When I was small, I thought my father was invincible.
If a thing broke, he fixed it. Got lost, he found it. Needed doing, he did it. But he never did anything quietly, and he got it honestly. He has four sisters and one brother, and our family gatherings usually morphed into a battle for whose stories could elicit the most raucous laughter. They loved to tell tales of their own dad, who they remember as caring, funny, a hard worker, and an avid lover and defender of my grandmother. “He was the nice one,” they used to say.
Of the six children my grandmother and grandfather brought into the world, my dad was (and still is) the most prolific storyteller. Maybe it was because he had the wildest imagination, as evidenced by the legendary tale of Uncle Tom’s Pet Shop, a “business” he created when he was seven years old, which really just consisted of him taking dogs from people’s yards and walking them around the neighborhood, only to return them hours later. I recently asked him how long Uncle Tom’s Pet Shop was in business. In usual form, he quickly replied, “until I sold it!” Said another way, until he got busted!
Another reason I believe my dad told such vibrant stories is because he had the most fodder. In the seventies, he traveled the world with the hit singing group Tavares as their road manager. Their music was the soundtrack of my youth – Check it Out, Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel, a Penny for Your Thoughts. I have vague memories of being hoisted on stage as a prop for Tavares’ performances. ”Whodunit? Who stole my baby?” Bright lights scanned the audience, police sirens pierced the air. After looking high and low, they always found me, anxiously waiting to be snatched up into a pair of strong, familiar arms.
As a child, I was mesmerized by my father’s recounted experiences with Micheal Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Lola Folana, Jeffrey Osborne, and more. As I matured, it grew difficult to distinguish which of my father’s stories were true, and which were exaggerated versions of the truth. (I still don’t believe he cut Bobby Brown’s hair in Boston!)
As palpable as my own heartbeat was the constant rhythm of male love and protection I flourished in as a child, and then as a young woman. My father believed – and still believes -I can do anything.
I frequently say that my peaceful, pragmatic mother gave me roots, while my restless, dreamer father gave me wings. Early in my career, he never allowed me to feel satisfied with any one achievement. If I received a raise, he claimed it should be more. When I got promoted, he told friends and family I was “running Hallmark now.” During my working years with Maya Angelou, he boldly opined that I was the better writer. (To Maya Angelou fans, of which I am one: consider the source!)
My father’s vision for my life was always a step beyond my own. By repeatedly moving the target, he forced me to spread my wings and take leaps of faith into promising, yet unknown waters to prove I could be everything he believed I already was, and more. It’s an incredible responsibility to inspire, protect, provide for, and guide young, innocent children toward adulthood, especially as you are still growing into it yourself.
This is why when Father’s Day rolls around, and articles surface about black fatherlessness, I feel exasperated. I understand it as a reality many face within the black community. (To be fair, it happens in all communities, as does motherlessness.) That said, while it may be true for many, it’s not the whole story. Not even close. My reality, and that of many other black women and men I know, couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to the social dialogue that overshadows the devotion of an increasing number of black fathers who cherish their children.
I have a dad who gave me vision, then loved me into that vision. My father-in-law is one of the most gentle and fair human beings on the planet. The black son he raised – the one I’m married to – fathers our four sons and two daughters with respect, love, and humor, and sets a standard of excellence they strive to meet and exceed. The two boys I brought into this world look up to their biological father, who is present and accounted for, and with whom my husband and I share equal parenting time. Our other two boys enjoy the same supportive dynamic with their stepdad.
Our circle overflows with loyal, self-sacrificing, and energetic black fathers, and each defies the “deadbeat” stereotype in his own wonderful way.
These are the stories I want to hear, and the ones I want to help tell. If you have a tribute to a loving dad in your life, please share it with a photo and use the hashtags #trueblackfatherhood and #FathersDay. On Twitter, tag @trueMahogany, and on Facebook, tag Mahogany Cards. Let’s spread the love we know is alive and well, and collectively shout our admiration for the wonderful black dads who lift us up…and hold us down.
I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!