It was the Spring of 2011 and I was three months into being a new dad to an adorable baby girl, the hardest (and best) job I’ve ever had. I was completely exhausted from the 2:00 a.m. diaper changes and had nearly bit off my tongue as I was subjected to maternal gatekeeping from my wife. But that’s what I had signed up for.
Then on a warm Los Angeles morning in April, it happened.
I took my daughter on a stroll to a local Starbucks. While we waited in line, a very pleasant white woman in her fifties (I mean, this is LA, so who the hell knows how old she really was) approached me and showered my little one with compliments regarding her unmistakable cuteness. Everything was completely on the level, but as soon as she received her drink, she hit me with this: “No offense, but it’s not often that I see Black men out with their kids, but it’s such a wonderful thing. No matter what happens, I hope you stay involved in her life.”
And then she left.
I remember sitting there with my mouth agape for a least a five-count while she walked off, having blessed me with a fine bit of “whitesplaining.” It was stunning. In the NFL, many rookies share that being on the receiving end of a bone-jarring tackle was their “Welcome to the NFL” moment. That was my “Welcome to Black Fatherhood” moment.
I walked home with my daughter very slowly. My mind was racing. First I was confused. I thought: I don’t get it. Of course, I’m going to stay in my daughter’s life. Couldn’t she tell how invested I am in fatherhood just by my vibe? Then I was pissed. I thought: No way she would’ve hit me with that shit if I was a Dave Matthews Band T-shirt wearing white dude.
Ultimately, I tried to see the upside. I was better informed for having had the encounter. Well, I thought, at least I know what some white people think and expect from me as a dad.
Few things are more frustrating than being viewed as crappy at something solely based on a characteristic over which you have zero control — but in a way, it’s not surprising. If we surveyed the masses back in 2011 and asked them what their views of black fatherhood were, we would’ve heard words and phrases like “deadbeat,” “uninvolved,” and “great at making kids, but horrible at taking care of them.”
The bottom line, however, is I know a lot of Black dads and all of them are amazing. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be friends with them if they weren’t because we would have nothing in common.
I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I pride myself on being a good human and raising good humans. I was bullied mercilessly as a kid and still feel the aftershocks today. Even as a college student (long before I had a desire to be a dad), I thought to myself, Of course I want to raise the smart kid, the athletic kid, etc., but I’ll be damned if I raise the mean kid. In a world that is getting nastier by the minute, I teach my five- and eight-year-old daughters that true toughness comes from being kind. And if you haven’t paid attention, there are a lot of reasons why a Black man in America can be bitter, but I’m choosing not to be. I’m choosing to raise my girls not to harbor bitterness as well.
In turn, my daughters have taught me what it’s like to be a girl in America. Don’t get it twisted — I’m not one of those dudes who needed a daughter to come into my life to become aware of misogyny. What I became more keenly aware of, however, was how deeply-rooted misogyny is in America. Similar to how many white folks don’t understand how deep-rooted racism is in America until they listen to the stories of Black people. Now I’m doing whatever I can to stop misogyny and racism, but that’s a story for another day.
Shortly after my experience at Starbucks, I decided to start an account on Instagram dedicated to showing that involved Black dads (God, I hate the “involved dad” term, but it works here) aren’t unicorns. Eventually the feed transformed into what it is today — a celebration of fatherhood regardless of race. But at least now people can scroll through, see a collection of Black men from all over the world loving their kids, and think, I guess this isn’t as rare as I thought.
Don’t just take my word for it. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) surveyed men with kids under the age of five and asked how many of them took part in common parenting tasks (bathing, changing diapers, potty training, etc.) on a daily basis. Black dads topped the list by a sizable margin at 70 percent, followed by white dads (60 percent) and Hispanic dads (45 percent). Does that mean Black dads are the best dads in America? No. Dads are dads. There are good ones and bad ones. This certainly means, however, that the narrative that Starbucks Stacey/Latte Linda/Caffeinated Cathy and others like her may believe isn’t remotely close to the truth.
Although my roadblocks on the fatherhood freeway may be different than some of yours, it’s important to note that we’re all heading to the same destination: that wonderful mountaintop where we raise tiny humans into happy, kind, productive adults without messing them up too much in the process. Let’s get there together.