By Deanna Johnson Cauthen
Deanna Cauthen is as a contributing writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Decatur Dispatch and Tucker Times news magazines, publications of Hometown Newspapers.
As we celebrate Father’s Day, I wanted to find a way to honor the many African-American fathers who sacrifice and support their families each day. I felt particularly burdened to write a word of encouragement since many of us have been deeply hurt and discouraged by the unjust killings of several African-American men by the police.
Unfortunately, society’s perception of Black men and their role as fathers is a dismal one. So often, the only pictures we see of African-American men are the ones painted by the ugly images of the media. This, along with the prejudices that have been passed down from generation to generation about African-Americans in general and Black men in particular, has added to the misconception people have about them.
I’ve been fortunate, however, to witness some of the best of what Black fatherhood has to offer. Despite the odds, I have watched these men serve their families and contribute in countless ways to their communities and I’d like to share eight things with you that I’ve observed.
1. Most African-American fathers are very nurturing to their children.
A C.D.C. report issued in December 2013 found that Black fathers were the most involved with their children daily, on a number of measures than any other group of fathers — and in many cases, that was among fathers who didn’t live with their children, as well as those who did.
I remember how my heart melted the first time I saw Andrew look at our daughter, Adrianna, shortly after she was born. I could clearly see that he was awestruck and he has been that way ever since. He regularly spends time talking with her, supports all of her interests, and even at age 15, he faithfully tucks her into bed at night.
But his love isn’t limited by biology. It’s been extended over and over again to his three stepchildren, the grandchildren that he’s helping to raise and the hundreds of youth he’s mentored during his 23+ years of youth ministry.
2. Black fathers carry a particularly heavy load and need support and encouragement from their community.
Woven into the very fabric of American thinking is a longstanding, pernicious attitude that African-American men are inherently bad and there’s been a long history of efforts to rob Black males of fidelity and honor. The prejudices are so pervasive that many African-Americans themselves have unconsciously internalized and accepted much of this poisonous mindset.
Battling these negative attitudes, along with the responsibility of caring for a family, can be a daunting task. These men need the support of a caring community.
You might be asking yourself, “Where are all these good Black men?” The answer is that they are all around you, but you need to open your eyes and see them. They’re the guys who pick up your trash, the dentist that cleans your teeth, the mechanic who fixes your brakes, the principal at the local high school, the coach who mentors your child’s sports team, and the co-worker at the next cubicle. The list goes on and on.
As a community, we can help bridge the gap and bring healing and restoration when we choose to cross racial boundaries and enter into the world of an African-American family. If you are of another race, I challenge you to invite a family of color to your house for a meal and get to know them better. It will go a long way to breaking down old stereotypes.
3. Good Black fathers are not an anomaly.
As amazing and wonderful as my husband, Andrew, is he is not an anomaly. I come from a long legacy of Black men who are wonderful fathers including my dad, brothers, uncles, father-in-law, and brother-in-laws. Furthermore, I’ve been fortunate to be in friendships with several wonderful Black men and their families.
Not only do these men tend to the needs of their immediate families and would move heaven and earth to provide and protect, but many of them help their extended families, volunteer in the community and regularly serve at their places of worship.
4. Black fathers want to be the leader for their family and desperately need their wives or significant other to support them.
In a report entitled “The Negro Family” written 50 years ago, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan states that “…the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which…seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.”
Because of this breakdown of the African-American family, some women have come from homes where there was no male leadership. As a result, it can be very difficult for a woman to trust a man to lead a family, but we must allow our men to be restored to their rightful place.
As a divorcee who had to be head of household and primary provider, I know how hard it is to lead a family. It was a relief for me to be able to turn the reigns over to Andrew. He has a servant’s heart and his leadership, along with my wisdom, support, and prayers, has enabled our family to accomplish great things.
5. Contrary to popular belief, African-American fathers are not deserting their children.
Josh Levs, author of the book, “All In,” points out this fact in a chapter in the book titled “How Black Dads Are Doing Best of All (But There’s Still a Crisis).” One fact that Levs quickly establishes is that most Black fathers in America live with their children: “There are about 2.5 million Black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.” Admittedly, not all of these fathers are married to the mothers of their children, but that is a far cry from abandonment.
6. Most African-American fathers, despite disadvantages, work and take care of their kids.
According to the Census Bureau 2013 American Community Survey, 67% of African-American males ages 16 to 64 are in the labor force. Although the participation rate for Black males is less than the ‘all male’ population rate of 80%, you must take into account that historically African-American males have lagged behind in education which significantly affects employment opportunities. My father was a prime example of this.
As a self-taught electrician with barely a high school education, my daddy struggled to make a living. Additionally, during the fifties and sixties, there was still a lot of discrimination and it was difficult for a Black man to get licensed and employed as a certified electrician.
Because of that, he resorted to doing odd jobs here and there. Sometimes, we would go with him to a job site and wait in the car while he worked. My mother would read to us and we ate sandwiches and finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Daddy would return with a little money in his hand and we would all go home. He, along with the help of my mother, always made sure that we had a house, a car, clothes, and food.
Although my husband has a degree in English from Clemson University and has worked as a reporter for several years, Andrew had his challenges with employment, as well. Shortly after we married, the company he worked for downsized, and he ended up losing his job. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, he now had the responsibility of providing for me and the three children from my previous marriage, and we were expecting our first child together.
Although he vigorously applied for several jobs in his industry, nothing came through and he ended up having to work two part-time jobs in order to support us. He did that for several years until he was finally able to land a position as a reporter with a newspaper. Andrew’s top priority was finding a job and earning a living for his family and he did whatever he had to do to make that happen.
7. More African-American fathers are getting a better education.
Nearly 62% of Black men earned their high school diploma in 2010, according to a 2013 Education Week report and, according to BlackDemographics.com, in 2013 about 48% of Black men 25 and older attended college, although only 17% of them earned a Bachelor’s degree.
8. Some African-American dads who have failed their families want to make amends, and need to be given the chance to do so.
Let’s face it. Some of our Black dads have screwed up royally. For one reason or another, they were absent from their children’s lives and this has caused untold amounts of pain and grief.
Of course, those early years of parenting can never be regained. However, as Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.” I have personally seen some of these men doing that.
Understandably, because of the hurt that they’ve caused, sometimes their efforts are not well received by their children and former spouses or partners. As someone who has walked through this, I would like to offer a few words of advice.
To the dads out there who are trying to reconnect with their kids and repair damaged relationships, I encourage you to be patient. You cannot undo years of absenteeism and neglect in a few weeks or months. It takes time to build trust. Be honest about your mistakes and don’t make excuses.
To the children and former spouses or partners of these broken relationships, I ask you to consider the fact that most of these men were ill-prepared for the rigors of parenting. Many of them had poor or nonexistent male role models themselves. Choose to forgive, not for their sake, but for yours and let the healing process begin.
To all the African-American dads out there who get it right, thank you. We love and appreciate you. Today is your day. Celebrate!