The Myth of the Black Father or 'I Am Not a Babysitter'
It happens mainly when we are walking, or rather, I am walking and she is being pushed. Me, pushing her, could be compared to the feeling of the fire hydrants being opened on those heated pre-Summer days, right before the sun reaches it's peak and all the women in their sun dresses and dudes in their tank tops stand in front of stoops and brick buildings, letting the breeze do the magic thing it does when the temp is right.
She sounds like drums, when she laughs. How do kites sound? Do they have a sound? Flight has vibration too, the way wings and plane cut air, scissors in the carrying of their passage, sort of. Comparable to that, she could be, when her mouth opens. Canons, they erupt in my chest, the parts that recognize what it means to be alive like she is. It is easy to feel like an adlib with her, when it is just us. Elder Black women may smile. One time, a woman walked by me and said “good daddy”. I am working on being better at receiving praise. I have a tendency to try and deflect, to move away from it, like it didn’t happen. The countless brothers who dash by, the “God bless you’s” blending in with the bachata background filters.
Today, a woman, a Black woman, with what seemed to be a young teenage son in the backseat, rolled down her windows after I crossed the street pushing my daughter down some concrete, and stated, “good job” and drove away. Yes, there is a sense of pride I feel, knowing that the place in which such exclamations come from is that of respect and love, out of the adulation felt when both Black men and women, parents and grandparents alike, see a young Black father doing what fathers have been doing: fathering.
I am not an anomaly, nor a unicorn. I am not unique, nor am I worthy of a certain level of praise because I choose to be an active participant in my daughter’s life. The brother at the juice spot around my way once asked me if I was “babysitting” when I strolled in. I had to answer politely, “It’s not babysitting when the child is yours.” My stepfather and I shared a brief chuckle when he called me the “babysitter” and I kindly replied, “How do you babysit a child that’s yours?”
I was not always as present as I should have been. Early on, I struggled with finding the balance of being a co-parent, being an artist, and a new father; there is no learning curve, no instruction manual on how to deal, on how to manage your life once your child is here in this world. Books are not road maps or guides, but rather serve as a foundation to help build your own path towards fatherhood that best fits your situation; your needs and wants will differ based on location and circumstance. I have learned how to do little with less, how to examine and reexamine my flaws and weaknesses; fine-toothed combing and placing under microscopes the things I wish for her to never suffer. Selfishness will eat at your survival by pecking at the meat of your existence if you are not wholeheartedly committed to the rearing and raising of a young star. But, this is parenting, this is not JUST fatherhood or Black fatherhood; the whole lot of us have our own crosses and struggles to bear and carry for the livelihood of our little persons. Each time I feel fetishized in the street for being a Black father playing with his daughter or pushing her in a stroller, feeding her or carrying her, the weight of countless other nameless and faceless Black men who may be doing more than me with and for their children runs laps in and around my head — because we are not Halley Comet circling the cosmos; we are everyday nurturers, caregivers, washers of feet with nary a limb missed, dance recital video recorders, meal prep-ers, dress shoppers, diaper changers, crib builders, bedtime story book readers, body nestlers…the list goes on.
So, as much as I appreciate a well thought out and timed “good job” or “much respect” or “so glad to see this” from strangers, I do hope they understand that me and the rest of those who worry over both the minor and major details of their children’s lives aren’t do anything special besides what we know we are supposed to be doing: parenting. And, those shoes are not to be confused with those of a babysitter…sorry, not sorry.
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.