What the True Heroes of Fatherhood Really Look Like
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Family & Fatherhood

What the True Heroes of Fatherhood Really Look Like

The dads that make a difference are there for all of it, even the stuff that doesn’t get noticed

Shaka Senghor
Aaron Jay

A couple years ago, I was sitting in my garage listening to music when a car rolled up the driveway. It was my son’s mother, bringing him to stay with me for the weekend. I’d been without him for a few days. Though I’d gotten plenty of work done, seen friends and had the TV to myself, I knew something elemental was missing from my life.

With our co-parenting arrangement, his mother and I face this goodbye-hello-hello-goodbye all the time, but it’s only when my son is gone that I realize what a force of love he is and how much I miss it, and him.

There is a trope in our culture of the absent Black father and the sainted single mother, but the reality for so many of us is actually agony. Relationships end, and there are few courts or judges who, all things being equal, will land upon the father as the most appropriate parent. 

So we have learned to take the second shift, to acquiesce to the image of us as less than, as inadequate to the task of love. We are not inadequate to it. We yearn for it. But so often we find ourselves out in the garage of our lives, away from the main rooms, steeling ourselves for either loss or reentry. 

Those moments of waiting in the garage come to mind when I hear people talk about changing the narrative about Black men and fathers. For as long as I can remember, Black men have been seen as a threat or problem — America’s problem, Black women’s problem, each other’s problem — but nobody’s solution. 

We have sought out role models to disprove that narrative: athletes taking leadership on important social issues, Black entrepreneurs building billion-dollar companies from nothing. But as a Black man and father, I’ve realized that our biggest need is not to change the narrative of who we are. It’s about expanding it.

When I think of what it means to be a man and father, I think of the most mundane moments with my son. The moments when his mother drops him off and he rushes into my arms. When I cook two separate meals for us at night because my son is vegetarian. When I’m doing his laundry and folding his little socks and T-shirts.

These are the images of fatherhood that aren’t shown, especially for Black dads. Our culture tells us that we are to be heroes and providers — running into fires, getting the corner office, winning at life and showing our children what’s possible for them. Or we are villains — the ones who walked away or made nonstop trouble for the people closest to them.

When I think of men who embody that capacity, my uncle Chris comes to mind. Growing up, my siblings and I had no idea how much money he made or what he did for a living, but we always begged our parents to go over to his house. He made the most tender roast beef I’ve ever tasted. He would start impromptu DJ parties in the living room, playing the best of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and flexing his arms so that we could dangle off them. He even gave us the occasional sip of beer, something my siblings and I laugh about to this day.

I wish we could expand our narrative and tell the parts of our story that haven’t been told. I wish we could be remembered not only for our successes and failures but also for our ability to nurture and connect. 

Look at the men in your life — the dads, the uncles, the sons, the brothers — and you’ll see that narrative playing out in millions of unsung ways.

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