By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
There’s a man at my house he’s so big and strong
He goes to work each day, stays all day long
He comes home each night looking tired and beat
He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat
Never a frown always a smile
When he says to me how’s my child
I’ve been studying hard all day in school
Tryin’ to understand the golden rule
Think I’ll color this man father
I think I’ll color him love
Said I’m gonna color him father
I think I’ll color the man love, yes I will
Excerpt from “Color Him Father” by African-American group “The Winstons”, released 1969.
At the height of the Vietnam War this song resonated with Americans because the lyrics included: “My real old man he got killed in the war and she knows she and seven kids couldn’t of got very far.”
As Father’s Day approaches there are plans to honour fathers and father figures who have advised, cared for, nurtured and loved their biological children and children who were not blood relatives.
We all have fathers and we exist because a male contributed sperm/DNA to make up half of who we are together with the female egg/DNA. Humans normally carry 23 pairs of chromosomes: 22 autosomal pairs and one pair of sex chromosomes, either two copies of the X for a female or an X and a Y in the case of males. By Mendel’s law of segregation we receive one copy of each pair from our mother and one copy from our father.
However, all fathers are not created equal. Some take their responsibility seriously and support their children emotionally, physically and financially. Some fathers are in their children’s lives physically and support them financially but are absent emotionally. Some fathers are absent from their children’s lives in every way while others do great harm by their very presence in their children’s lives. A biological contribution to a child’s existence is not enough to be a father.
The accepted norm of a father’s interaction with his children has changed over the years (due in large part to American television images). There were the images of the White men who were heads of their households in the early television sitcoms who worked and came home to solve the family’s problems. Father knew best and was large and in charge of his household and everyone in the household knew and respected his position.
The African-American father figure was mostly absent from television with the first sitcom featuring an African-American family (“Julia”, 1968-1971) having a widowed single mother (husband and father killed in Vietnam) and her six-year-old son.
Americans were then introduced to African-American fathers via television in the form of Fred Sanford (“Sanford and Son”, 1972-1977), James Evans Sr. (“Good Times”, 1974-1979), George Jefferson (“The Jeffersons”, 1975-1985), Lester Jenkins (“227”, 1985-1990).
Then came Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, his lawyer wife, Clair Huxtable and their five children. With this sitcom Americans were treated to a new kind of African-American father via television. This father was not a “blue collar” worker struggling to make ends meet.
African-American father character Dr. Huxtable did not “move on up” as an “uneducated” businessman who tried too hard to fit in with his hard-won wealth. All Americans were being treated to the image of a professional, educated upper middle class African-American father; an image that had been missing from popular American culture.
The image of the professional and involved Dr. Huxtable was so powerful that one writer credited that image with helping Barack Hussein Obama gain the vote of some White people who came of age during the “Cosby years”. In an article headlined “The Huxtable Effect and Obama”, journalist Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez wrote in November 2008: “There are no accidents of public consciousness, and there is no better tool for changing perceptions of social roles than popular culture. So it is, I believe, that Barack Obama’s successful candidacy and likely presidency were heralded with the arrival of The Cosby Show in 1984. On the air for eight seasons, The Cosby Show featured Bill Cosby as Cliff Huxtable, an all-American father, medical doctor, and loving husband, in the lead role. Never before in American TV had there been such a character. But the impact of Cosby’s weekly presence in America’s family rooms, as the fair-minded, fun, quirky Dr. Huxtable, cannot be underestimated in its affect upon the consciousness of Americans who were children and young adults at the time.”
The Huxtable father as powerful as it is or was, is just that, a character. The fathers who will be celebrated/honoured on Sunday, June 15 are not characters on the small or large screen. The fathers whose children (biological and others) will be taking them out to breakfast/brunch/lunch/dinner, presenting gifts, sending them on trips etc., will show their appreciation to men who while they may not be perfect, their children believe they deserve the honour.
There are some people whose fathers have transitioned and all they have are memories (fond or otherwise) of their father. I am fortunate that my Papa is still here although we did have a few scary moments two years ago when he suffered a devastating stroke.
Papa has made amazing progress since then and has travelled to Guyana, where he seems to prefer to live most of the time. Not surprising especially in light of the past winter, which thankfully he did not have to endure.
One of my fondest memories of my childhood is my father trying unsuccessfully to comb and braid my hair. I was not a fan of his braiding skills at the time but it is amazing how time changes our perception. My mother was spending time with her sister in McKenzie after the birth of Dale, baby number six of nine.
My brothers Dale and Ingvar (born in Lethem, Rupununi) are the only two members of our family who were not born in Berbice. My father was a police officer stationed at Eve Leary (police headquarters) in Georgetown and we lived in Agricola (one of the more than 100 villages established by Africans freed from slavery on August 1, 1834) on the East Bank of the Demerara River.
As an adult I wonder how my father was able to take care of five children (with minimal domestic help) and go to work. At the time I just cared about clean, well-pressed school clothes, nicely braided hair and the fabulous food my father cooked. My father is an amazing cook of all things Guyanese.
As Father’s Day 2014 approaches I wish all the fathers and those mothers doing double duty as father and mother “Happy Father’s Day” and a very happy Father’s Day to my Papa who thankfully lives to see another Father’s Day.
Color him father, color him love!