Several years ago, I saw Iyanla Vanzant come to speak to an audience in Brooklyn and she mesmerized the mostly African-American female crowd. She spoke of how women could heal themselves by owning their situations and problems and recognizing their responsibilities to break the negative chains to the various ills in their lives.
At the end of her presentation, she alluded to a focus on the men, saying she wanted to address males and their problems. Honestly, I scoffed at the notion. I felt that she wasn’t really equipped to speak to a Black male audience the way she speaks to Black females. Brothers wouldn’t listen to her like that.
But her OWN network “Fix My Life” episode on a Father with 34 children by 17 women sparked quite a response, particularly from Black people who were somehow shocked that this could happen.
The reactions ranged from highly critical…
To forgiving and understanding…
But Oprah herself said something that struck me as a bit presumptuous…
Okay, as much as I love Oprah, I don’t think there’s a “code” for explaining “baby mommas,” a concept that I feel denigrates Fathers, Mothers, and children as does “baby daddies.”
In watching Vanzant’s show, that became clear, and it hit home with so many Black folk because lots of us deal with the complications of parenting between two unmarried people. There’s no “code” for why men have so many babies, just like there’s no code for why women become pregnant by these men.
Jay Williams, the brother with an arguably biblical fertility rate, is an Atlanta video producer who invited Vanzant in to his life, which turned out to be a mess. Some children he had a relationship with, other children barely knew him. He said that his predicament was ultimately the result of a broken relationship with his parents and an inability to cope with his own internal grief. He had a need to womanize in order to fill a gap left open during his childhood. He also knew that his situation was tragic for the children he fathered, some of whom considered him just a “sperm donor.”
His case is extreme, even by ‘hood standards, but let’s not act like we don’t know men who are some reflection of Williams’ case.
(Note: I’m not addressing this issue with women purposefully because the intent is to speak to Black men who are the target of this essay.)
Let’s be real here and look at the whole spectrum: I know men who are married with children and have very close, loving relationships with their wives and kids. I also know men whose children are the result of one-night stands, and they have no relationship with the kids or Mothers at all. And I also know men who fall somewhere in between those two bookends.
One thing that is clear to me: there is no “baby momma code.” Whatever relationship a man has with the Mothers of their children, one thing and one thing only results in the conception of children: sex. Williams and every other man throughout human history who ever fathered a child got there this way, no matter what the relationship with the Mother.
This is not to diminish the seriousness of this case, but men and women have sex, and we have sex a lot, regardless of the circumstance under which it happens.
So I don’t think there is any singular explanation for Williams’ situation or others like it. Some men become Fathers accidentally…a condom breaks or slips off (fellas, don’t act like this hasn’t happened to you at least once). Some get caught up in the heat of the moment and fail to use protection. I’ve even heard guys tell me they were trifling enough to get a woman pregnant deliberately.
Not every man who has children irresponsibly has some broken root to the problem. We all have our demons, and that may or may not influence our choices in life. But every man who is sexually active has the potential to Father a child, and we all know this. There are some guys who step up to the plate and become champion Fathers, and others act like boys themselves and wallow in their selfishness, blaming everyone else. We’ve all seen examples of both.
Why then, do Black men go around having kids out of wedlock so much? It’s a question I hear people asking lots of times, and there’s really no simple answer. But I think it’s worth it to note that the Black birthrate has been almost steadily declining for the past five decades, so it’s not like Black people are going around dropping litters.
However, from our perception, a man with 34 kids, 15 kids, 6 kids, 3 kids or only one that takes no responsibility makes people angry, and we want to blame everything from hypersexual pop culture to a societal moral deficit to women themselves. But blame is the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easy way out. Pointing fingers doesn’t solve a problem, in fact it makes a problem out of the children, “You did this and now look at this mess.”
Children are not a mess. No child is a mess. Every child is a blessing.
And I don’t know, but I think this is where Vanzant was successful. This is where she opened some eyes, even my skeptical spectacles. What I got from the series was that the cycle of irresponsible fathering comes from not owning ourselves from our sexuality to the futures of our potential children and ultimately not owning the relationships we have with the women we are involved with, be they possible wives or a Friday night post-club hookup.
In a follow-up episode, Williams actually goes from subject to teacher, having taken ownership of his own mistakes. He actually counsels other men who have walked his path, and the result we see is Black men holding each other up. Not challenging each other, dissing each other, threatening each other, but doing the bonding and supporting that we do instinctively.
That was a beautiful thing, and I’m glad that Vanzant’s concept of addressing the men played out. She told the guys on that stage that it was actually okay to be brothers and be vulnerable and human at the same time.
For Black men, many of us come from environments where we have to “profile” or “mean mug” to make everyone around us think we are some caricature of a tough guy, a player, a pimp, or baller. The alternative is to be exposed to ridicule, bullying, or worse. It’s come to a point where we try to fit some archetype and behave in unhealthy ways to that end so it comes as no surprise that sexual behavior would be influenced by that.
But I wonder what would happen if there was some way, some plateau of clarity that we could stand on where shedding those things would be fine and we could accept each other without judgment. Where we could say to one another as peers, “Yeah, bruh, you need to get your sh*t together, keep it in your pants (or at least wrap it up with a condom in the right size) and do the right thing.” Would the irresponsible fathering stop? Would we be less apt to pull triggers? Would we find the self-esteem it takes to take control of our own destinies?
I think Tupac said it best:
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
Being real to our women, means being real to ourselves first. On “Fix My Life” those brothers were real to themselves. When we do, that’s when the healing starts.