I grew up in a two-parent household. My mom and dad married less than two months before my second birthday, and they have been married ever since. On July 6, they will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.
My father has had and continues to have a strong influence on my life. His mother nicknamed him “The Professor” because he had an appetite for knowledge. He was constantly reading and sharing his knowledge with others. When I saw LeVar Burton on “Reading Rainbow,” it reinforced what I was already experiencing in my life.
When I became an educator 14 years ago, I realized there was a negative stigma around the Black family, in particular, the Black dad. I would hear comments such as “He acts like that because he doesn’t have a Daddy,” or “They (Black children) need their fathers in their lives.” I heard educators perpetuating the myth of the absentee Black dad. However, research has shown that:
African-American fathers, when compared with other ethnic groups, have greater or similar levels of involvement with their children (Cabrera, Ryan, Mitchell, Shannon and Tamis-Lemonda, 2008; King, Heard, & Harris, 2004). Research also has suggested that there are important roles and contributions of African-American fathers, including influences on children’s school adjustment, social competence and psychological well-being (Downer and Mendez, 2005; McHale et al., 2006) … For instance, studies have indicated that, in comparison to white and Latino fathers, African-American fathers with sons reported the highest levels of engagement in caregiving and play activities (Leavell, Tamis-Lemonda, Ruble, Zosuls and Cabrera, 2012).
Black fathers are just as involved in their children’s lives as fathers of other racial backgrounds, yet people, including educators, assume Black fathers are not involved in their children’s lives. Fathers do not have to live in the same residence as their children to be involved. Fathers who reside outside of the home can be just as involved or even more involved than fathers who live with their children.
Even if a father is listed on the contact list for a student, teachers, many times, will call the mom first. Educators should engage mothers as much as fathers. Most fathers want to be involved. It is harder for them to be involved if they are not hearing from the school.
I know my father had an influence on my choice to become an educator. Even now, he gives me resources to read. For example, when National Geographic had an edition about gender, he gave it to me to read. He said it would be important for me to consider the information as it could have implications for the students I was serving. This is no different than how he was involved in my life when I was a student in school.
Then, I think about my husband. He is as active in our sons’ education as I am. He looks for opportunities for our children to participate in, so they can figure out what they enjoy. He told me he is replicating what his father did. My husband became interested in STEM because of the time he spent with his dad.
Black dads matter. Black dads are involved. Black dads want the best for their children. This father’s day, let’s move past the myth of the absentee Black dad.