The “New” Black Father
Waddup. I’m a father. A proud father to a 2 month old bundle of princessy, fairy magical dust. Last night, her mother opened up a box revealing a new purse purchase. So, we did what any normal, practical parents would do, and placed our daughter in the purse and had a photo shoot.
I take a lot of pictures of Lilah. A lot. When she’s sleeping. When I’m rocking her and pointing at colors and light. When I’m reading New York Times articles to her. There’s also a lot of singing involved. Right now, one of her favorites is Anderson Paak’s “The Bird”. Throw that jam on, and start clapping, and her body wiggle like she’s about to hop on a Soul Train line. Well played, ladybug, well played. She seems to dig Afro-beat. Charlie Mingus’ “Savoy Sessions” project is a good, steady “I’m fitting to get down on this sleep” album for her. I talk to her a lot — about her dreams and mine; the aspirations I have for her, about my day. Changing her diaper has become a sort of dance we do where she coos and laughs while I create A, B, C type melodies for her to smile to while I gently lift her chubby legs to wipe poop and pee from off her tush, realizing that the reversal may be true when I’m 85 and she’s a sturdy 52. Hopefully, she’ll sing Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” to me. I really love that song.
My man Tyron, he has dates with his daughter on weekends. A few months back, they were out in Austin, TX while he recorded an episode for his podcast. He had a live recorded version of his podcast this past January, and she introduced him to the stage. She also clowned me hard for my tote bag that looked like I stole it from the Salvation Army’s trash bin. There’s a picture on Instagram of them skateboarding together. My brother Dwain used to call my niece “the Chubbster”, because chubbiness. He takes her to dance class. Shahkeem takes his son to art galleries. These are the Black fathers I know. There are countless: Geoff, James, Skee… brothers I know who are diligent, and maybe even downright militant, about the love they have for their offspring.
These fathers walk their children to school. Boola used to cut my hair. Biggs has children who aren’t his but loves them like his own. The Los Angeles Times reported on the CDC’s findings that practically debunk the absentee Black father stereotype. Pantene has begun running videos of NFL fathers with their daughters. La Guardia Cross makes videos where he inteviews his toddler. These are real fathers, present fathers, finding ways to be active participants in the lives of their children. Artists, like photographer Zun Lee, have found beautiful and creative ways to put on display that Black fathers are fully integrated in their children’s lives with his photo exhibit “Father Figure”, where the viewer is given a glimpse of the relationships and bonds between father and child.
There are other examples of artists like Common and Jay-Z and Kanye West, who have dedicated verse after verse and song lyric after song lyric to their offspring; the White House is the present home to someone who many would possibly consider the template for modern Black fatherhood in Barack Obama. For too long, The Cosby Show, centered around a fictional father with fictional and idealistic family and career and values, shaped what Black culture may have considered redeemable and the purest of pure qualities needed in order to redefine and live what the portrait of a Black family can and should look like. Black fathers are no longer limited in either scope or range, whether that be the single father working two jobs to support his family, or the stay at-home dad changing diapers while wife/partner/co-parent are out pursuing their dreams. It is now cool in popular culture for men to beam about their children in public, in ways that could have never been imagined even several years ago. Black fathers are finally embracing the role of dad as not just a breadwinner, but as caretaker, as friend, as a teacher. Black fathers are also redefining what fatherhood, and in conjunction, what masculinity means to them.
I will learn how to do my daughter’s hair. I will dance with her after her vows are read. We sing to each other when she’s being bathed. Diaper changes have become testing grounds for new melodies. I will teach her the power held in words. I will show her that masculinity can be as soft as her whispers. There will be play dates and tea time and I may have to dress up and that’s okay because that’s what fathers do…now.
Joel L. Daniels is a writer, actor, father, emcee and dreamer, and story-teller, born and raised in the Bronx. He was the recipient of the Bronx Council of the Arts BRIO Award for poetry, and his work has been featured in the Columbia Journal, The Boston Globe, Thought Catalog, The Smoking Section, Blavity, Huffington Post, BBC Radio, RCRD LBL, URB, BRM, AllHipHop, The Source, RESPECT, and HipHopDX. He's spoken/performed at the Apollo Theater, Joe's Pub, Rockwood Music Hall, Columbia University, The National Black Theater, NYU, Webster Hall, Pianos, and Brooklyn Bowl.