Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

By D. Kevin McNeir

Executive Editor

Father’s Day is just a few days away and with stay-at-home orders lifted, albeit in various degrees, throughout the nation, there’s still time to head to the mall and pick up a shirt and tie or to make reservations at dad’s favorite restaurant (outdoor seating required) for Sunday brunch.

And while most fathers will never admit it, being recognized for our willingness to share our time and talents with our children and other youth does evoke a sense of joy and satisfaction.

It doesn’t matter if the father in question lives with his children or not. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a gruff, seemingly-emotionless, no nonsense kind of man or the kind of dad who freely expresses his love for his girls and boys whenever possible. Dads like to be appreciated.

Fortunately, I had the kind of father whose actions told me that I was special, that I was safe and would always be protected, that “come hell or high water” he’d do whatever was needed to help me overcome the obstacles blocking my way – that he loved me.

I guess it was his strict upbringing and the influence of being born in an era where patriarchy ruled and determined acceptable behavior for men and women that made it all but impossible for him to verbally express his love for me. In fact, he told me “I love you” just one time – prompted by mother as we talked quietly in my father’s hospital room just a few days before his death.

Sure it felt good to finally hear those three words from Daddy – an affirmation that Momma, in stark comparison, said with great frequency. But his actions throughout my life had long confirmed his love. I learned that fathers are just as important as mothers. In fact, most of the fathers I knew were vital and active forces in their children’s lives just like mine.

Perhaps that’s why I have always had difficulty with society’s concept of Black dads as being generally uninvolved and absent.

The stereotype of the absentee Black father simply didn’t jive with my personal experiences. Neither do recent statistics which illustrate that despite many assumptions, many fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than any previous generation. This holds true whether fathers live with their children or not. So, what’s with the conspiracy surrounding Black fathers? Why are we painted in shapes, sizes and shades which cast us as good-for-nothing baby makers – more apt to shirk our responsibilities and our children’s needs than to willingly step up to the plate?

As a little boy, I remember how excited I became when I had my Daddy all to myself. Believe it or not, some of our best times together occurred during our trips to the barbershop. It was one of the few places where women were not allowed except on rare occasions. The barbershop, however, was more than just a place to get your hair cut or your beard and mustache trimmed. It was a safe meeting place for Black men and their young cubs where the elders discussed everything from politics and health to money and “the Man.”

Sometimes, young voices were allowed to join in the banter. Other times, it was clear that the conversation was for grown folks only. But little boys were allowed to listen and learn. Once in a great while, when crazy things were happening to Black men and their loved ones in Detroit or in the hometowns of their youth, my father and a few other men would adjourn to a room separated by a maroon-colored, floor-length curtain. Somehow, I knew they were plotting and planning for my good – for the good of the Black community – so I never minded waiting.

Years later, as a young, unseasoned father, I found it difficult to join in Father’s Day celebrations which my wife, children and others in my family had planned. Try as I might, because my father had died during Father’s Day weekend, I felt more willing to mourn than to be joyful. But as God’s special gifts entrusted in my care – my children Jasmine and Jared – grew older, I realized that I, too, had been given a special gift.

Some children will never have the kind of father that I did. Some children will never have the opportunity to even know their father. Yes, we had a mere 25 years together but I have enough beautiful memories of Daddy to last a lifetime. Now, I look forward to Father’s Day so I can “bore” my children with tales about my dad, their grandfather – wishing they could have known him. Yet in some strange way, I believe they know him as well as I and realize why even in death, he’s still with me – keeping me safe, protected and confident of the power of his love. 

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