Foundational Love

Back in the days of cassette tapes, my love for underground and varied hip hop sounds crossed paths with a song titled “The Foundation” by one of my favorite artists of the time: Xzibit.

The word foundation has two primary definitions: the first being the lowest load bearing part of a structure; the second, an underlying basis or principal for something. If my journey through manhood had a soundtrack, this would be the first track in the fatherhood part. The song is Xzibit’s life lessons gathered to that point and laid out for his son. I found it to be touching and insightful in ways that rap (especially in its current iteration) often is not, but always has the potential to be. There are some lyrics that speak ill of women and don’t reflect how I feel you should conduct yourself as a man, but overall, what was achieved was a display of affection and presence.

Given a recently re-published 2013 Center for Disease Control (CDC) report that demonstrates “by most measures, black fathers are just as involved with their children as other dads in similar living situations—or more so,” I wanted to share some of my ideas on why there is a perpetuated myth of black father absenteeism. The song had some pretty great lines and I will use those to guide my thinking.

“When I look you in your eyes I can see my own
Straight love manifested in flesh and bone
You’s a breath of fresh air in this world of shit
You was born to be a soldier don’t ever forget”

The first four bars speak to the condition in which this child was born from the perspective of many black fathers. As a young black man, you will be faced with harsh scrutiny—more so than your peers—and it helps to have a black man whose lived experience will be similar to yours to tell you that. Being able to see yourself in an individual, especially a child, offers a level of humanistic understanding, while considering that you must also arm them with the knowledge that the world seems to be at war with black men and women, and that no matter what heights you achieve, there are those embroiled in a battle with a social structure that views you all as more dangerous.

“…by most measures, black fathers are just as involved with their children as other dads in similar living situations—or more so”

When you wash that perspective out of the narrative and the discussion of the black family, you lose that interaction. The fathers that are often discussed as absent no longer have a space to convey this crucial bit of knowledge to the young men under their stewardship. The narrative of the absentee father strips the levity that can be had between black father and black child as it relates to this discussion, which takes us down an unsavory path.

“Let no man ever hold you down or suppress you
It’s the 90s, the police just arrest you,
disrespect you on occasion take life
By the time you come of age they’ll probably blast on sight”

This song was released in 1996, nearly 20 years ago, and while some may like to proclaim that we live in post-racial America, the violence perpetuated against black women and men by police and state institutions say otherwise. Black fathers are often faced with the harsh realities of the ever-increasing state sanctioned violence against them and are better equipped than anyone, save black women (who not only fight the external forces pressed upon black people but also combat the internalized patriarchy adopted by some black men), to teach the best strategies to navigate the traps set out for them by society. Black fathers see the humanity in black children, and that empathy is the thing that stops police officers from shooting and killing a young man who has murdered innocent movie goers while its absence makes them fear so much for their lives that they shoot and kill a 12 year old with a plastic gun.

When you strip black men from this discussion and present them as bodies that exist solely outside of the black familial context, you minimize the impact of these discussions. Erasure of the black father’s narrative assures generations to come that they will be ensnared by the traps set out for them by a system that has been proven to rule in favor of their destruction.

“You are the foundation
Beginning of a new generation
I remember hospital hallway pacin’
I was anxious as fuck to see your face shine
Only to find that yours looked like mine
So it’s like I’m livin’ twice at the exact same time
In this life you can’t press stop
Then press rewind”

According to the CDC, black fathers bathed, diapered, or dressed their children under five years of age at a rate more than 10% higher than their white and Latino counterparts. Between the ages of five and eighteen, black fathers helped in some capacity with school-related assignments at a rate more than 12% of their white and Latino counterparts.

The narrative should be that the absentee fathers of the world need to step forward and manage their responsibilities to the families they have created, but blackness is an easy target for criticism. Though it seems it is the black man often seen dancing on television shows when a paternity test deems they are not the father, the contrived narrative that black men are absent from the lives of their children is a fallacy cooked up by the wishful thinking of an oppressive system.

All this said, we must be mindful that the old adage still applies, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Devolving the black father’s role to that of Deadbeat Dad further elevates the widespread misconception that the black fathers role in the home isn’t important.

The black family is a source of power; black mothers and black fathers have an equal share in the development of that power because we all understand that familial power is a child’s foundation.

By Desmond JaMaal

Desmond JaMaal is an activist, writer, doula, and scientist with a love for people and a joy for life. Raised in South Florida by way of Mississippi and the Bahamas, his life has been a mix of cultures that has blessed him with enough experiences to grow and love.