By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
This year, Father’s Day falls on Sunday, June 16 and some people have already bought gifts for their father or father figure. Some people are planning to buy something special for the old guy, while others are planning a special celebration on June 16.
Still others are planning to send Dad on a cruise or doing whatever they can afford to show their appreciation for the man who was there for them as they grew up. Of course, if Dad is a young father then most likely the children get help from Mom to plan something for that special man in their lives.
Leading up to Father’s Day, many children make something during class time to present to Dad on his special day. However, not all students will be engaged in the annual Father’s Day craft making for various reasons.
There is a school in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which has come under fire recently for cancelling Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Astral Drive Elementary School staff made the decision last year to cancel Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and replace the two days with a designated day in the middle of May which has been dubbed Family Day.
On Family Day, the students at Astral Drive Elementary School make crafts to honour/recognize a parental figure of their choice. The staff apparently made this decision “in an attempt to avoid isolating children whose families do not adhere to the traditional mother-father model”. A group of parents who apparently forgot to protest about the school’s cancellation of Mother’s Day seem to have determined that Father’s Day will be recognized. These parents have gone door to door in their neighbourhood with a petition to restore the school’s recognition of Father’s Day for 2013.
The parents will not get their wish because the province’s Minister of Education said she “defers to teachers’ and principals’ knowledge of their school communities” and the Halifax Regional School Board has no plans to overrule the decision made by school staff. This in spite of the fact that there have been allegations from staff that they have experienced threatening behaviour from some parents. Don’t mess with the Canadian culture!
Canadians are not the only people who are thinking about Father’s Day. It seems the issue of fathers and their importance in the lives of children were on U.S. President Barack Obama’s mind when he gave his convocation speech at Morehouse College on May 19.
Morehouse College is one of the existing 115 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) which were founded to offer African-Americans the opportunity to obtain post-secondary education during the dark days of American segregation. Morehouse College is the most prestigious all male institutions of higher learning. Established in February 1867, just two years after the end of America’s Civil War, Morehouse has been educating African-American men for more than 145 years. Morehouse boasts such prominent alumni as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., author Lerone Bennett Jr., actor Samuel L. Jackson and Robert E. Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines.
There were some people who were a little puzzled by President Obama’s need to include African-American absentee fathers while addressing the 2013 graduation class of the prestigious post-secondary African-American institution.
Inquiring minds wanted to know if this was a usual topic in commencement addresses at White institutions of higher learning. After all, these young African-American men are considered the cream of the crop and encouragement to go forth and multiply responsibly seemed a little out of place. Encouragement and advice about seeking political office, furthering their education or seeking mentors and role models in captains of industry and successful entrepreneurs would seem more in keeping when addressing these bright young African-American minds.
However, there must have been some reason why the leader of the free world felt that he needed to address the issue of fatherlessness with the 2013 graduating class of the prestigious Morehouse College. Maybe when President Obama saw all that melanin facing him as he stood at the podium, he was overwhelmed with memories of Barack Hussein Obama Sr., who abandoned the young Obama and his mother when he was only two years old.
As the adult Obama wrote in his 1995 book, Dreams from My Father: A Story Of Race and Inheritance, about the father he could only remember meeting when he was 10-years-old:
“At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me, both more and less than a man. He had left Hawaii back in 1963, when I was only two years old, so that as a child I knew him only through the stories that my mother and grandparents told. They all had their favorites, each one seamless, burnished smooth from repeated use.”
Since the republishing of the book in 2004 the world has heard and or read of the absent African father who left the future President of the United States of America to be raised by his mother and maternal grandparents. In his commencement address on May 19 at Morehouse College the President once again reminded us of that absent father:
“I was raised by a heroic single mother and wonderful grandparents who made incredible sacrifices for me. But I still wish I had a father who was not only present, but involved. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me.”
And the President has done a wonderful job in that role. If the senior Obama was around, he would surely have had to hang his head in shame.
I am sure that if the President had more time to talk he would have mentioned that not every African-American father who is absent from his children’s life chooses to do so. I am sure he would have pointed out that many absent African-American fathers are not as fortunate as he is to have escaped the systemic racism that robs so many of them of the opportunity to access post-secondary education and a six-figure income or even an income.
He would surely have mentioned the resulting poverty and other social ills that haunt countless African-American men who are over policed and under surveillance leading to what many have labelled the “school to prison pipeline”. I am sure he would have mentioned the high rate of arrests and incarceration of African-American men making them absent from children’s lives. As the leader of the nation he must be privy to the statistics that are readily available to the ordinary person. According to a quote in an article, “Prison and the Poverty Trap”, (www.nytimes.com/2013/02/19/science/long-prison-terms-eyed-as-contributing-to-poverty.html?pagewanted=all) written by John Tierney and published in the New York Times, February 13, 2013:
“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.
The article also stated:
Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For Black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high – nearly 40 per cent nationwide – that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.
This would surely have been brought to the President’s attention before he made his commencement speech. Also, Obama surely would have mentioned if he had the time that “Breathing while Black” has led to the murder of countless African-American men by police and White civilians, thus adding to fatherlessness in the community.
Some, like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, will never even have the opportunity to become a father but I digress because the President was speaking about fatherlessness in the African-American community. If he had the time, he would surely have talked about the inter-generational and intra-generational trauma of being born an African-American male; a trauma that has existed in the lives of African-Americans since the first African was enslaved in America, a trauma that has never been addressed but passed down from generation to generation with the hurt, shame and guilt that is never spoken of but leads to the swagger to appear tough, especially for those who live in low-income and over-policed neighbourhoods.
However, Obama only had half an hour and it was raining so he probably only gave half of the speech he had planned.
Fathers, like mothers, are important in the lives of their children but for various reasons some fathers are absent from their children’s lives. Singling out and blaming an entire community of fathers for fatherlessness is counterproductive. Men who did not have role models sometimes need help when they themselves become fathers.
The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind in such situations. There are organizations in Toronto where young and not-so-young men get support in their parenting skills and encouragement to remain actively involved in their children’s lives.
The “Black Daddies Club”, founded in 2007 and “Young and Potential Fathers”, founded in 2011, work with African-Canadian men who are fathers or potential fathers. Support for these organizations rather than harping on fatherlessness is productive.
On Father’s Day, June 16, we need to recognize and celebrate the fathers, father figures and those heroic women who are doing double duty as father and mother.