While it is often noted that no guidebook is available to women on how best to be mothers, the same holds true for men who enter into fatherhood. In addition to providing nurturing support for offspring, traditional roles dictate that men also financially support, provide protection, instill mental and emotional anchoring for their children. However, many young adults in the District found the lessons their fathers instilled through example far more powerful than words they imparted.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 report on the role of American fathers in family life, which noted the critical roles fathers played in the health and development of their children, defied stereotypes about Black fatherhood by documenting both their traditional and non-traditional involvement in daily childrearing — even when the fathers were not living in the same home.
“There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into [the] stereotype [of Black men as derelict fathers], one that echoes a history of efforts to rob Black masculinity of honor and fidelity,” New York Times commentator Charles M. Blow said in a 2015 piece. “Now to the mythology of the Black male dereliction as dads: While it is true that Black parents are less likely to marry before a child is born, it is not true that Black fathers suffer a pathology of neglect.”
The Pew Institute estimates roughly 67 percent of African-American fathers who don’t live with their children see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white fathers and just 32 percent of Hispanic fathers.
“My job is to ensure that my children grow into healthy, productive, God-centered men and women,” said Vaughn Willis, a 27-year-old mechanic. “That cannot happen with me acting like a man-child, hanging with friends instead of with my kids.”
Willis that while he may have been short on financial support for his two children on occasion, he provided them with the tangible things they needed.
“My sons didn’t want to hear that business was slow and I couldn’t pay for new clothes or shoes, they just wanted their dad to be there to read to them or to walk them to school,” he said. “They need to know that they matter to the man who gave them life.”
Sharon Washington, Tedarius Abrams and Elae Hill are interns for The Washington Informer as part of Chevrolet’s Discover the Unexpected (DTU) Journalism Fellowship program.