Black Fathers Matter

A few days ago, I watched attorney L. Chris Stewart at a press conference addressing Rayshard Brooks’ murder. Chris looked tired. He was angry. Exasperated. He had just left Brooks’ family home where his daughter still had on her birthday dress, preparing to go out to celebrate with her father, unaware that a few hours earlier, he had been shot to death by a now ex-APD officer. She was excited, looking forward to spending a milestone with her father.

Giana Floyd atop Stephen Jackson’s shoulders

Not weeks earlier, I watched Giana Floyd sitting atop Stephen Jackson’s shoulders remark that “Daddy Changed the world!” She was smiling. Of course she was sad. She missed her father. But what struck me in that moment was how proud she was of him.

What seems like an eternity ago, twitter had a field day with a photo of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna discussing what we assume to be basketball strategies while watching a game.The memes were hilarious because it was so…Daddish. Kobe earnestly and Dadfully explaining something to a slightly skeptical but loving child.

Less than a month later both father and daughter were killed in a helicopter accident. There’s not a lot of good that comes from premature death. Especially when we’re talking about children. But if there’s anything at all positive to take from the tragedy, it’s that our last memory of Kobe wasn’t him dominating on the basketball court, veins filled with ice as he drained a three. Unflinching as Matt Barnes tries to intimidate him. It’s him being a goofball know-it-all Dad doing his best to help his child be her best. And at this moment, Kobe was at HIS best.

Being a father is in many ways the best we can be as men. All of our other accomplishments will fade and be forgotten over time. But what we do to train and educate and love and support the children in our care will live long after we are gone. The children in our care may be our own, they may be others’, they may be simply children we spend a little bit of time with, but leave imprinted with a wisdom, or a new skill, or an idea.

The time we live in will require much of us as fathers. I’m deeply worried about an uncertain world in which our kids may not have a stable school life. They’ll be growing up in what could be a repeat of the Great Depression. We’re experiencing a period of social upheaval that has ripped the band-aid off of our racial and economic wounds. For black fathers and the fathers of black children, we labor under the burden of decreased economic opportunity, increased police brutality, and the responsibility to keep our children safe and healthy in a world set up to make it harder for them.

My son is 8. He’ll be 9 soon. He’s growing out of his little kid body and into a boy body. Long lean, athletic. Soon ,he’ll be a pre-teen, then a teen. I’ve known I’d have to have this conversation with him since the day he was born. But you never really know how to do it the first time. I sat my son down that day and talked to him about George Floyd. I’d rather have been celebrating the possibilities of the future after we watched the SpaceX launch. It’s a difficult thing to do to talk to an 8 year old about. It’s hard to find the right words, to frame it the right way that the people hired by the state to enforce the law sometimes kill people out of malice. And that other people make rules to try to make sure there are no consequences for that. You’re caught between not wanting to scar your child with the unvarnished horrible truth, but also not wanting to raise him to be willfully blind to reality. And more importantly, not wanting the comfort of naivete to put him in danger. I wish I could imagine this was the end of these conversations rather than the beginning of them, but I doubt it will be.

So this week, let’s celebrate the Dads in our community. Let’s let them know we appreciate what they do and what they’ve done. And what they’ll be asked to do. Let’s let them know that Black Fathers Matter.

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