One of the overlooked fruits of the 1960s Civil Rights and Black Power movements was the explosive success of the black sitcom. The politics of media representation gave us classics that later generations will know only through reruns. As a child of the 1980s I grew up watching the Cosby Show, Good Times, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters. A common theme in all of these sitcoms was the role of strong, committed black fathers. Cliff Huxtable was thoroughly black middle class; he and his wife, Claire, were graduates of a fictional HBCU and professionals living the good life as they reared well behaved children. James Evans was the hard working, blue collar prince of the ghetto sticking with his wife and kids though everything around him looked hand-me-down. Judge/Uncle Phil Banks was the gentle giant who was somehow always there for his children and “adopted” nephew Will though he was a successful litigator in ritzy Bel-Air. And Carl Winslow was a hard working police officer who was nevertheless present for his kids and even for his annoying neighbor, Steve Urkel.
These images of committed black fathers made a point between the laughs. They were intentionally shifting the cultural narrative away from the “deadbeat daddy” stereotype of black men. I’m not sure if they achieved this goal. Much of popular television today paints a very different picture. Sure, a few sitcoms still show great black dads (mostly from the late 1990s and early 2000s eras) but more and more sitcoms and reality TV display pathological relationships between men and women. Though this celebration of pathology is racially inclusive, one cannot help but to be sensitive to the ways in which every day black men and women are burdened by such images.
Maybe that’s why I’ve greatly appreciated Golden Gate Warrior Stephen Curry and the ways his daughter Riley frustrates reporters during her postgame interview interruptions. Curry, an unapologetic Christian and proud husband, displays before a skeptical world that black men can be great fathers too. Recent data released by the Center for Disease Control confirms that black fathers are more likely to be involved in our children’s lives when compared to other ethnic/racial demographics. But myths die slow deaths. It will be a while before the cultural narrative shifts from conjecture to truth. And it won’t be an easy transition as long as numerous black boys and girls grow up without their dads in the homes. I lament every time I meet a young person who tells me that they never knew their father, or the father they know wasn’t worth knowing. We have to do better. We can do that by celebrating those who are disciplined and vigilant enough to be in their children’s lives, no matter what the costs.
This Father’s Day is my first as a dad. Every day I’m thankful for the joy my twin sons bring to my life. With God’s help, I endeavor to love, protect, provide for, and discipline them in the admonition of the Lord. I want to be a Christ-like husband and father before them, modeling what manhood baptized into Jesus Christ should look like. No one gives us dads a manual on how to raise our kids. There’s a lot of trial and error, seasoned with a ton of grace and mercy. But there is a revolution in how we imagine black fatherhood. I’m certainly glad to be in that number.