John Fountain: Ambushed, when my point was to encourage

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John Fountain urged men to help him read on Thursday last year at south suburban Matteson Elementary School. The men and children pictured here were part of the Real Men Read program, which resumes Thursday Oct. 27 at 7:45 a.m. (Photo: John W. Fountain)

Ambushed. By a brother, no less.

That’s how it felt, giving a presentation this week at south suburban Matteson Elementary School where I was invited to speak again at their annual dad’s day.

“No Father Left Behind: Building Our Children’s Dream Team” was the subject I chose to echo the administration’s vision to encourage dads to be actively involved in their children’s education at the school.


“If I had had a father, just to hold my hand,” I began in poetic recitation, “to show me as a little boy how I should be a man…”

I segued to a PowerPoint, asking the dozens of men there to write a brief note to their son or daughter.

“Never forget, I will always have your back,” one father read aloud.

“I’m still your dad,” read another.

“I love you … I support you.”

Among the videos I showed was a cute clip on a black father cheerleading with his daughter; a stirring video of a black father rushing to the aid of his Olympic runner son. Other videos of good fathers — black and white.

So what was my man’s problem?

Apparently it was a single statistic on one of more than a dozen slides that perturbed him. That 7 out of 10 African-American children live absent their biological father — fact. That, plus a subsequent video on a daddy-daughter dance held at a Virginia jail, apparently got his goat.

Brother-man raised his hand. He proceeded to set me straight about perpetuating “the mythology” of absentee black fathers. To inform me about a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, which concluded that black fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than men of all races.

To school me — right then and there — about the systemic issues oppressing black folks. To tell me that was what we really ought to be discussing. And to scold me for presenting family business in front of a few men there who weren’t black.

I calmly responded, the atmosphere hissing like a punctured tire. I reiterated that my whole point was to encourage. That even when preaching to the choir sometimes the goal is to create ambassadors to lead fathers back to the fold.

I had planned to say as much before the brother so rudely and arrogantly interrupted me from completing my presentation, including a final video on the school’s Thursday morning reading program, which I spearheaded last year and that drew scores of men — black and white — from across Chicago. (We’re starting again this Thursday.)

I could have responded that I am deeply concerned about what ails black folks and have spent a lifetime writing about our uplift and doing something about it. Or that I am equally concerned about false or conspiracy narratives that always blame the system while completely absolving us of responsibility, and denying the power of self-determination, hard work, education and will.

That 2013 CDC study does not — cannot — refute that far too many black children grow up in homes without fathers, or our presence. We’re still in crisis, man. Wake up!

There are indeed engaged black fathers. The men present that morning were proof.

We’re on the same team. We need other men. We can’t afford to fumble. Be encouraged.

That’s my message. What’s wrong with that?

Damn. Makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands. But it’s not about me. It’s about the children.

Later, I told the brother face to face, that he was “out of place.” That I would never have done that to him.

No ambush. Brother to brother.


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