For years, reports on Black fathers have shown them as absentee dads who lack general life skills and are barely a part of their children’s lives. They are rarely seen as proactive in discipline and love. This is a confusing narrative to many in the Black community who see fathers in a contrasting light and as essential in their children’s growth and development into adulthood.
A government study that focuses on fathers in American households tells a different story. In 2013, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that compared to other groups, higher percentages of Black fathers who lived with their children took their kids to activities. Further, those same Black fathers (70%) were most likely to have bathed, dressed, diapered or helped their children use the toilet every day compared with their counterparts of other races.
So why is this narrative different in media circles? The answer is simple: These accounts are not written by or with the Black community in mind. Stereotyping Black males has long been a way for others to stop Black families from raising their children in conventional environments and, instead, to divert them into foster care, juvenile detention or even prison.
Bigots deny that institutional racism is inherent in our society while focusing their ire on supposedly “absentee” Black fathers or unwed mothers as the root of the troubles in Black neighborhoods. The phrase “if only” resonates from their mouths to further stigmatize Black men and their families, as in, “if only they spent more time with their kids” or “If only they had a steady job, they wouldn’t have kids who land in jail.”
These supposed absences or lack of work will not stop the poisoning of drinking water, the over-policing of certain urban areas or the lack of affordable health care and better schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Missing dads weren’t responsible for the wealth gap or Covid-19’s disparate impact on communities of color.
By using these pervasive tropes, people with a warped racial outlook can avoid talking about the real issues that further erode the Black family unit. It’s much easier to denigrate a group than to discuss the root causes like pervasive racism built into the structure of our society.
But there are a variety of creative productions and organizations that are presenting truer, fuller images of Black men and fathers. Films like Boyz N the Hood (1991), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Daddy’s Little Girls (2007), If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), and the Oscar-winning Moonlight (2016) contain different depictions of the complexity of Black fatherhood, showing the nuance, struggle and fulfilling role that men take in raising families.
Groups like Daddy & Me focus on fathers reading to their children and fellowship among Black men. The Black American Dad Foundation benefits present and future dads by giving support to needy fathers to help stem the tide of misrepresentation. Through assorted multimedia broadcasts, they also help fathers navigate those difficult decisions every man must make. The Academy of Black Fathers holds coaching sessions to help Black fathers change their own lives as well as the lives of their children. By hosting a variety of events to create safe spaces for the Black paternal community, the Dad Gang helps destroy the myths about Black fatherhood by including everyday tips that can help individuals create a life that is best for their families.
If you are a Black father who is absent, it is important to know that any time is the right time to reunited with or become a part of your family, whether you have been incarcerated or have lost a job or have been estranged from your family for whatever reasons. Paternal involvement will benefit your children’s emotional and social experience growing up and will decrease their stress as well as other family members’. (That means you, mom.) Isn’t this what everyone wants in a family?
And fatherhood is not only fulfilled by one person, but many times is a role that involves an extended family member, stepfather, pastor, coach or teacher.
When it comes to Black fathers, as with many external representations of people of color more generally, perception is not reality.