One day during my daily Green Line commute, I noticed a young brother with a little girl slumped in his arms wearing a “Daddy’s Girl” beanie. He removed her pacifier and placed her in a pink stroller. For what seemed like the rest of their ride he stared at the little girl as she slept. One could only imagine what he was thinking. Was he reflecting on his life? Thinking about his hopes and dreams for the baby girl lying in the stroller? Or he could’ve just been contemplating what was for dinner that evening. As the train slowed at their stop, he snatched up the diaper bag on the seat next to him, unlocked the stroller, and exited the train. It was a beautiful and tender moment. Thankfully I have the pleasure of witnessing these moments often.
Within our society there is an underlying belief that fatherhood is a role Black males struggle to fill. The lack of Black fathers in homes has become the knee-jerk explanation for the ills of Black America. Even former President Obama has expressed this idea. At a Father’s Day speech in 2008, Obama claimed that there are too many Black fathers missing from too many homes and that it threatens the foundation of Black communities. But every day I see Black men engaging in acts of care. Most are not making a political statement but fulfilling their basic human instinct. Picking up and dropping children off at school, changing diapers, and smothering babies with kisses are all signs of a loving and attentive parent, and Black men are doing all these things and more. According to a 2013 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black men are more involved with their children than other demographics. For example, at 70 percent, Black fathers are more involved than their white and Latino counterparts in bathing, diapering, or dressing their children daily.
Due to hundreds of years of pervasive dehumanizing images of Black males and publications like the Moynihan Report, which outlined the “deep roots of Black poverty in the United States,” Black men have not been afforded the luxury of being collectively seen as nurturers and caregivers. The stereotype that Black men are not fathers is interwoven into our collective consciousness. In spite of high unemployment rates, mass incarceration, and gun violence, so many Black men are determined to be fathers. It’s unfortunate that even as a Black man, I find it difficult to speak to the intrinsic nature of fatherhood without it being grounded in the pain and struggle of the Black experience.
I, like many Black boys, grew up with a father in my life. I know firsthand the physical, spiritual, and mental stress so many Black men go through just to be supporting fathers. I know fathers often go unrecognized and are not fully valued for the work they put in every day. This is not a declaration that all Black men, or all men for that matter, are perfect fathers, but there are a hell of a lot of Black men striving to figure out manhood and fatherhood.
Editor’s note: Some subjects preferred not to give their names.