When it comes to Black fathers being present in the home, mainstream media would like to paint a dismal picture filled with tales of skipped child support payments, baby daddy drama, perpetual incarceration, and general absentee-ism. Although many of us personally know these things to be untrue, sometimes it takes a “reputable” source such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to publish a study before everyone takes notice – and affirms what we knew all along.
In fact, the National Health Statistics Report focused on Fathers’ Involvement with Their Children: United States, 2006 – 2010 published by the CDC in December 2013 virtually shatters the myth of the absent Black father. For starters, when it comes to daily activities like playing, clothing, feeding, and bathing, Black fathers are statistically on par with or outperform their white and Latino counterparts.
Even those Black fathers living outside of the home are more likely to visit their children more frequently, contribute financially, and play a more active role inside their children’s life – even more than white or Latino fathers.
Again, no surprises here for us. But if you want to check out the CDC report, click here.
Now that we’ve established #BlackFatherhoodExcellence as the rule and not the exception, I’d like to introduce Gerald Mitchell and his wife, Oluwatope. At 33 and 32 years old respectively, they’ve become what we at 4cHC would like to define as #relationshipgoals – as they pursue professional excellence and raise their daughter in Raleigh, North Carolina. Gerald is an Associate Dean and Adjunct Professor at Fayetteville State University, and Oluwatope holds a PhD in Sociology, and is the Associate Head of Multicultural Strategy within a consulting firm. They’ve been married for 8 years, and are proud mom and dad to their 2-month old daughter, Sophia.
We had the opportunity to chat with Gerald and Oluwatope – as they generously opened up and shared their experience about Black fatherhood and the Black family, and what it means to be raising a beautiful Black baby girl in this season of #BlackGirlMagic.
What was your first reaction when you found out you would be having a baby girl?
G: As a father, I was very happy to have a kid, but with a girl I was actually a little scared. I was scared because I know men. When you have a daughter, you just, you know, think about all the stuff you’ve seen and heard as a guy – and it makes you nervous. It’s those thoughts mixed with the idea of a sweet little girl…girls are so precious, and men can be so stupid.
O: That’s one of the reasons I married him…Gerald is always the man in the room saying men need to stand up and do better in honoring women. I knew he was gonna be a bomb ass father.
What has been your greatest joy as a father?
G: Everything! It’s crazy – yesterday, it was that I put my finger out while talking to her, and she grabbed it. Last week, it was giggle conversations. It’s every little thing, all the time. I’m super happy because like everybody else, I think my baby is a genius. And – I can tell that she feels safe when I hold her. That’s comforting. It makes me feel good.
What has been one of the hardest moments of being a father?
G: Sophia is going to be a lot like Tope, which is a wonderful, beautiful thing. But being a man raising a daughter today…sometimes it feels like a white person talking to a Black person about being Black. I want my daughter to understand that she needs to be strong, because people will want to take advantage of her. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, as a man, that I want her to be comfortable and happy as a woman, and feel good in her identity.
I have thoughts about her husband, her boyfriends, going off to college – if I’d prepared her enough to be on her own. There’s this huge flood of protective stuff that comes in… I bought a karate book to learn how to fight! (laughs)
I have all these fears, and then after 40 hours of labor, she comes out. And I melt every single time I look at her – she’s the perfect little girl. My little angel baby.
You feel like a crazy person – because you go through so many emotions.
What does it mean to be a Black father in 2016?
G: It’s like I have to be a father and a sociologist at the same time. I have to be all the things that make a great father, and then I have to help her digest Blackness and all of the stuff that’s happening. In some ways, she will have an easier time navigating because she’ll be a smart Black girl – and I love that. Less people will fear her.
What lessons about beauty and image are you teaching your daughter? How do you reinforce them?
G: I dread the day that I have to explain to Sophia that somebody has an issue with her because she’s Black. Inevitably, somebody will say something about her complexion. I remember back in the day as a young boy, I liked girls like Gabrielle Union and Kelly Rowland – but my friends used to say they were “too dark”. I have to be prepared to say something as a man – that as a chocolate baby, she is beautiful. But then again, her beauty is only one part of her. She has to have a beautiful spirit, personality, and brain.
I want her to grow up and be all that she can be without weird hang-ups and insecurities. We live in a society plagued by insecurities – I know she won’t be immune to it, but I want her to have as little of that as possible. And I realize that’s a strategic endeavor.
O: And now you have social media. Now we have to protect her from things like social media.
G: Yeah, and rap music. As a parent, you see and hear everything differently – but especially with a little girl. My love affair with rap music is slowly ending because of the messages they’re sending. I don’t want my little girl growing up hearing those things, and thinking that’s how things are supposed to be.
What do you think are the key ingredients for strengthening a family?
O: Recently I learned that the key ingredient is having a mission statement. We get so caught up in being perfect for everyone else – I’m a workaholic, Gerald is super passionate about his work – that we needed a mission statement for our nuclear family, to help us deal with the push and pull of our extended family and the outside world. We learned about having a family mission statement from a Black couple in Chicago who created a class called Thriving with Baby. The class really helps couples survive being a nucleus inside of a big, beautiful, extended family.
G: For me, the key to a good family is a good marriage. As parents, we are the foundation. Recently, I realized that we look at our marriage in a couple of different components. We have the spiritual component and intimacy, that we have to support, develop, and build. Then there’s the business part – we’re both professionals. We make money. We put our money together and do stuff. Then there’s the partnership part – where we’re partners in living and navigating the world with each other. Learning how to respect each other’s thoughts and how we want to live our lives, raise Sophia, and make decisions. We’ve learned that in each of those parts, being open to constructive criticism makes the unit better.
We’re working on all of it – our family is a work in progress. Marriage is work. Family is work. (laughs)
What is the legacy that you want to leave with your daughter?
G: I’ve thought about my legacy a lot. It’s important. I want to leave a story with my daughter, because we have legends in my family. One of my great granddads from Mississippi owned his own farm, and wasn’t scared of white people. When white people did something to him or one of his kids, he would get his rifle and let them know not to mess with the Mitchells. I have this image of him as a tall, strong man – sitting on the porch defending my family and not being afraid during one of the scariest and most violent periods in America. As I move forward in my life, I use his legacy to call on for strength as I face opposition.
I want to leave a story as a man that was able to be who he wanted to be, and not be defined by our society. I’m a college administrator, professor, and academic. I write, research, and present. I’ve made my way with intelligence – and that’s not the narrative of Black men that gets shared. When Sophia sees me, I want her to see me and know that I was Dr. Mitchell, and to use that to fuel her dreams. I want to give her that to tell her kids, and her kid’s kids. So they can look back, and have the confidence to say, “I can do it too.”
O: I didn’t grow up rich – so my parents didn’t leave me money. Instead, I got a lot of wisdom that helped me. My legacy and story with my daughter will be to push through. We’ve been through miscarriages, unemployment, food stamps, hospitalizations – we’ve been through all this stuff, and I wouldn’t change any of it because of where we are today. I want her to know that it’s important to push through and be grateful for where you are. It’s hard now, but if you keep pushing, it’ll get better.
What is your vision for your daughter’s future?
G: Really, when we have this little person out in the world trying to function, we just want to support, help her grow, and help her advance the family as a unit. We don’t want her to struggle to find herself and her place in the world.
Any uplifting message that you would like to share with other fathers?
G: Fatherhood is the most exciting and beautiful and scary thing that I’ve experienced. But it makes you so much more than what you were before. It makes you better. In one instant, everything I was doing – I was motivated to do it better. Even if you’re scared, or worried about how it’s gonna turn out, you’re going to rise to the occasion because you have to. You’re going to have so much growth, and develop so much strength – you’ll be surprised with yourself. Keep going forward. Hang in there.
This Father’s Day, we at 4cHC salute dads. As Black men, you’ve been targeted by a system that wants to drive you into extinction. But you persevere, and continue to fly in the face of statistics. We recognize you. We appreciate you. We love you. Happy Father’s Day!