As unmoved as today’s reality dads leave me, though, I’m actually excited about Usher’s recent impromptu paternal PSAs. “I want to see more men standing with their women. I want to see more men be open and honest about where they are in life,” Usher told Ellen Degeneres recently. “As an African American, to be there for my child is so important when there are so many young African-American kids without their fathers.”
And then on MTV’s TRL, Raymond had another breakthrough, this time deciding to address rumors about his wife, Tameka, and his son, “baby cinco.”
“I’m a black, strong man in America standing up for my people as a man,” Usher said to the camera, while taking off his huge sunglasses and looking his television audience (us) dead in the eye.
“To my wife, to my son, to my family, I’m making a stand that a lot of us should make. I could’ve been like any other man who would have a child and just, you know, live with that woman and continue to just, you know, play the game. I’m tryna do it the right way. This is the way you should do it. Pay attention, fellas.”
I wish my father was paying more attention in 1980. I wish I hadn’t needed to pay so much attention to Cliff Huxtable eight years later. I wish the fellas watching Usher on MTV get the picture.
Now, the topic of fatherhood came back up at lunch. He told me about his effort to get black males my age to show up on Sunday. The conversation had completely strayed from politics, but I was curious—why us?
“Well, if you look at it, that’s the group still looking for their fathers. Your generation [is] the sons of the Baby Boomers like me, and black fatherhood fell off right around the 1970s,” he said.
It was one of the rare times I’d heard an older brother admit that black fatherlessness didn’t appear out of nowhere in the last decade. I was cool with that but bugged out about the first part of his statement. I’m a grown-ass man with two sons but have never had an adult conversation with my own father. I needed answers about being Daddy: how to manage being a father from a state away, how to effectively parent when you don’t get along with the boys’ mother—questions I rarely get to ask any oldhead.
Now, sitting across from me was a brother 20-some years my senior, a father himself, and he was making sense of what I was going through. I latched on. It was the first time we’d met in person, and we had no blood ties whatsoever, but he was still a figurative representation of a father I never knew.
At 31, I realized I might still be looking for my own Daddy.
I wish I could say that one day I woke up with such tremendous clarity that I called my father and we started the conversation that would begin to mend our relationship. It didn’t quite happen like that. And honestly, I don’t really know what triggered a turning point where I was tired of playing a downtrodden role that never really suited me. It was just time to move forward. I started to recover the optimism and faith that I possessed as a child and slowly, surely, I began to bury the mounds of resentment, bitterness and cynicism. For the first time in my nearly 30 years, I started to think about how his addiction affected him. I removed myself from the center of everything and practiced sympathy. I tried to calculate the strength it must have taken him to rebuild from scratch. I became impressed again.
As he approaches another Father’s Day, Myrick, 44, sees himself as just another dad who is lucky enough to live in the tight-knit Vienna neighborhood of Shouse Village, where helping another family with a couple of hours of child care or a ride to a ballgame is the norm.
But neighbors and friends see more. They say it is not just that Myrick has forged on with his sons after his wife died five years ago. It is that he has taken on so many other children, too, having coached more than 35 sports teams in the past six years.
He has done this as he has juggled his sons’ needs and a full-time job, all the while maintaining a presence in his community — volunteering at the neighborhood pool, chaperoning field trips, hosting a monthly dads’ poker night.
“He’s so on top of it,” said Carey Hitchcock, who lives down the street. “He makes all of us stay-home moms look bad.”
I thought about the big sign my husband bought and hung over the closet door in our girls’ room. “No Matter What.” It’s shorthand for what he says to them often: “I’ll always love you, no matter what.” He tells them they might behave like monsters sometimes, and he might respond with a roar of his own; they might disappoint him sometimes, and he might cry. “But I’ll always love you, no matter what.”
At dinner, he’ll quiz them. Q: “How long have I loved you?” A: “Forever.” Q: “How long will I love you?” A: “Forever.” Our girls are old enough now to start rolling their eyes at this, but he insists.
He coaches their softball team. He helps them study. He surprises them with crumb cake. He applauds their attempts at fashion shows, no matter how gaudy. He turns himself into “The Inspector” when it’s time to clean their rooms, refusing to sign off until every last dirty sock is in the hamper. They fight to sit next to him at dinner. One hangs on him; the other eats from his plate. He fake-whines about all of this, and so they do it more.
I always knew he was a good dad. Somehow, I never really considered the motivation. Somehow, I had it in my mind that being a good dad was a matter of pride. Something a man does for himself. Like waxing a car; he does it to stand back and feel proud of the shine.
My friend put a new light on it. Fatherhood: a vital job a man does or doesn’t do — impacting so much future, blazing a path toward lasting love.