Monday, November 10, 2008

Are Black Fathers Really That Rare?!?

With the new baby settling in, I find myself taking AverageToddler out for some one-on-one Daddy & Me time even more frequently now than ever before. Again, this isn't anything new, we've always hit the park and playground sans Mommy, but now I find myself taking him virtually everywhere I go, even for routine trips to Home Depot and the grocery store. And no matter where we go together, the same thing inevitably happens.

Someone will size the two of us up from afar, and faster than I can say "you ARE the father!", they'll roll up and drop a familiar compliment on me.

"You're doing such a great job!"

"There need to be more of ya'll."

"I'm so glad to see a young man taking care of his kids."
The list goes on and on, but at the root seems to be the feeling that a black man taking care of his kids is such a rare occurrence (like I'm some Negro Leprechaun or something) that it deserves public acknowledgement.

I know my son is cute.[1] He's got chubby Gerber baby cheeks, wide eyes, and a welcoming smile. This undoubtedly catches the eye of others. He's also a natural ham, so when he senses someone looking, he turns on the star power. And I'm also relatively affectionate with my two year old. I hold his hand, sometimes carry, and frequently hug him. I don't hold back in that area. He's my boy, he's even got my name. I love both of my sons. They, and my wife, are essentially what I live for.

Still, the most that people observe is 5-10 seconds of us in a checkout line, which says there's prolly nothing special about our interaction. It's the mere fact that we're together and they happen to catch us in a moment when I'm not having to correct him for something, which seems to happen more than even now that he's two. To lots of people (seriously, this happens every time we go out, it's almost comical) the mere fact that I'm with my kid is somehow enough to deem me worthy of praise.

I have admittedly mixed feelings on this. Yes, I feel like I'm a semi-good Dad.[2] I have my moments where the kids get on my nerves, but I love them of course and try to do my best to raise them the right way. But I don't consider anything I do to be worthy of superlatives. I don't consider any of these compliments patronizing, nor do I consider them even remotely racist. I get them, usually from women, of all ages and races. The black women often make a point of noting how good it is to see a young black man taking care of his kid, but the props are usually universally the same: you're doing a great job by merely showing up.

Some of me wonders if this is just a reflection of the times. Most of the men that I know, black or otherwise, take care of their biz and are good fathers. But I'm smart enough to know my circle of friends doesn't represent all black Dads. Still, should a person get credit for some sh*t they're supposed to do?

Tell em' Chris.

Oddly enough, and yeah, I know I'm contradicting myself here, I find myself giving other black Dads I see out with their kids solo a nod of acknowledgement that prolly conveys the same message. And while I will admit a small part of me smiles inside when I see a nuclear black family out in public, I never have gotten a single compliment when I've been out with AverageSis and the kids. So, it seems like the whole thing is tied directly to the feeling that a black man out by himself taking his kids out by himself is so rare and unique, it has to be acknowledged.

I'm clearly not offended by the compliments, but I will admit I don't know how to otherwise feel about them. What do ya'll think? Is it really that bad out there?

Question: If you're a black father, do you have similar experiences when you take your kids out by yourself? If you're a white dad, does this happen to you to? How does it make you feel? What does my recurring experience say about the state of Black fatherhood?

[1] And no, that's not me in the photo above.

[2] Or a Semi-Good Husband. Please tell me ya'll remember who said this.

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