As we look to celebrating the men in our lives on Sunday, June 17, there’s no doubt the role of the father has a complicated history in the African American culture. While acknowledging these complications, we look to offer hope, support and encouragement to men who are seeking ways to show up in the lives of their children–whether they are toddlers or adults. And we are ever grateful for those who have become “father figures” and cared for the village. Truly, we all benefit from healthy relationships with male figures.
We hope the features in this week’s edition of the Chicago Defender will provide inspiration and help to fathers, and help them realize that they matter to their children and to our community.
Papa is more than a rollin’ stone. The lyrics from The Temptations’ poignant musical hit painted a picture of a father who was not a contributing member of his family. While this can be the reality for some, Papas truly do matter in their children’s lives. Fatherhood is a highly important role in child development; one that frequently takes a secondary role to that of motherhood–in popular culture.
According to Cooper (2015), the larger public has unfortunately focused on the absence of Black fathers in their families. While some studies have demonstrated social and structural limitations of Black fathers’ involvement, this notion needs to be reframed. Boyd-Franklin (1989) suggests that because of the many misperceptions, Black fathers are the most misunderstood members of African American families by the general public. Some fathers are viewed as absent, while others are viewed as uninvolved. Many Black fathers have been plagued by historical issues rooted in economic marginalization and physical and psychological enslavement. Further, portrayals of Black men in the media often reflect lifestyles that contribute to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes (McAdoo & McAdoo, 1997). To strengthen the role of the Black father, these stereotypical roles need to be challenged.
Boyd-Franklin explained that many Black men are often involved in an egalitarian way in child rearing and decision making about children. It would be a serious mistake for the public to assume that because a Black father does not live at home, he is not involved with his children. Research shows that in Black families, many fathers do play an active role which leads to their children having better competence in language and increased cognitive ability (Block, Dubowitz, & Starr, 2003). Black fathers who play with their children have more child-centered households and have fewer behavior problems. In fact, contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that Black fathers have similar involvement with their children as do fathers from other ethnic groups (Cooper, 2015). Studies have also indicated that Black fathers’ involvement leads to positive influences on their children’s social competence, and overall psychological well-being.
In some families where the father may be absent or unavailable, it is important that others step up to fill the void left behind. Men in the community can help shoulder some of the paternal responsibilities. Children benefit from the modeling of a father or father figure to help them feel connected and learn lessons that will help strengthen their lives.
Black fathers have an opportunity to rewrite the script that has defined them for so many generations. By finding ways to play a meaningful role in their children’s lives, whether by telling their children stories at bedtime, singing with them, praying with them, sharing a hug, praising them for their achievements and comforting them when they stumble, the Black father can further elevate his place in his child’s life.
So, yes, dads do matter and in spite of adversities, they can be a rock in the family.