“And my father living in Memphis now/he can’t come this way/Over some minor charges and child support that just wasn’t paid/Damn, boo-hoo, sad story, Black American dad story.” -Drake, “Look What You’ve Done”
As I conquer the last hill on my twelve mile peddle bike excursion, I see a father in a park with his child. I smile. The father is young, in his twenties, early thirties at the absolute latest. We briefly make eye contact as I speed past, and exchange smiles. I crane my neck to look back at that moment while he
refocuses his attention, which he never broke, to his child, happily swinging, waiting for “Daddy” to push the swing once more.
For the reminder of the ride, I think about fathers. I think about a poem I started to write back in 2005, “Letter to My Father,” which sits incomplete in a ninety nine cent, black and white composition notebook somewhere in one of my apartment closets. I think about my son and the joy I feel every time he says, “Daddy.” I think about the last few times I cried; each crying episode concerning my father or my son. My own trinity.
I did not know my father growing up. I cannot remember ever meeting him. I have tried to stretch my memory to hear his voice, or see his smile, or feel his touch, or smile his scent. Each futile attempt makes his death that much more difficult to bear because I will never be satisfied concerning him. Similarly, growing up, many of my friends in my working class neighborhood did not have present fathers. In fact, my friend, who would later become my “cousin,” and I forged a tight bond over our shared emotions about our absent fathers, feelings that we only confined to each other. As an adult, my cousin met his father.
Recently, with the YouTube sensation of “Shit (fill in identifier) Say,” I searched for the one about Black fathers. And I found two; both are heartbreaking because this is how society/media portray Black fathers. Art imitates life. Life imitates art. Since 1990, 82% of black males grow up without a father in the home. It is not just women, but many men have “Daddy” issues as well.
“This one kid said somethin’ that was really bad/He said I wasn’t really Black because I had a dad.”-Childish Gambino, “Hold You Down”
A college friend expressed Childish Gambino’s sentiment to me during our freshman year. He explained that being Black and having a dad seemed paradoxical to many (He also mentioned that being Black and being apart of the middle class had the same effect. There goes the Black monolithic experience stereotype again). During my childhood, a few of my friends had present fathers in their lives. There was one father, in particular, who took a group of neighborhood boys, many of whom had absent fathers, to the park to play basketball every Saturday morning. He was the neighborhood dad; he taught me the truism, “In life, shit happens.”
Additionally, I know many Black fathers who are present. One friend did not have a father growing up. He is now the father of two sons. While he is a member of the “Fatherless Fathers Club”, an unfortunately substantial group of men in our country, he takes care of his children, unlike his father. He strives to remedy the hurt he once felt. He made a decision that absentee fathering stops with him, refusing to follow the path of his father, and his father’s father. His children, if they grow up and decide to have children, will not be a member of the “Fatherless Father Club.”
Neither will my son.