Health and Wellness

Resisting Stereotypical Narratives About Black Fatherhood 

I lost my grandfather last month, and this will be the first Father’s Day that I cannot call him to tell him that I love him. He was 94 years old and had lived with dementia for about 8 years until he passed away in his home surrounded by our family. He was an exemplary father and grandfather — a Black father — who was filled with faith, integrity, resilience, and most of all Love. The type of Love that is transformative and unconditional. I have a deep sense of gratitude and peace when I see how many incredible fathers he inspired in our family and community.

My father, being his son, has carried on his legacy of faith down to his last grandchild — my baby girl. My father often tells us about his intentional decisions about choosing to keep us in a Black or multiracial neighborhood, as opposed to being the only Black family in a suburban neighborhood. He had a keen understanding of racism in America, especially as an immigrant Black man, and partnered with my mother to shield us as much as they could from racial prejudice. As Black parents we do know, however, that systemic racism has been threaded through the fabric of our institutions and this has impacted the intimate spaces of our families. 

When I look at the news and I hear reports of absentee fathers, and fatherless children, I am often disconcerted at how they miss the fathers in the Black communities like my grandfather. We are aware as Black parents what the stereotypes are about Black fatherhood — unavailable and detached — and the historical challenges pitted against strong relationships between Black fathers and their children. Contrary to media portrayals, studies suggest involved and present Black dads are not hard to find. My husband is at every doctor’s visit with our children and is present at the children’s school (pre-COVID 19) and is fondly known by their teachers and administrators. He is intentional, like many Black fathers, to resist these negative tropes with his nurturing presence. Nevertheless, it is a lot to carry — the idea that someone is always judging our parenting styles and having to seemingly overcompensate for those who are absent. The mental pressure to perform perfect fatherhood and battle negative perceptions should not be on our Black fathers. They should be free to be human and make mistakes, while seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with their children and families.  

I understand how Father’s Day raises complex emotions within our communities because of the high percentages of single-mother headed households, high rates of chronic illness, incarceration, high rates of unemployment and relationship disintegration because of structural and personal challenges. So many of our children, young and old, feel forgotten or neglected by their fathers. However, these experiences should not negate other experiences of joy and security felt by other families. Many Black men provide for and mentor children beyond their immediate families within our communities to fill in the gaps. We do not have to ignore one narrative to confront the other. 

While Black fathers seek to provide and care for their children, they also have to manage the race-related trauma of being pulled over by the police and unfairly interrogated in front of their children. Included in being a Black father is the responsibility of  having to discuss with their children that they may not be able to protect them, or themselves, against racial injustice. As Al Roker and Craig Melvin shared recently the importance of telling our children how to be prepared with the reality of racism in America. 

As I watched the interview with George Floyd’s daughter, I teared up because to her, his death is not the catalyst for global demonstration to reinforce the statement and movement of “Black Lives Matter” to eradicate police brutality and systemic racism. For 6-year-old Gianna her father’s death meant that she is another daughter in the Black community who lost her father to the perpetuated racist violence by law enforcement.  

Black fathers are like other fathers: real and complex. The difference is that Black fatherhood involves the traumatic experiences of racism, particularly from law enforcement, that has to be managed daily. Studies show that 1 in 1,000 Black men can expect to be killed by the police. The intersections of public health disparities and police brutality threaten the lives of Black men and Black fathers every day. 

I hope this Father’s Day, as I continue to mourn my grandfather and now the life of George Floyd, we can celebrate the living and the dead. This is a Father’s Day when we can reflect on the lives of Black fathers who are under attack from systemic racism, and who suffer unspoken trauma that often bleeds into how they may or may not be present for their children. I plan to honor my grandfather’s legacy with all the fathers in our family and community. 

To promote that Black Fathers Matter this Fathers’ Day, we can help alleviate the daily pressure of being a Black man in America by communicating our love for them in simple and impactful ways:  

  • Give the gift of affirmation: Verbalize your appreciation and gratitude for their presence in your life. 
  • Promote their health: Remind them to contact their healthcare provider and schedule a telehealth visit, since we know that men are often reluctant to get checkups and precautionary measures can reduce mortality and enhance wellness. We want our men to live long and healthy lives. 
  • Encourage mental and spiritual wellness: We know that racial trauma has serious negative effects on our overall health, but particularly, our mental health. As Black fathers, this has been a triggering moment. Be mindful and offer a listening ear. 
  • Provide physical touch: Hug the ones you can. Social distancing has prevented us from physical affection for safety precautions; but we need it. Hug safely. 

The love that we show Black fathers this Father’s Day is a revolutionary act. This Father’s Day is different because there are implications for social justice by honoring the Black fathers among us. 

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