Celebrating Black fathers and father figures

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By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
Sunday, June 16 is Fathers Day. On that day fathers, grand fathers and father figures will receive cards, ties, shirts, jewelry, artwork from class projects etc., as their children and grandchildren honour them.
African American men, African Canadian men and African Caribbean men are often labelled absent fathers. This began during the Maafa (great disaster/great tragedy 1400s-1800s) of chattel slavery.
African men, women and children were enslaved during the Maafa and the role of the enslaved African father was invalidated. He lived in a society where men were “the head” of their homes, wives and children but he could not easily be a father to his children.
Edward E. Baptist, a White history professor at Cornell University wrote: “the denial of black manhood became central to white manhood.”
The myth of the absent African American father came from the period of enslavement. Libra Rose Hilde, a White American history professor at San José State University published “Slavery, Fatherhood, and Paternal Duty in African American Communities over the Long Nineteenth Century,” and debunked the myth. She wrote: “African Americans were not considered men because they lacked the essential attributes of American masculinity.”
Despite the risks, some enslaved men who had access to their children did play a father’s role in their children’s lives. Some African American men served as surrogate fathers to the community as well as providing tools “to teach their children self-respect and survival and to navigate the dilemmas of authority within the institution of slavery”.
The experience was the same for enslaved fathers in Central America, South America, North America and the Caribbean islands. Following the abolition of slavery some fathers traveled to the U.S. in search of their children; some who had fled to Canada returned to search for their children.
During the Maafa, the enslavement and upheaval of African people, the family structure was fractured; mothers and fathers were robbed of the ability to parent their children. Despite these circumstances African men persisted against all odds in their fathering roles.
These men were loving, nurturing and protective fathers. There are several written resources by enslaved African men and women as well as a collection of voice recorded interviews with formerly enslaved Africans documenting the positive parenting roles of African fathers during slavery. In her 2005 published book “Black Fatherhood: Reconnecting With Our Legacy” African American author Dana Ross writes: “Black men during this era were dehumanized, humiliated and oppressed, however, it did not deter them from being nurturing, loving fathers, caretakers and entrepreneurs. They were able to rise above the social system set against them by pulling on their inner strength and love for their families.
“Even though some inevitably fell prey to the institution of slavery, there are more than enough documented stories and recorded family histories which evidence the significant and prominent role of Black fathers. These men were able to overcome the adversities of the institution of slavery on the strength of their family; leaving us a legacy to reconnect with.” (https://www.streetdirectory.com/etoday/print_article.php?articleId=ejuffl.)
Many enslaved African men took great pride in their ability to care for their families and sacrificed their lives for their children. Some of these men refused to run to freedom when the opportunity presented itself because it would have meant leaving their children in slavery. There were enslaved men who bought their freedom as well as the freedom of their wives and children.
As we honour fathers and father figures on Sunday, June 16, we need to remember the legacy of those who went before us and set the example as excellent role models.
The Ashanti proverb: “When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him,” is an apt reminder. Today we read about African men who, despite the odds, having to deal with racial profiling, the racialization of poverty, lack of job opportunities etc., continue to make sacrifices as they lovingly guide and nurture their children’s physical, spiritual and emotional growth while they also contribute to their community.
The lives of these men are documented in books like “Pop: A Celebration of Black Fatherhood,” by Carol Ross published in 2007 which offers a fascinating look at a group of loving and nurturing African fathers interacting with their children.”
In “Be A Father to Your Child,” edited by April R. Silver published 2008 which begins with the African proverb “We come here so we may learn to be better ancestors.”
Roberta L. Coles documents the struggles and triumphs of single African American men raising their children in “The best kept secret: single black fathers.”
The beautifully illustrated book “In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers,” is a special tribute to fathers in our community.
These words from the book encapsulates my memories of my father: “In my Daddy’s arms I am tall and close to the sun and warm in my Daddy’s arms.
In my Daddy’s arms I am strong and dark like him and laughing.”

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