By Donney Rose
On Saturday, June 8th a collective of Baton Rouge organizations hosted Reel Dads, a fishing event held at Howell Park designed primarily to connect Black boys with their fathers/community father figures for an afternoon of fishing and bonding. The park was full of young Black boys joyously participating in simulated and real fishing, learning to use rods, lining up bait etc. and was one of the purest things I had watched in quite some time. The day was a reminder that before their identity is analyzed by socioeconomic conditions, test scores, family histories, traumas and any other data generated measure America uses to discredit them, they are first still precocious boys. Small humans that enjoy quality time with the people they admire the most. And quite often those people are the fathers that studies and cultural criticisms often cannot decide if they (the fathers) are active, absent or casual strangers in the development of Black male youth in their homes and/or communities.
Depending on the year or the publishing outlet, there’s a mixed bag of results around the subject of Black fatherhood. There are Black male dignitaries that will tell you that the decline in communal morale is tied to the disappearing act of Black fathers. There are articles written with the purpose of debunking the myth of the missing Black dad. There are testimonials from adult Black men and women who relish in their ability to survive despite having a missing seat at the dinner table. And there are stories of immense love and admiration from grown Black folks who attribute much of their success to having an incredible Black father/father figure in their lives.
So what is the truth about Black fatherhood? Arguably, all of the aforementioned. Because Black fatherhood, much like Black personhood, does not exist in isolation. There are Black fathers who play an active role in their children’s lives. There are Black fathers who play a passive role in their children’s lives. There are Black men who have made children and intentionally not fathered them. There are Black men who have made children and became absent from their children’s lives for reasons beyond the fathers control. All of these scenarios of Black fatherhood and fatherhood in general exist, so why does the subject of Black fatherhood always seem to find itself under an imaginary sociological microscope used to determine maturity, humanity, responsibility and respectability levels of Black men?
What we know of American Blackness is the invisible asterisk placed next to every identity marker of Black personhood. And that the asterisk creates a need to sensationalize either positively or negatively what Black identity is comprised of. The dissection of Black fathers/Black fatherhood is always towards the center of the vitality discussion regarding the state of Black America because it highlights a conflicting dichotomy between the power of patriarchy and the oppressive reality of second class citizenry. Because of this dichotomy, we instinctively measure the well-being of the Black community by (figuratively) assigning a letter grade to how well Black dads are performing. Those grading scales are often curved by false data, exaggerated myths and lumping our individual Black father experiences into a collective narrative. When we deem Black fathers to be failures we look for everyone outside of them to be their tutors. When we deem Black fathers as successes, we expect every Black man with a child to follow the same study guide as the Black dads we exalt, without taking into consideration what resources that may have been at those winning dads’ disposal.
So as with all things, we must consider nuance when gaining clarity on the state of Black fatherhood and not cast rods into ponds expecting to hook a school of ideals that support our beliefs of what Black fatherhood should and should not be. Black dads are unique. Every single one of them. And we do our community a disservice when we cast a wide net about who they all supposedly are.
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