By Hamzat Sani, Special to the AFRO

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been petrified of being a father. Between all the talk about Black men being absent from the household, being wife beaters and being unable to provide or be emotionally available to their families due to the difficulty of walking through this world with Black skin I wasn’t itching to get into the game.

I did everything I could to make sure that I didn’t have a child early in life until I knew I’d be absolutely ready to feed, nurture, clothe, shelter and adequately educate them to the fullest. I took women’s studies class in college so when I had a daughter I could at least have some language to connect with hardships she would endure; I talked to older friends about fatherhood; I took up exercise regularly with the vision of being able to thoroughly woop my grandkids butts in a competitive game of Basketball; and I worked, volunteered and mentored youth throughout the DMV to build the muscle memory required to have the eyes in the back of your and the mental agility necessary to help guide a teenager. I wasn’t playing no games.

The thing is despite the work, worry and wonderment inherent in becoming a father, I knew one thing for certain, I love children. Bring me a baby, pre-teen, teenager or young adult and please believe we’re going to find a way to vibe. So when I got ready to marry my love, knowing she came with a son ready to go, I approached with both the eagerness of being blessed with a child and a humble respect for the task at hand. Being a father to my son is both one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve ever embarked and as cliche as it sounds the absolutely most rewarding.

With Father’s Day approaching, The AFRO posed two central questions to a few fathers in the DMV.  Below are there answers to the questions:

  1. Why do you feel it’s important to be involved in your child’s/ children’s life/ lives?
  1. How do you approach fatherhood knowing the absent father stigma associated with Black fathers?

Cinque Culver of River Terrace

1) “The most important reason for me is to simply enjoy, appreciate, and encourage my children as unique individuals. Beyond that, I want to take time to pass the experiences I have had in life on to them and talk with them allowing them to draw their own conclusions. Of course, I still have to be there to catch them when they fall or at least get them back up on their feet.”

2) “I think the absent father stigma is multifaceted. There are dads that don’t want to be present and dads that want to be present but cannot for whatever valid or invalid reason.

I just let my children know that I love them, will always love them, and nothing could ever change that.”

Michael Sturdivant, 34 of Fort Totten; Daughter, Michaela Sturdivant, 1

1) “Our children need to be loved, supported, covered, protected, and groomed and no one is in closer proximity than parents to be involved on that level.”

2) “For me to Father as best I can, I don’t put myself in the comparison trap of looking at what this person or that person is doing or not doing. I have to take what I have in my hands and do the best with that.”

Claude, 36 Jennings of Silver Spring; Son, Manny Jennings, 5

1) “It is important for me to be involved because my child needs me. Every child needs their dad, its non-negotiable. How many times have we heard a child at any age point speak to their dad not being there as the issue that sparked some sort of problem they are dealing with currently. We see it in many problems in society. It points to a lack of fathers. It is important for my son but its equally important for me. I grew so much as a person, as a man and I continue to grow as I raise my son. Its responsibility, its being an example, its providing, its nurturing… It does something to you. There’s nothing honorable about a man who has a child in this world and he lives his life as if that child doesn’t exist. How do you live with yourself? Even being involved “part-time” is a joke and a shame.

2) “Because of the stigma, I try to be present and engaged in a loud way. For everyone to see. I’m always with my son, I take him to work with me, we go out to eat, I’m at his activities. It has to be seen, people need to know we exist. My hope is that It is noticed and inspires involved dads to keep it up and absent dads to step up and be a father. A lot of absent fathers, had absent fathers themselves. They don’t know how to be a dad. Some are scared, some don’t know what to do, others are childishly dodging responsibility. Either way we need to break the cycle and create a new normal. We have to expect and demand present and engaged dads in the black community. We have to celebrate it, normalize it in thought and speech and use it as social pressure to spark change – even if by shame – to those who don’t live up to the standard.”

Happy Father’s Day to my father Mohammed Bashir Sani and all the men that have helped to and are helping to father me in one way or another. Happy Father’s day to all the father’s, step-fathers and others that provide the presence of a father to our children. Your love, presence and work do not go on unrecognized or unappreciated. Thank you!