With all the adversities that Black America faces, Black fatherhood is an invaluable treasure, and seems to hold more importance now than it ever has.
According to statistics calculated by the KIDS COUNT Data Center – a project of the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation – approximately 66 percent of children are a part of single-parent families. Further, the National Center for Fathering published a recent report titled “The Extent of Fatherlessness” which notes that a disturbingly high 57.6 percent of Black children live in homes where the father is absent.
Thankfully, I never fit in either of the aforementioned statistical categories.
Indeed, the family is historically known as the one of the strongest institutions in the Black community, and I thank the LORD for the commitment, involvement and love of my father, my pops, my dad – Demetrius Dillard, Sr.
I’ll never forget a sad but heartwarming story my pops told me about never meeting his biological father. He said he made a vow to God at the age of 15 to never abandon his children if he were ever blessed with any. Instead of repeating such a seemingly common cycle in the Black community, he used his experiences as inspiration to reverse the stereotypes that hegemonic society place on Black fathers.
Another unique and valuable component of growing up with a father is that I was the only boy of five children. Considering that I’ve been around mostly females (four sisters and a mom equals five), it was immensely beneficial to my growth and development not only as a man, but as a Black man, to have an influential male figure, a mentor, a guide, an embodiment to set the example of what true manhood and fatherhood is.
Of the countless lessons my father taught me, there is one in particular that always stuck with me. When I was about 15 or 16, I vividly remember him telling me there are three individuals I should never lie to. First, he said, never lie to God (which was expected). Secondly, I should never lie to those who are close to me, such as relatives, close friends, loved ones, etc., because some of them can read my emotions and countenance pretty well at times. And thirdly – which he said was the most important – was to never lie to myself.
The simple-yet-cogent message of always remaining true to God, others and self will forever resonate in my heart, and I most certainly plan to pass the same lesson to my son(s) if I’m ever blessed with any.
My father was more than a someone to shoot hoops and pay catch with; to debate the NBA, NFL and boxing with – he was and is a man of integrity I will look up to, though I’m 6-foot-3 and he’s 6-foot-2.
Booker W. Edwards, Jr., a distinguished scholar, authored an article entitled “Absent black father’s effect on the black males’ development” (1996). In the essay, Edwards primarily addressed the direct relationship between the absence of the Black father and the problems of the young Black male.
“The problems among young black males’ stem from many areas such as lack of occupational opportunity, low self-esteem, living in a violent environment, drugs, etc. The root of the problem of black males may be the absence of the father in the black family,” wrote Edwards in his introduction.
“The relationship between the absent father and the problems of the young black male is definitely a strong one. Black males need strong black fathers as models in which to live their lives. They need them for their self-esteem, because without them they are missing a part of themselves. The absent black father tends to turn into a cycle among black males.”
Reading the numerous problems Edwards identified in Black America which resulted from fatherless homes impelled me to appreciate my childhood even more.
Admittedly, my childhood was not easy, but having a Black father present made every moment of it meaningful.
As I become more socially conscious, I am growing to understand the true importance of Black fatherhood, a theme that Edwards communicated in his scholarly piece.
“The family is the foundation of our existence; and, if it falls, so do we,” Edwards concluded.
Demetrius Dillard is a recent graduate of Winston-Salem State University and a North Carolina-based freelance writer.