Good Black dads are doing their job,
now let’s do ours
With 70 million fathers in the United States, let’s celebrate the man who isn’t there. By that I mean the dad whose story doesn’t loom in the public imagination but who toils in thankless anonymity because of our stubborn insistence on a false narrative of fathers, especially Black ones.
In more than 400 years, we have not gone far enough beyond the stories of fathers as sires of children (and work that does not pay). We most often see of Black dads cast as deadbeat.
These dads live below the radar in low-wage jobs or may languish in prisons at alarming rates. Black men typically earn $250 less each week than white men. They graduate at a lower rate (69 percent) than white males, and even when they have college degrees, their educational investment is not valued in the marketplace. Black men are six times more likely to be locked up at some point, a tragedy considering conventional wisdom that mass incarceration is a big public policy mistake. Add to that the fact these men eventually come home to be reintegrated into broken families and communities, and face a lifetime of disenfranchisement.
With more than 20 million children living in fatherless home, the reason has been boiled down to simply the will or ability of the dad to get involved in his child’s life.
This is simply not true.
During his administration, Bill Clinton launched a responsible fatherhood program through HeadStart. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have championed the role and responsibility of fathers by promoting marriage and supporting programs to boost earnings. With millions spent on government programs to strengthen the roles of fathers in families, we still have a long way to go, and it would help to get the story straight.
Like many Black men, my brother has been cast as one of the nation’s underperforming dads. In reality, he is closer to a dead-broke dad or a dead-dream dad. After working the same job for more than 20 years, he has never reached the $15 living wage though employed in a back-breaking job and supporting three children.
He defies stereotype as one of the 2.5 million Black dads who live with their children. According to the CDC, Black dads are more involved with the daily activities of their children including play, overseeing homework and eating meals compared to dads from other racial groups.
In “Doing the Best I Can,” Johns Hopkins scholars Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson tell a more nuanced story of Black fatherhood. Among dads they interviewed, fatherhood was a sweet spot, a pure blessing in an often-downward spiraling life. In the early years of their children’s lives, nine in 10 reported being involved with their children. As the years passed only one-third stayed involved for a number of complicated reasons. In many situations, the relationship with the mother faded, and these dads moved on to raise other children with limited financial and emotional resources.
Increasingly, fathers of all types agree on a more expansive definition of fatherhood: According to Pew Research, Blacks and Whites agree on the importance of being a moral teacher, emotional comforter and disciplinarian. Blacks were also more likely to value the importance of both fathers and mothers to provide financial support for their families.
This year, my brother deserves to be recognized on Father’s Day among dads who have silently contributed by taking on thankless jobs that keep our worlds intact. It is often said workplace reforms aimed at women often overlook working-class and minority women: The same can be said of Black and Brown dads.
Instead of offering a card or a tie, this Father’s Day let’s consider how we can do more to both challenge fathers to be their best, while creating the conditions — at work, at school, in our communities — to do so.
Stephanie Boddie, Ph.D., is a research associate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and visiting scholar at University of Pennsylvania.