Marie Roker-Jones pays tribute to the unsung hero, the black father who has taught his children how to live and how to love.
The best part of my childhood was knowing how much I was loved. It wasn’t the “be a good kid and we’ll show you love” conditional kind of love. As for my father, he loved me with a fierceness that made me believe that I was infallible. I wish I could say that that I loved my father in the same way. Unfortunately, I held him up to unrealistic expectations and made unfair demands of him to prove his love. I had high standards for my dad. I wanted him to be the perfect husband, father, and man. Anytime he made a mistake, I voiced my disapproval. I wanted him to be more than he could be without taking in to consideration that my father did not have an example or a role model of fatherhood. He created his own fatherhood blueprint. I loved my father yet I didn’t give him a chance to be human. I took his love for granted.
The Black father is expected to be near perfect. We want him to have the strength of James Evans, the patience and wisdom of Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the lightheartedness of Carl Winslow and intelligence of Uncle Phil. We want the black father to embody superhuman qualities and be more than he may be able to live up to.
Even our society polarizes black fathers. We either hear about the black dads that are doing exemplary things or dysfunctional, irresponsible dead beat dad. Black fathers are often reduced to caricatures. But what about the loving yet unassuming black fathers who are overlooked almost daily? These humble giants do not look for fanfare or adulation for being a dad. Why have we forgotten these unsung heroes who do so much for their families and ask for so little in return?
I think of men like my brother and husband who don’t think twice about making sacrifices for their families, especially their children. I think of the black fathers who pack the classroom of PS 153 every year for Dads Take Your Child to School Day. I think of the black father who stands on line in frigid weather in hopes of securing a spot for their child in a high performing school. I think of the black father who forfeits his work lunch hour to volunteer in his child’s school. I think of the black fathers I see in the park, eagerly engaging with their children. I also think of the black fathers highlighted in Zun Lee’s photo book: “Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood”. These are not perfect men, they are men doing their best to show their children that they are loved and valued.
This is my ode to those unsung heroes, the loving black father who we pass by daily without giving a second thought to his life, his love or his experiences. We may even dismiss him or make assumptions about his character. These are the black fathers who are not an enigma to their children. They are physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally present in their children’s lives. They are the black fathers who don’t shy away from being the most important male to their children. These black fathers aren’t overly concerned with accolades for loving and caring for their children. Nurturing, guiding and supporting their children comes to them naturally. We don’t see these black fathers because they get lost in the shuffle of fatherlessness. We bring out the torches and pitchforks for dead beat black fathers but we don’t bring compassion and gratitude to the loving black fathers.
To you, black fathers, I say “Thank you”. Thank you for not allowing society to taint your vision of fatherhood. Thank you for caring more about your children than “showing that you’re a good dad.” Thank you for showing your children the power of unconditional love. Thank you for showing your sons that true leaders lead with love. Thank you for being a blessing for your children. Thank you for leaving a legacy of love for generations to come.