A Father’s Day Reflection: Do Black Fathers Matter?
For the past 15 years of my life, Father’s Day was a day to be tolerated if not ignored. Unlike Mother’s Day where I actually thirst for the presence of my mother or someone else’s mother, I feel completely indifferent about Father’s Day. And, perhaps, my indifference has much to do with the fact that every day when I look in the mirror I see the face of my father, a man who spent most of my childhood beating my mother senseless and every other poor unfortunate female soul who fell for his southern charm and hetero-masculine insecurities.
As the adage goes, “I am my father’s daughter” if not by biology, definitely by resemblance. So, there is not a day that goes by that I do not see my father’s face and remember the screams, the blackened eyes, the police beating at the door, scraped knees from trying to protect momma, the empty Seagram’s gin bottles, and the many sleepless nights of endless cries for sanctuary of some kind. So, the presence of my father is always near because I see his reflection in the mirror prompting me from time to time to think about what it would mean for me to forgive my dad and also what would it mean for my father to have my forgiveness.
It would mean I would have to stop labeling him as the sole culprit for my mother’s bad choices and life struggles. It would mean I would have to stop hating him for not being there to growl at my prom date or not being there to make a big fuss about the shortness of my mini skirt. It would mean I would have to see him as a man who made many mistakes because he too was blindly running from childhood trauma and violence. And I would have to believe that just because you have a child, does not mean you know how to parent the child and that biology is a cruel prankster fooling people into believing that they instinctively know how to raise children. Let me just say this, it is not instinctual for mothers and it is definitely not instinctual for fathers.
Furthermore, I would have to believe that just as daughters long for “present and nurturing” mothers, they also long for “present” and nurturing fathers even if they do not admit it. They long for their daddies . . . they long for their fathers . . . if not because of biology or love then because society says they should long for them. I know that we feminist often do not like to entertain the idea of biology in any capacity, but there is something to be said about realizing that we live in a world that places great meaning on having mothers and fathers and not to have either does affect us rather it is quantifiable, life threatening, minimal, fleeting is another question entirely. But, there is an effect.
I needed my dad not because he was “dad” or because he was the man who birthed me, but because I needed him to show me how to interact with other men, how to judge the good men from the bad men, how to know when there is love and not lies. I needed him to model for me what it meant to be a nurturing man, a caring father, a forgiving brother, and a sensitive husband. I needed that. I need that. I needed to know that I can argue with a man and he would not blacken my eye. I needed to know that when my uncles, male pastors at church, and my boyfriend hug me they are not going to violate me. I needed my dad to model these things for me . . . so deep within I longed for him.
And, I am not saying that we long for any ole man to be our fathers, god fathers, or father figures. No, we long for unconventional fathers. We long for fathers whose manhood is not based on dominance and submission. We long for fathers who are not only physically present, but emotionally available. We long for fathers who respect and admire their partners’ ambition, talents, and gifts. We long for fathers who endure many years of therapy so that they can be better husbands, partners, and fathers to their family and friends.
Yep, fathers matter. They matter greatly. They matter so much so that I am now trying to figure out how to forgive my father . . . how to remember the past, but not be held captive by it. And, honestly, what is helping me with this endeavor is the fact that I have been blessed to be able to spend time with older black men who embody the unconventional father profile listed above. Just by being around the three of them and their families, I have learned much about what it means to have a father’s love and “care” for you as daughter.
I must say that there is something “healing” about watching a father crush pain pills with a mortar and pastel so that his sick daughter can swallow the medicine needed to “heal” her body. There is something “healing” about a father who hugs his 24 year-old son and kisses him on the cheek every time he sees him. There is healing.
Unconventional fathers matter greatly. And so I leave you with the Luther Vandross’ song, Dance with my Father and the question, Do fathers matter?