Any black man still smarting from the daddy issues President Obama is prone to air before huge black gatherings can stop feeling underestimated and underappreciated — briefly, at least — thanks to a new fatherhood study.
The recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showing black fathers spend more time rearing their children than white and Hispanic fathers makes great strides toward presenting a more balanced picture of the black family.
“Black fathers (70 percent) were most likely to have bathed, dressed, diapered or helped their children use the toilet every day compared with white (60 percent) and Hispanic fathers (45 percent),” the study says.
A higher percentage of black fathers (27 percent) spent more time shuttling their kids to activities than white fathers (20 percent). Moreover, more black fathers helped the children living in their home with homework every day for the past month (41 percent) compared with Hispanic dads (29 percent) and white ones (28 percent).
Black family life was caught recently in the crosshairs of FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly on the subject of black children’s 72 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate. Yet it is actually Obama who is emblematic of the people and attitudes that persist in painting a one-sided picture.
Take Obama’s commencement speech at Morehouse College in 2013. Raised by a single mother like so many of today’s children who represent the mighty problematic 72 percent, Obama trotted out that “no-excuses” trope about not blaming racism for poor outcomes and his common refrain about absent black fathers. In a space full of young black men, many of whom carry their father’s name or their father’s father’s name, the Jr.’s and III’s and the rest were treated to a reprimand instead of a graduation speech worthy of their efforts, exhorting them to excellence.
On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with Obama saying, “Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”
But that speech, like the one years earlier at Chicago’s Apostolic Church of God, infantilized black men. In those moments, in those places, he chose to talk down, rather than up, to a cohort of individuals who represent everything right about being young, gifted and black in America. He did it again when he told the Congressional Black Caucus to take off their house slippers and get to work.
Yet, this CDC study shows what so many black men are too busy to say for themselves: They are doing the work. The village that delivered those 500 Morehouse men to the schoolhouse door included male residents. That journey required a strong moral core, sense of self-control and personal responsibility.
Today, any discussion of the black family is prone to be crowded out by recognition of black mothers for obvious reasons. The celebration is so palpable men are being nudged out of Fathers’ Day celebrations by single mothers not shy about donning the mantle of “father” on that day and Mothers’ Day.
So while black fathers suffer a higher proportion of shrinking job opportunities than every other group, while daily dealing with ridiculous notions about them (think: trying really hard to appear nonthreatening in corporate elevators), they shoulder the whole burden of those crushed by the inability to cope and go poof. Instead of side-eye looks, these men represent the need for policies, like raising the minimum wage, to boost the chances of sharing a home with their children — the “secret” ingredient in father-child interaction success.
The lesson here is the story of the black family doesn’t belong to the man who is absent. It belongs to the man who is there. It belongs to my late Uncle Bill Windham, a steel worker who never had biological children but who raised his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and anyone with the good sense to listen to his wise words or pattern themselves on his working ways.
It belongs to the boy next door, now Joe Tucker, a Detroit police officer whose Facebook page carries the gamma-ray glow of father-and-son selfies taken with little Joe — my daily moment of Zen.
It belongs to my brother-in-law, a silent hero, who firmly guides my nephew in the way he should go, and my friend Jonathan, the most “there” dad I know.
In establishing a working definition of fatherhood, CDC researchers Jo Jones, Ph.D,. and William Mosher, Ph.D., included biological, adoptive, step-dads, and men raising children with live-in partners. Every fatherhood influence was accounted for to acknowledge and document the critical role men of all stripes play in rearing children.
“Not all men are biological fathers, and not all fathers have biological children,” they said.
Which leads me back to the man who so achingly laments the father who wasn’t there but who was surely nurtured at many points by strong male figures in a father-like fashion if he would only take a moment to consider:
President Obama, who’s your daddy now?
Deborah Douglas is a Chicago-based writer and journalism lecturer at Northwestern University. She is also a facilitator for The OpEd Project, dedicated to amplifying diverse voices of women, youth and other underrepresented people.