By: Brent Starks
Why is it so remarkable to see a father parenting?
When I am walking my daughter Idara to her preschool in the morning, I often wonder exactly what it is that people see. Despite the different neighborhoods we walk through, and despite the diverse people way may encounter, one thing is always the same: the look. It’s a look that registers surprise (almost always with a tiny smile) that says: “Hey, look at that, her dad is being a dad by….”. I imagine that many other fathers – and particularly African-American fathers – are familiar with this look.
Sometimes it feels as though we are a pair of unicorns that have leapt off the pages of one of Idara’s books to stroll south on Driggs Avenue or Park Avenue. Or, as if we are leaving a trail of pixie dust behind us with every step. And the people around us are so awestruck that they cannot help but stare and silently acknowledge.
Except, it is not magic. It is a simple act of everyday parenting shared by both mothers and fathers around the country as we all attempt to juggle work, family, sleep, sanity, and the million other needs vying for our time.
My wife and I are both attorneys. Like most families, we are overburdened and oversubscribed. And yet, despite sharing the same bevy of tasks and responsibilities, my wife never receives these same looks. Because when she takes our daughter to school, she is simply fulfilling expectations. Though we labor together to raise a family, we do so under a very different set of societal expectations regarding what our roles both should and should not be. These expectations fail us all.
When the simple act of a father taking a child to school becomes exceptional, it means that anything beyond bringing home the bacon is viewed as expendable by those around you. Case and point, I recently overheard a father at my daughter’s preschool graduation explain that he had to leave because his boss wouldn’t give him the morning off. Luckily, I was not faced with a similar choice. Far too few can say the same.
Unfortunately, I know, all too well where these expectations come from. Like far too many black men, my father left when I was two. However, as a father, I hope I am helping to shatter those expectations one encounter at a time.
And so, while I externally acknowledge the “looks,” and appreciate the place they often come from, I long for the day I don’t get them anymore. A day when everyone understands that fathers are necessary partners in the proverbial village. A day when it is considered remarkable if a father isn’t fully involved in taking care of his children.