The war stories of fatherhood


A father-daughter dance in 2005 in Grayslake. | Sun-Times Library

There’s no such thing as “Baby Mama Drama.” No mother, out of spite or scorn, would ever place impediments in the way of a man to be a loving father to his children. No way.

No woman would ever undermine a father’s sound advice, wisdom and plans for their children. Would never assault the institution called fatherhood with words like, “My son doesn’t need a father, I’m the mama and the daddy … ”


And surely no woman would ever use her children as pawns in revenge against their father. A woman would never seek to punish her children’s father because of the demise of love and their relationship, and time and circumstance that have necessitated that they move forward apart, despite the fact that they forever have a child or children between them.

Nope, that doesn’t happen. And men who think it does are simply party to one mass hallucination.

Except for so many men, it does happen. Call it what you will or may. But for many men, these are simply among the war stories of fatherhood. And this much I have discovered: It isn’t just a black thing.

Still, we brothers stand accused of stereotyping, in particular black women, should we dare mention experiencing this unnecessary hardship as fathers who live apart from our children after relationships with their mothers have ended. We are the scapegoats, the usual suspects, the perpetrators of familial dysfunction.

Black men wholesale are labeled as abandoners of our children. “Deadbeat dads,” so many sisters are quick to call us. “Dogs.” “Bums.”

And society drinks it all up, accepts without pause the sweeping worst generalizations about black men, despite evidence that says the narrative is not fact but fiction.

Indeed a 2013 Centers for Disease Control study found that of all races, black men are as involved or more involved in the lives of their children than men of all races. This is not news to us. Black men  — whether living with or apart from their children  — can be good fathers. And we are.

We see our fellow brothers being coaches and mentors, accompanying their little girls to daddy-daughter dances, at school assemblies and parent-teacher conferences and recitals, braiding hair and jumping rope and taking their children and grandchildren fishing, to parks, to church and to myriad other places.

What is not as visible is “the struggle”  —  the interferences and assaults against a father’s relationship with his children.

Brothers sometimes share the sordid details in each other’s company, sometimes with their mothers who have borne witness themselves and who encourage their sons to remain faithful. Sometimes one brother encourages another brother who is walking the road they’ve traveled to stay the course that sometimes can seem unbearable, unfair, unending.

And yet, although tempted to withdraw from fatherhood, even just for peace of mind, the thought of not being in their children’s lives has been many a brother’s saving grace.

Mostly, it has been for love  —  comforted along a sometimes pain-filled journey that comes from understanding the importance of this divine calling of fatherhood and the bittersweet reality that children ultimately grow up. That our time with our children is precious and short, and that we can’t afford to give up.

And yet, I  —  we  —  know brothers who did, who have.

I make no excuses for them. And I have for years written critically  —  having myself been an abandoned son  — about men who abdicate their role as father. Written that whatever the reason or excuse to quit, fathers must endure.

Truth: Some dads are simply deadbeats. Another truth: Some mamas are full of drama.

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