousy black dad doesn’t exist. To be sure, he does. However, Black men fail as fathers for many of the same reasons fathers of any hue and background fail. Quite often, they themselves lack strong, sound examples of fatherhood.

But unlike the depressing reports of a lack of principled parenting in The Community, great fatherhood seldom makes headlines. That is, unless you are Wesley Autrey, the construction worker and Navy vet who, as his frightened four and five year-old daughters looked on, one morning in 2007 jumped into action in a Manhattan subway to save Cameron Hollopeter, a first year film student whose sudden epileptic seizure caused him to fall into the path of the train. As the train roared just inches above their bodies, the then 50-year old Autrey lay atop Hollopeter between the tracks inside the trough, keeping him from moving and thus, alive.

After the media hoopla subsided, Autrey went back to what he was doing before he saved a man’s life–fathering his two little girls. No reality show contract, no clothing line, just day-to-day dignity. Autrey’s girls aren’t likely to one day end up some playa’s bitch or hoe; thanks to daddy’s stunning illustration of heroism and dynamic, selfless compassion, a seed has been planted in their young psyche as to what a real man is.

That, however, is what good fathers do everyday, anonymously and without fanfare: by deed and example, they clarify to their progeny wholesale self-esteem and worth. They nurture, provide, direct and guide.

Through the establishment and enforcement of loving, moral boundaries, fathers communicate the importance of walking the walk and talking the talk. If he is black, he demonstrates manhood in a society where, despite the changing times, he can on any given day still be referred to as “boy.”

These things don’t deter him from being a father. Indeed, how he deals with what the world presents him becomes yet another parable from which his young ones will glean a morsel valuable in the shaping of their spirits. When we encounter that father’s children, whether adolescents or adults, we encounter him.

Granted, it is difficult to witness the garish incivility of popular culture and not conclude that our children are headed to hell in a pimped-out SUV. However, be assured that in park sandboxes, behind the cash registers of fast food establishments, on college campuses–everywhere–there are plenty of kids who know better. They are proud to do the right thing, even when no one is watching. They learned to be this way under the mindful, valiant tutelage of a conscientious dad.


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