It is hard to explain what I lost when my father died. It is even more difficult to explain how much of him remains with me, even five years after his death.
As with many women, my father’s influence remains an enduring force in my life. For some of my friends, it’s a scar that threatens relationships and self-worth.
But I am one of the lucky ones.
For me, my father’s love continues to give me courage and confidence even without his physical presence. I have somehow learned to go on without his notes of encouragement, his bear hugs and his”just-to-say-I-love-you” phone calls. But what hasn’t changed is how often I still hear his words in my mind.
Whenever I experience disappointment, I can still hear him say the words I heard since I was a toddler:”I love you and I’m proud of you.” When things go well, I find my first instinct is to tell my father about my accomplishment. To this day, I sometimes reach for the phone before stopping myself, remembering he is no longer there.
As a child, I took my relationship with my father for granted. I assumed everyone had a dad who loved and cared for her.
As a teenager, some friends complained about being beaten by their fathers and their biting words. For the first time I realized my own father wasn’t like all the rest.
As an adult, I have learned how very special he was. Some of my friends spend countless hours in therapy just to let go of the pain caused by their fathers. And I now realize much of my mental and spiritual health was aided by my dad, a man who saw himself as nothing special but who never failed to make me feel like I was.
I marvel at the wisdom of a man who told me,”You deserve to be treated well,”thus enabling me to turn my back on boyfriends who were less than respectful and bullies in business who tried to intimidate me.
I am amazed to think of how often he told me I was beautiful, giving me a deeply rooted sense that I didn’t need to worry about how I looked or seek out men who cared mostly about physical attributes.
My intellect was encouraged, my business sense acknowledged. Never once did my father give me a signal that girls should act differently than boys. And yet by loving me as he did, he encouraged the development of my femininity.
Now I see that I have fewer fears about men than some of my women friends whose earliest encounters with the opposite sex created a sense of dread. And as a mother, I find myself raising my two boys with the goal of becoming men like my dad.
The impact of a father on a daughter is so great that I find myself preaching to my men friends about caring for their girls.
When I see a man stroking his daughter’s hair, I am tempted to say to him, “Do you know that the memory of your touch may get her through something 30 years from now?” And when I see a man ignoring or criticizing his girl child, I want to say, “Please stop and think how hard you will make life for her. Try to understand that your words today will echo through her mind over and over again.” My father never liked to have much of a celebration on Father’s Day. He always said being a dad was such a joy that he couldn’t imagine why anyone made a fuss about it.
But I now know that it is important to girls to make a fuss over their fathers. And it is especially important that fathers make a fuss over their girls.
A man’s relationship with his daughter is a complex mystery, a puzzle containing the possibility of lifelong confidence or disabling misery.
I am one of the lucky ones. This Father’s Day I celebrate the memory of a man who loved me so well he gave me a gift that continues on without him.
When I first found out that my wife was pregnant in early 2008, I immediately went into preparation mode.
The worst thing that I thought could happen to me at that point would be for me to get caught being unprepared as a dad. I was amazingly active in reading the pregnancy books with my wife, and knowing which milestones were coming up. I knew what the baby was doing in her tummy at all times.
As the months went on I even talked to people and listened to their stories about birth and parenthood. I heard more than a few stories about dads that were so overwhelmed by the miracle of birth that they passed out in the delivery room. As I watched the group laugh as the dad told that story, I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to be that dad. I had to do the research. I needed to be prepared and have no surprises in the delivery room, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I googled YouTube videos of childbirth! I sat and watched dozens of them until I could stomach the sight of this miracle without being the dad that passed out. Nobody wants to be that guy. I made it through the delivery on my own two feet and witnessed the birth of my first-born child.
I held her in my arms and shed a very manly, single tear. Just one. I didn’t wipe it at first I let it drop to about mid-cheek level to allow myself just a touch of vulnerability in the company of others. My first thought while holding her was a strange one. It was a bit morbid but very real.
I looked her in her squinty little eyes and I said to myself, “If I don’t take care of her, she will die.” The responsibility was mine at that moment. Since she couldn’t feed herself, I couldn’t forget to feed her, or she would die. Since she couldn’t roll over on her own, I couldn’t forget which side to lay her on, or she would die. When she started to roll over I had to be lightning fast to catch her from hitting the ground after she rolled too far off the bed. I had to take care of all of her needs, even beyond the physical. If I didn’t tell my daughter she was loved, lovable, and beautiful, and that her worth was high beyond anything that anyone else could afford, then she would die a spiritual and emotional death. I had to supply her needs. I could NOT afford to come up short.
On my quest for information and experiences from more seasoned parents, I heard from most, if not all of them, that no matter how prepared I was and how hard I tried, there was going to be something that I would get wrong. Something was going to slip through the cracks. I refused to accept my own mortality in this manner. I needed to find out what some of these fathers were not doing and do just that. One day it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s Dad’s job to be the “bad guy.”
Moms have an amazing amount of fanfare surrounding them and their day. The fanfare is much deserved for all that they do. You have heard the story of how she carried you for nine months and went through “x” amount of hours in labor. You’ve heard about how you destroyed her waistline and worried her half to death. You have been made well aware of the trials of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. You’ve heard it all. The moms know how to lay it on thick.
Moms hold you when it hurts, make sure you get that thing you want, move mountains and make things better. Moms get to be the “good guy.” That’s why Mother’s Day is always AWESOME! Flowers, candy, cards, commercials, months of anticipation, great and thoughtful gifts…Moms get the works. Father’s Day is just a month later, and I never know it’s coming until maybe two days before. Nobody reminds you. Nobody asks what you want more than a week out. Nobody buys big expensive gifts for Dad.
Do you want to know why dads famously get neckties for Father’s Day? It’s because they just want to make sure you have something to wear to work so there’s enough money to get Mom a really good present next year. Father’s Day could come and go and nobody would notice. Why? Well, nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.
Moms tell you that you can be anything you want to be, while dads get to tell you, “You can’t be an astronaut with straight D’s on your report card.” He wants to teach you how to work hard for your dreams because they won’t just come to you. Moms run out on the field with the Band-Aids and Neosporin when you scrape your knee in your soccer game. Dads get to tell you that you can’t quit the team just because you’re tired of it. He’s trying to teach you commitment.
Moms pick you up when you fall off of your bike, but dads make you get back on it even while you’re still in pain. He’s trying to teach you perseverance. Dad delivers the punishment, the butt whoopings, the taking of car keys, and the groundings. He tells you there’s no way you’re going outside looking like that. Dad is the “hater,” the skeptic, the lesson teacher, the long lecture giver, the layer of the smack-down, and Mr. I Told You So. Dad is the “tell me your plan” guy. Dad has to be the “You can’t date that guy” guy.
Dad has to diagnose dumb ideas and come up with better ones. Dad says, “Do it better,” and he has to tell you hard truths about yourself. And whenever you get to be a little too much for Mom to handle, how does she get you back in shape? She says, “I’m going to call your dad,” and you straighten up. You’ll thank Mom first at your graduation and while Mom is the reason you made it there, Dad is the reason you made it through. Dad is the enforcer. Dad is the bad guy, and nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.
So if you’re a dad and you’re sitting there a month after a spectacular Mother’s Day with an ugly tie fresh out of the package or getting ready to open a brand new Chia Pet, remember this… Being the bad guy isn’t just a job you take because nobody else wants it. It’s a calling. God fathers us the same way. God takes the blame for every bad thing we do to ourselves. This is what the great dads are made of. This is also why there just aren’t that many great dads. Nobody signs up to be the bad guy at a thankless job, but we’ve seen the statistics. Everybody needs a dad.
Nobody will admit it, but everybody needs someone to tell him or her the truth to their faces without blinking. No matter how hard or harsh that truth may be it must be told. So be Dad. In the midst of those that would kill the messenger, be Dad. This is not to say be hard on them for the sake of being hard on them. But in love, in fairness, and in honesty fulfill your calling. Don’t grieve your children but sharpen them and equip them for the things you see coming.
The Bible says, “For the LORD disciplines the one he loves, and He punishes each one he accepts as His child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT) Just as our Heavenly Father does we should discipline the ones we love. We should also remember the example of God when punishing the ones you love, and not forget to love the ones you punish. Be unwavering without being unforgiving. Listen before you say no, even when you know it’s going to be a “no”. Be strong and consistent in your love. Get on the cross for your children. Embrace being the bad guy. Be Dad.
As a single mother of two boys, we have serious work to do in the Black community and there are some very deep wounds festering among us. I sense hurt, resignation, resentment, anger, confusion, and emotional fatigue.
Though we may disagree on root causes and solutions, I believe there’s one thing we should all be able to admit: single parenting and the attendant and antecedent dynamics are longstanding and complex, especially as they relate to relational issues between Black men and women. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think I have at least some level of understanding of these issues, and a degree of empathy for both sides. So in that spirit I offer some words to us all.
It’s futile to attempt to dialogue on the issue of single mothers, their children, and the men who fathered those children, without speaking truth into the situation. So from that point I begin.
Some Hard Truths
1. Strictly speaking, mothers are not fathers. This is true whether the parents are married and raising a child together, or separated. The truth of this statement lies not only in function, but in form. To insist that somehow mothers can be fathers is to ignore some very basic realities.
Fatherhood, like motherhood, originates and is defined not just by what a parent does, but also by who the parent is. So then, gender is a foundational underpinning of parenthood. Men are fathers; women are mothers. Acknowledging this truth in no way minimizes or detracts from the unavoidable reality that there are some women who do things that we would traditionally associate with a male role in a child’s life, just as there are some men who perform some of the actions associated with a female role.
But there’s more to parenthood roles than what we do; indeed what we do, and how we do it, is bound to be influenced by who we are. For example, I can teach my son to shave or tie a tie. I can show him a razor, explain how to put the shaving cream on his face, what to do if he nicks himself, etc. I can cover all the technicalities of the process. His father can explain those same things to him, using exactly the same words I use. But it’s not just about the mechanical process; it’s equally about the nuances that come out while father and son are going through this ritual. His father can tell him about the first time he shaved, who helped him learn how to do it, how it feels to get razor bumps. As a man, his father can help our son identify as a man who now does things that other men do. These are things that as a woman, and by virtue of the fact that I am a woman, I simply cannot do. We desperately need to come to terms with this because as long as we resist this truth, we perpetuate a number of undesirable consequences. These are just a few of those consequences:
• We short-circuit the identity formation and development of our children. It’s important for kids to understand how men and women function differently in families and in society.
• We potentially rob fathers of the opportunity to fully grow and develop in their role. Sometimes all a man needs to step up is for the mother to step back … even just a bit will often be enough.
• As women, we overtax ourselves trying to fill roles we weren’t designed to operate in. If we are indeed the only parent in our child’s life, then of course there are actions we must do. But we can do them while acknowledging that as a woman, there will be something missing because we are not a man.
• Sometimes people and resources that could fill some gaps in our child’s life go untapped because we believe that we are indeed mother and father. Simply put, we don’t look for what we feel we haven’t lost.
2. Mothers and fathers both need to determine if they’re really putting the needs of their children first. I know this one is challenging. So much hurt and pain often passes between parents that our emotional baggage piles up on our sons and daughters, and we often don’t realize what’s happening. When fathers are absent or uninvolved, it causes an incredible strain on everyone involved, including grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members.
But the strain is equally damaging when mothers are hostile, resistant, or overstressed. Let’s commit to being better parents. We must ask ourselves some tough questions, for example:
• Am I willing to let the other parent perform his/her role in the way he/she wants to and is able to? Or do I insist that my child’s father/mother parent like I do?
• Do I pray for my child’s mother/father, that they will be the parent my child needs? Or have I made it difficult to pray because I have unresolved issues that I can’t let go of?
• Do I consistently support the other parent’s efforts, no matter how small I think they are? Or do I instead focus on what I believe the other parent leaves undone?
• Do I make every reasonable effort to overcome obstacles that challenge me as I try to be a good parent? Or am I making excuses for why I’m not taking care of business?
• Do I accept constructive criticism and feedback from the other parent on how I could make our relationship and interactions as parents healthier, and then work diligently, and without resentment, to address those issues? Or am I more interested in being right and winning arguments?
• Do I have a martyr complex? Do I find reasons to refuse help so that my child will see me as the better, more committed parent, and therefore shower more love on me? Or am I actively seeking the other parent’s input and suggestions with a true intention to work with him/her?
Pray, Think, Talk
There are, of course, many more questions that will give us insight on the position of our hearts. But the ones shared here can at least get us started on a road that leads to more transparent, effective parenting. In a future column, I’ll outline some additional ideas to keep the conversation going.
So, what do you think?
Do me a favor. Read this article all the way through, and then put it aside for 24 hours. During that time, pray about what you’ve read and how you feel about it. Ask the Lord to give you insight on what applies to you and what He wants you to do about it. Then read the article again. Please share your thoughts by commenting at any point in this process.
I love our community and I’m praying for us all.
LITTLE FOUNTAINS: The author, John Fountain, at age 3 with his younger sister, Gloria, circa 1964.
I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives—from my life at age 4—the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs.
The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water.
The God who held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements, by death and by hopelessness; who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be OK,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son.
I believe in God, God the Father, embodied in his Son Jesus Christ. The God who allowed me to feel His presence—whether by the warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or that voice, whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me (even when I was told I was “nothing”) that I was something, that I was His, and that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA and little else, I might find in Him sustenance.
I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father, as Abba-Daddy.
I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers. I thirsted for the conversations fathers and sons have about the birds and the bees, or about nothing at all—simply feeling his breath, heartbeat, presence.
I had been told about my father’s drinking problem and felt more than anyone the void created by his absence: from school assemblies where I received awards, at graduations and church plays and at all of those irredeemable moments that occur in a little boy’s life.
STILL DAD: “It didn’t matter that Daddy was ‘no good.’ What mattered was that he was my dad.”
Still, it mattered not that Daddy was “no good,” as I was told, nor that the physical portrait of him that had once existed in my mind by my teenage years had long faded. What mattered was that he was my dad. And I was his son.
That fact alone drew me to him. It also made paternal rejection my cross to bear.
As a boy, I used to sit on the front porch of our apartment, watching the cars roll by, imagining that eventually one day, one would park and the man getting out would be my daddy. But it never happened.
When I was 18, I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979, as I stood in a small church finally face to face with my father, lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled.
Killed in a car accident, John Fountain Sr. died drunk, leaving me hobbled by the sorrow of years of fatherlessness.
By then it had been years since Mama had summoned the police to our apartment, fearing that Daddy might hurt her—hit her—again. Finally, his alcoholism consumed what good there was of him until it swallowed him whole.
I had not been able to cry at his funeral. But sixteen years later, standing over my father’s unmarked grave for a long overdue conversation, my tears flowed. They flowed freely as I began to have that talk that I had always dreamed of having someday with my father.
Much of what I said at the gravesite that day remains a blur, though I do recall telling him who I was, telling him about the man I had become. I told him about how much I wished he had been in my life. But it was only those words that I found most liberating that I clearly remember saying:
“I love you, Dad,” I said, wiping away tears, “and I forgive you.”
With that said, I climbed into my car and drove out of Long Corner Cemetery, away from Evergreen, Alabama, away from death and back toward life. And I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He—God, the Father, God, my Father—had found me.
This post is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. For more information, visit WestSide Press Books.
I’d Rather Have You
By John W. Fountain
I’d rather have your breath
Have your touch
Just one day.
Rather see your face
Again and again with my eyes
Than imagine in my mind.
Rather have you here
Than have to seek to find.
Rather know your foibles
And love you in spite.
Never have to imagine with all my might.
I’d rather know your imperfections
Than be left with my own reflections of the man
I can’t see
And each September forget which day
Was the day you were born.
Instead I mourn
The man I never knew.
How much I’d give
How much I’d do
Just once to hear you
Just once to see you
Just once to be with you
To walk again hand in hand
To know and touch the man
Who is my father.
This poem is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood by John W. Fountain.
It’s time to raise our fists and build our momentum to fight against the stereotypical, dead-beat dad. Not the selfish, under-loving, narcissistic, self-proclaimed kings that are fathers at tax season and ghost during the year. The fathers who actually want to be ever-present in their children’s lives, but many women keep them at bay and force them to identify as dead-beats.
Oftentimes we hear about the vindictive SSM (Salty Single Mom) who feeds into an unfortunate, cultural stigma with the law at her advantage to satisfy the vengeance of her heart. And as a result of this, there are men who want to be dedicated fathers but are labeled as dead-beats by the SSM. And the worst part is the children suffer the most.
Now let’s be clear, this is not bashing the PSM (Powerful Single Mother) who is often forced to be both parents due to the absentee father. However, in this era of heavy women empowerment many members of our community often forget our men and seemingly render them unnecessary, which teaches our sons to fall back and not be the men we want them to be.
As women, we cannot continuously shame the willing fathers of our children, and then punish them for becoming what they were forced to become, worthless. Despite any conflict between these men and the SSM, we have to take a closer look at the dedicated fathers that have become who they can be in their child’s life.
What Has Daddy Become?
The Redeemed Father: After a bitter end to a relationship, this father will leave to seemingly never return, thus birthing a PSM. However, upon clarity, he returns to reestablish a healthy relationship with his child/children and cooperative relationship with the mother. This is usually met with apprehension because the PSM believes he does not want to pay child support, which is highly likely. Nevertheless, the father will make multiple attempts to repair the relationship so that he can be in his child’s life.
The Fight or Flight Father: When the relationship between the parents is toxic, this father leaves and is baited back into the relationship for access to the child/children. The household is usually shared and the SSM uses the needs of the children to draw the father back into the home. Unfortunately, with any argument, the father leaves and the mother begins a tirade of whining and threatening legal action such as child support or sole custody. Fortunately, when the father is home he is 100% dedicated to his children’s needs, but when he is gone his devotion is sporadic due to the nature of the relationship with the SSM.
The Gatsby Father: This theory is based off the book The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the main character Jay Gatsby throws elaborate parties to hopefully catch the attention of the love of his life. A Gatsby father is painted as allusive and inattentive by the SSM so that the children do not miss him. However, the father creates big situations such as social gatherings, theme park trips, gift giving and more that are tangible ‘peacock’ methods to show their devotion and love. Although this father is aware that gifts and spoiling are not the only way to show affection, these situations allow them a chance to have brief intimate moments with their child/children.
The Solo Soldier: According to the U.S. Census Bureau only 31.4 % of fathers have custody of their children, especially if they cannot prove the mother is unfit to be a full-time parent. In this circumstance, the SSM creates dramatic and spiteful situations that keep the child/children away from the father. Yet, through relentless communication, court battles, and meet-ups, this father will fight to have his child/children in order to protect them from any backlash from the SSM. The best example of this type of father is the character Monty James, played by Idris Elba, in Daddy’s Little Girls.
Elle is a Gatsby Father who has five children and is settling his divorce. The mother has requested assistance, to which he adhered to willingly. However he is, unfortunately, met with public raging fits when the mother does not get what she wants. This forces Elle to schedule outings and activities to provide a reason to see his children and prove that he is a provider and loves them.
“It seems like when Dad isn’t doing what mom wants him to do for her, then the children in turn are shifted to think Dad isn’t doing right by them either,” Elle explains somberly.
“I’ve even been told by my daughter, who lives in an apartment that I pay 75% of the rent for, ‘You can’t tell me what to do because you don’t pay any bills around here!’ These various interactions have helped me to understand that my children suffer at the hands of their mother who cannot put aside her gripes to build a peaceful and amicable pact on behalf of our children who depend on our guidance. My prayer is that most of [our] conflicts can be discussed openly with them in a way that doesn’t criminalize either Mom or Dad.”
The Law of Paternity
One of the many gripes that fathers who are no longer with their child’s mother have is the misuse of child support, in addition to limited access to children. Adrienne Holland, founder and CEO of the non-profit family law firm Holland Family Services, gave some insight on how child support works and what fathers may be unaware of when it comes to their paternal rights.
“Child support is meant for the benefit of the child,” Adrienne explains. “But, part of that are intangibles such as car insurance, electricity, cell phones etc., that the mother needs to function fully as a parent and person. It is the duty of the father to pay child support whether or not the father sees his child. That’s not to say that I don’t see mothers that withhold time-sharing out of spite. Usually, when this happens it is less about revenge and more of an unrealistic fear that a father cannot care for the child.”
What Matters Most
Despite the legal and emotional battle that comes with custody, parents seem to forget that what matters most is the child. In today’s culture, a broken home does not always mean Mom and Dad aren’t together, it means Mom and Dad lack a healthy, co-parenting relationship and the child(ren) pays for it.
Ending the cycle of fatherless children or toxic childhoods starts with the decision to be different. Mekesha Young, PSM of 15-year-old daughter, left a toxic relationship for the safety of her child and had this to say about the unrelenting SSM:
“You cannot control the situation, but you can change your perspective and attitude,” Mekesha says passionately. “It’s all about perspective. Once you realize that your child(ren) are the seeds of the future and you (the [custodial] parent) are the example, it should empower you to plant seeds of life and not destruction.”
It should be a cultural standard to teach our children how to deal with disappointment and heartbreak, but not get stuck in a bitter mentality that fuels the dead-beat cycle.
THE CHARGE TO WOMEN
Among all that a woman carries, should they have to shoulder the angst of an absent father’s irresponsibility? The answer is NO! However, it is the charge of the woman to eliminate the dead-beat mentality from their child’s psyche so that they do not repeat the same mistakes.
That starts with women forgiving the men that broke their hearts, enough to show their child that life does go on and a broken home is only one that is unloving and uncooperative.
While there are men who are careless as fathers, their error cannot be used as a blanket statement for all fathers who no longer desire a romantic relationship with the mother. Sometimes relationships don’t work out, but it never justifies removing the necessary love of a father from a child’s life.
By allowing a father to be in his child’s life, that does not take the ‘power’ away from the PSM; in fact, it shows the most important lesson a child could learn, respect.
Here are some ways (unmarried/uncoupled) fathers can protect their parental rights:
- Establish paternity by signing an affidavit of paternity from their state’s office of vital statistics.
- Make an agreement with the mother for time-sharing and monetary support and get it in writing before the child is born; if they don’t have a written support and time arrangement, they should keep a written log with receipts and dates that details the time and money spent.
- Go to the collection entity or the court and put yourself on child support at any time.
- Go to mediation or a parenting coordinator without a lawyer to help resolve disputes about parenting without involving the court.
- Ask attorneys to use collaborative methods to settle the case even if the couple was never married.
- Get an official DNA test (Note: Over-the-counter DNA tests are not admissible in court).
- If the father is unhappy with the mother’s performance as a parent, they can file a Petition to Modify/Establish Time Sharing Plan and Other Related Relief, which results in him having most of the time with his children. This can only be done after legally establishing paternity.