Fatherhood is a lifestyle. Fatherhood should not just something that you get to do after work, on the weekends or when you are allowed to by the courts or the mother. Fathers live for the betterment of the lives of their children. It is very disturbing that we live in a society that has bestowed the title of ‘father’ so haphazardly within our society on generally self-centered men. Self-centered men are daddies. Family-centered men are fathers. The two terms embody two different ideals, actions and mindsets. Yet, in our society, daddies and fathers have become interchangeable. So in a society used to the presence of ‘daddies’, it is of little surprise that ‘fathers’ have become like unicorns.
As a community activist and executive director of a nonprofit organization, I am often called to meetings, lunches and sometimes speaking engagements. Towards the end of May, I was asked to give a speech at a middle school. As usual, I put my suit on and my entire family came out for support. Then just before I was slated to take the stage, my wife, handed me my four month old son, as she escorted our six year old to the restroom. I took a few minutes and walked around the football field. The stares and awes that I garnered from children, teachers, administrators and local city officials, made me cringe. I felt like a unicorn. It was as if people had never seen a man, in a suit peacefully holding a baby. Maybe they were used to men looking uncomfortable, staring impatiently in the direction that the mother walked off to or the child crying hysterically. But, it wasn’t uncomfortable for either of us. We were peaceful, present and bonded. For us, this was our normal. This is fatherhood.
Fatherhood is a lifestyle. I learned throughout the years about the true definition of fatherhood. I like many was under the foolish impression that children require presents the most, they do not. Children don’t require presents from a father; they require the presence of a father. This is not just about physically being there but mentally as well. Some men are there in the home but mentally they are at work, in the sports games, in the television show, in the drama, in their past or so deep into their dreams of the future that their children have to fight for their attention. These types of households should be included when we use the term ‘fatherless home’. Children who grow up in these types of households often do not fare much better than those who grow in single parent households. Fatherhood requires being present. Therefore, after years of practice being a father, not a daddy, giving the additional attention to a newborn and allowing my life to be interrupted by his brother, the next decision to sacrifice and let their mother take the lead was effortless because it too is part of fatherhood.
Fatherhood is family centered, not children centered. Mothers are as much as a part of the family structure as the children. There are times when supporting the mother is imperative for the betterment of the family as a whole. Sometimes that support requires deep sacrifices. For my family that time is now. My wife is in the final year of her doctoral studies in entrepreneurship. This beautiful, brilliant and amazing woman passed her comprehensive exams while seven months pregnant. I am proud to say that we are a team. Our game is building a life of peace and purpose for our entire family. Our scorecard is the happiness of our children. As a Mother and a father, we understand this. It breaks my heart to see others struggle with this concept.
The agreement that allows her to work more, while I have adapted my schedule to see to the children has led to some very interesting comments from family, friends and strangers who give me strange looks. Though, the image of a man dressed in business casual attire, wearing a baby carrier, using one hand to hold a bottle full of breast milk, the other to send an email, while his phone is propped between his ear and shoulder produces some interesting looks. Those looks range from admiration to sorrow as if I am either a dedicated dad out of his comfort zone doing the mother a favor for the day or lonely widower. I see it. I feel it and I am I am not amused. I am a father just being a father but often society looks at me as if I am a unicorn.
Am I a unicorn because of a society ignorant of its own patriarchy? Patriarchy views at the father as a boss who issues commands, rules, assigns roles and makes the ultimate decisions for the family. However, the true role of a father is that of a leader, not the boss. Leadership inspires the best of all members of the team without restricting their roles and duties. When a father assumes the role of leader he understands that the greater good may not at all times be him or his work. A father as true leader goes right in the face of patriarchy. To see a mother sacrifice her needs, work, or ambitions for the sake of a father agrees with patriarchy. If it had been a mother multi-tasking, society would not bat an eyelash. However because of patriarchy, when father’s do it, it is cute, awe inspiring or even tragic. They are unicorns.
Am I a unicorn because of a society ignorant of its own sexism? The thought of what women aren’t supposed to do, is still very pervasive in our society. The very idea of gender roles should sicken our society but it does not. Nothing was more heartbreaking that listening to the sexism in the remarks from those upset when a study revealed a growth in the percentage of women whom are the primary breadwinners in their household. Some of the remarks bordered on outright statements those women should all be stay at home mothers and imply that women lose much of their femininity simply by working. In that same sense, the men in these households lose and equal amount of their masculinity. Sexism assigns roles as a matter of identity. True fatherhood flies in the face of sexism because in fatherhood, there are no roles just things that need to be done for the betterment of the family. When a father shuns gender roles, he frees his family from the shackles of sexism. The family is better for it. It grows and when others see them they wonder why they seem so happy and perfect. To them, such families seem like a group of unicorns prancing in a meadow.
In case it was not apparent in the picture, I am black. I would be doing a disservice not to question if the image of me being a father flies in the face of racism. Are we living in a society so steeped in racism that a black man being a father and not a daddy, has become so uncommon that it has become strange? If so, it is sad. Are all black men supposed to be self-centered, athletic coaches, payers of child support and frequent buyers of expensive clothes on the weekends and special occasions? Do we all need Maury to tell us whether or not we are responsible for raising our children? The stereotypes regarding black men and true fatherhood, stem from racism.
When you see Will Smith or President Obama questioned, ridiculed or attacked for how they choose to raise their children or adjust their schedules to accommodate their wives, it is steeped in racism. Bruce Jenner and former President Bill Clinton are rarely the subjects of such scrutiny. The same racism that commonly asks where the father is when black teens and adolescents go astray, goes silent when the same or worse acts are committed by white children. Does anyone ask about the whereabouts of the fathers of Adam Lanza or James Holmes in the same way in which absentee fathers and single mothers are blamed for the violence in inner cities? Thank you.
Racism says that black men are not fathers. Racism is used to black men being daddies, but not fathers. Racism says that black men do not want to be fathers. To see a black man lead his family by supporting them through self-sacrifice, flies in face of every racist stereotype imaginable. I am not supposed to be smart enough to understand the postpartum depression that occurs among women who are not allowed to continue on the career paths. I am not supposed to be so selfless, that I put the needs of my family before my own. I am not supposed to give my children a sense of self-worth by my continued presence but by the presents that I can purchase for them. I am not even supposed to love their mother but treat her disrespectfully at all times. In a sense, I, as a black man, am not supposed be a father.
I choose to be a father. I love this lifestyle called fatherhood that I have chosen. Fatherhood chooses to shun racism, sexism and patriarchy by supporting a family in all ways that it needs to be supported right now. When you see fathers out in the wild being fathers, do not look as us as if we are unicorns. We are not special because we look across the meadows and we see each other every single day. Hopefully, you will now see more of us, and less horses with party hats.
This post is part of the Fathers on Family Leave Blog Carnival.