It’s gonna be another tense weekend in black social media land, thanks to posts like:
“Happy father’s day to all the real daddies holding it down!”
“Any boy can make a baby, but it takes a man to raise one.”
“Happy father’s day to the mothers who are doing both jobs!”
And allllllll the clapbacks such posts generate.
Last month, even my brother poked a little fun at these, writing:
“Happy mothers day to all those dads doing it all. Sound silly right, lol!!!”
Truth be told, a growing number of unmarried black fathers are raising sons and daughters in the same home. According to statista.com, these households have nearly doubled from 472,000 in 1990 to just over one million in 2016, although they still pale in comparison to those headed by black single moms – over 4 million in 2016. (Note: these statistics do not state how many unmarried heads of household live with their children’s other parent and raise their children together.)
Nonetheless, I think most people would agree that it sounds silly to wish single dads a happy mother’s day, implying that they are “both the mother and the father.”
Any parent who shoulders the responsibility of raising kids without the other parent’s involvement deserves plenty of praise, encouragement and support. But that doesn’t make a father become a mother, nor a mother, a father.
We could chalk this double standard up to the unique role biological mothers play in physically growing and giving birth to a child, which no man has yet been able to do. But when someone wishes a woman happy father’s day, they are obviously referring to the parenting role, not the biological one.
So theoretically, a man could “mother” his children if a woman could “father” hers, right? What does it mean to “mother” or “father” a child beyond one’s biological contributions, anyway?
Enter the traditional gendered division of parenting duties.
Mommies are “supposed to be” nurturers: keepers of the cuddles, the milkies, cooking, cleaning, boo-boo fixing, self-sacrificing saints.
Daddies are “supposed to be” providers and disciplinarians: keepers of the bank account, toolbox, and the belt (if you believe in spankings, which is a topic for another day).
If the traditional gender roles work for your family, I’m not knocking it. If your family is more fluid in who is “supposed to” do what, that’s great too! There are all kinds of family structures in today’s society beyond the two-parent heterosexual model.
I’m just suggesting that people may call a single female parent “the mother and the father” when she has to give the cuddles and the whoopings, fix the boo-boos and the bike chains, bring home the bacon and fry it.
That still doesn’t explain why dads who “do it all” don’t get the same dual-celebration. Why don’t people post similar messages around mother’s day targeting moms who let someone else raise their kids?
The double standard, in my opinion, is rooted in attempts to diminish the importance of black fathers and a father wound felt deeply by many in our black society.
Full disclosure: I did not set out to write a “negative” post for father’s day. I intended to briefly acknowledge the obstacles that complicate our celebration of black fatherhood and then go on to actually celebrate black fathers and father figures. I know some great ones, after all, including my brother with the jokes.
The CDC reported that black fathers are more engaged in caring for their children than fathers of any other racial group in America. And Josh Levs, author of All In, stated that more black children live with their fathers (2.7 million) than not (1.7 million).
But we have been fed many statistics to suggest that absentee fatherhood is the overwhelming norm in black families. In his hit sitcom, Chris Rock often pointed out that his daddy was the only one on their block.
The absence of biological fathers or healthy father figures has been linked to so many negative outcomes that seem to be rampant in black society: juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, violence, promiscuity, poor performance in school, seeking love in harmful or self-defeating places and the list goes on.
Lots of people have complicated, even painful relationships with their mothers, but there is an enormous amount of unhealed anger, pain and disappointment attached to black fatherhood, especially in the last 30-40 years.
I’m talking about children and mothers who were abandoned by their fathers, or the fathers of their children – not simply because the relationship ended, but because the men moved on and never looked back. Children of incarcerated or murdered fathers. Men, women, and children who grew up with abusive, unreliable, or emotionally unavailable fathers, step-fathers, or father figures.
Some black fathers are nursing injuries as well. Some have been cut out of their children’s lives because of vindictive exes/baby mommas. Others are angry because the courts seem rigged to give custody of their children – and a hefty sum of their paychecks – to their exes.
When a man is struggling financially, and he finds it difficult or impossible to provide for his family, the same gender roles often linked to “toxic masculinity” and “patriarchy” quickly come back into focus. The realities of a white supremacist system and mass incarceration don’t lessen the expectations: a man who can’t support his family or at least make a substantial contribution often loses respect. He is not considered a “real man” and may even be labeled a leech or a deadbeat. If his kids’ mom seeks public assistance to support the family, the government is likely to come after him for repayment, putting him even further in the hole.
Even if these experiences are not the actual norm in our communities, the pain of them has come to dominate the discussion about black fatherhood. Rather than just dismiss or diminish the importance of the father, who is still required in order to create new human beings, I hope we will devote more time and energy to healing our individual and collective father wounds, celebrating the great fathers among us, establishing male mentoring to increase the number of healthy and involved fathers, and restoring balance in our families.
P.S. Happy Father’s Day!