Half way through my weekly task of proofing the front page of last Wednesday Milwaukee Community Journal, I put aside the layout and e-mailed the publisher to notify her that it was among the most powerful fronts I’ve been associated with over the last four decades.
And that’s saying a lot.
National award-winning stories and photographs have graced our front pages. We’ve introduced historic campaigns to empower our community and stood at the vanguard of the civil rights movement when others have abandoned the crusade or accepted jobs with yesterday’s enemy.
I remember one front page that prompted responses from China. And that was before the Internet, social and unsocial media.
But I can’t think of any front page that moved me as much as last week’s. And it wasn’t a story per se, or the graphics, but instead a photographic collage of an event we have featured a half dozen times over the last decade.
But this time, our photo montage of Black men dancing with their daughters, and a related Q&A in our Pulse of the Community section, moved me significantly; almost to prideful tears.
The feature was of the annual “Daddy/Daughter Dance” held at North Division High School. Almost 1,000 beautiful Black family members participated this year.
That’s one thousand—four digits. More than the number of Black residents of 53206, 53212 and 53209 who voted in the primary election several days before. (Oh, don’t tell me you didn’t know there was an election! Shame, shame, shame.) But in some respects, the dance will have a greater impact on our community in the long run.
Envision this if you can: Hundreds of proud Black men, adorned in their Sunday best, bonding with their beautiful daughters. Hundreds of brothers placing their princesses on pedestals, simultaneously paying tribute to one of God’s most celebrated unions, while affirming a relationship that is often taken for granted in other communities.
And in many cases, these brothers, sons and fathers, competed with other fathers, daddies and poppas for recognition of their most valued gifts, each declaring that their daughters were the future valedictorians, and winners of the Miss Black America and Ms. Juneteenth contests.
Each could make a strong case that their daughter was the best dressed, best looking, best dancer and the best of the best.
Truth is, every participant was princess for the day, and every father was in line to receive brownie points from Nyame (God). So, why did these images almost bring me to tears. Given the history of the Black family since slavery, the disappearing nuclear family and the common assumption that Black fathers have become obsolete, the front page was a revelation.
It was an affirmation that some of us get it, that fatherhood and nuclear family structures are still the cornerstone. I read somewhere that there were more Black nuclear families—a wedded father and mother—during Reconstruction than there are today. The last data I read said that a single parent heads 70% of the Black households in Milwaukee.
Most are impoverished. Most are limited by disinterested sperm donors who contribute nothing to the growth of his children. I’ve contended that this new socio-cultural paradigm was created by outside special interests. I won’t go through all the details, but institutional racism— “American apartheid”—contributed to the Black poverty rate, and welfare regulations contributed greatly to the break up—or establishment—of nuclear families.
President Bill Clinton up ended that cart when he ended welfare, although his executive orders that changed the criminal justice code fueled the greatest influx of Black incarnation in the country’s history.
Those factors contributed to a culture of poverty in which Black men became obsolete and disassociated.
You can blame it on the al-al-al-al-al-alcohol, the drugs or promiscuity, or maybe ignorance of birth control. Point the finger where you wish, but the reality was, and continues to be, a disastrous scenario for Black America.
But there is light. Through the haze of false perceptions and prejudices, fatherhood and the Black nuclear family are making a comeback. Today, I see more Black men picking up their children from school, I see them taking their children shopping, or at a fast food restaurant or county parks. And I have lived through the dysfunction era and now see North Division filled with fathers and daughters.
Some marveled when I gave up everything—house, IRA and marriage tax benefits—during my divorce in exchange for custody of my son.
For me, it was a cultural expectation; it was what a man is supposed to do. I have long abided by the customs of our African heritage, which included taking my son to the Motherland so we could sit and learn from our ancestors and tribal chiefs.
I then, imparted upon my son various cultural expectations, the most important of which was accepting a role as leader of the family. That included assuming primary parenting responsibility of adolescent male children and serving as role model and protector of his girls.
It is the most important responsibility—and gift— in his lifetime. Thus, it was not surprising that when my son faced a relationship break up, he too followed suit and gained custody of his young son.
In my case, it didn’t take me long to realize children need balance, a father and mother. Fortunately, I found a mate who assumed that role. And we planted cultural seeds for all of our children, each of whom have married and assumed specific roles in their families.
And apparently, a growing number of brothers and sisters are following suit. Marriage is on the rebound; fatherhood is no longer a cultural norm exclusively enjoyed by white people.
The photo spread provided a weapon against our own misconception that Black fathers are on the endangered species list. It’s been a long and winding road, but fatherhood is making a comeback (as ridiculous as that sounds).
Men are standing up, assuming leadership roles as Nyame intended. Most are not signing a government contract, but they are more involved today, and moving closer toward a new—or is it old—cultural paradigm that will be the cornerstone of our community.
The Daddy/Daughter Dance put that reality on display. Some may look at the Wednesday and WEEKEND editions of the paper last week and see the smiling faces of the girls and bright eyes of proud fathers. I see the bright future, a cultural phenomenon that bodes well for our community.
A father’s role in parenting a female child is vastly different from that of a male. In addition to providing, love and protection, he also serves as a role model, and an educator who instructs his princess on what to expect and accept. He inspires the girl, advocating she reach for the stars, maximizes her talents and not restrict her world to motherhood or as a servant to anyone.
Girls, the expections tell us, will marry—get the contact—someone like their father. Thus, if the father is a good man, the daughter will settle for nothing less. She then will break the cycle of dysfunctional families.
I could tell by the smiles on their faces, that the event will leave an indelible mark on the daughter’s minds, and hearts. It will be a treasured memory like no other event.
And, hopefully, the photos and comments will inspire others to follow suit. Who knows, some of those sperm donors will see the images while at the grocery store, or see it on line, and realize they are missing something. I can attest and testify to the fact that there is no reward greater than receiving a smile from your child; a loving glance or a hug.
My wife and I are caring for our granddaughter for the next couple of weeks. It’s a trying experience for folks of our age and routine. But it is also rewarding: Correcting grammar, checking over homework, reading a culturally attuned book, and even shoveling snow. Our reward is watching our seeds sprout and getting that occasional smile and hug.
Yeah, I told my son—who is working out of the region—what he’s missing. Or he can ask the brothers at the Daddy/Daughter Dance. Their smiles spoke volumes.