Sunday, June 21, 2009
In Praise of Black Fathers...
Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.
-- Bill Cosby
One of my earliest and fondest memories of my father is watching him make what he used to call "Big Breakfast." He would announce to the household on the weekend morning of his choice "I am making BIG breakfast" and we knew we were in for a treat.
The man makes the most impossibly light scrambled eggs w/cheese and fluffy pancakes, the juiciest bacon and sausage, and the most perfectly seasoned grits, rice and biscuits you've ever tasted. He would take his time and butter our toast for us and there was always an assortment of our favorite jams. And, frankly, I don't know another man to this day who brews a meaner pot of tea. Not bad for an academic!
There was always a lot of joy when he cooked for us his favorite "Big Breakfast" and I think part of what made those meals so good, outside of the fact that he's such a great cook, is that those meals were made with a lot of love.
Thinking back on ritualized events like sharing a homemade meal always makes me smile. Fathers are happiest when they feel useful, and are engaging in some tactile activity with or for their children. Mine is no different. I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up with that -- especially as it has become clear that fathers like mine have become increasingly rare in the Black community.
The statistics remain sobering: more than half of all Black children are being raised in single-parent households -- a figure that has doubled since the early 1960s, and a staggering 91 percent of single parents of Black children in 2006 were women.
Essentially, a-generation-and-a-half of Black kids have grown up without fathers or any meaningful, positive male presence in their lives, and that has manifested itself in innumerable levels of pathos in our community. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that there are outstanding Mothers, Grandmothers and other extended family members who are fulfilling both roles with great success. From my own sister, who is raising my academically gifted 12-year-old nephew into a wonderful young man, to the Mother and Grandparents of Barack Obama, who would become President of the United States of America, it is possible for Black children to thrive and succeed even as they manage the aching absence of their fathers.
Barack Obama, for personal reasons and for the nation's good, has smartly made responsible fatherhood a priority on his agenda and held a town hall meeting at the White House on Friday on this issue. He's taken heat for speaking poignantly about the pain of his own father's absence, and has urged Black men, in particular, to step up with urgency in raising their children.
But the considerable attention on absentee fathers makes it far too easy to overlook the presence of fathers like my own -- who were and are always there, quietly imparting wisdom, knowledge, protection, discipline, love and prayers without complaint and without ceasing. I'm not a naive girl but it wasn't until I got to college that I realized the majority of my African-American classmates hadn't grown up the same way I did. Everybody in my immediate circle growing up (all Black) came from two-parent homes with very active, present and traditional fathers.
Fathers like mine want no praise and are quick to say "I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing!" But I offer kudos anyway, today and always, because they deserve it. Kudos to them for always being there. Kudos to them for understanding and embracing fatherhood as a lifetime commitment and the most important role they'll ever have. Kudos to my dad for loving me when it's easy and when it's difficult; whether we are debating the merits of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute, a wayward politician or why he needs to join us in the 21st century and get a cell phone! Kudos to him for a lifetime of "Big Breakfasts" and a lifetime of love.
I appreciate, love and honor you and all the fathers like you.