Black men need their swagger and their game, but on Fathers’ Day it is worth remembering a little vulnerability is not the worst thing in the world. In spite of the compelling TCBY promotion that offers a free yogurt for dad on Father’s Day, many of us are in search of a more substantive and memorable family experience this third Sunday in June. In fact, when I became a dad in the early 1990s, I so wanted to help folks have meaningful Father’s Days that I edited a collection of essays called Faith of our Fathers: African American Men Reflect on Fatherhood (Dutton/Penguin). Essentially, I asked brothers I knew (Cornel West, Robin D.G. Kelley, Charles Ogletree, and others) to write about their experiences as fathers or with their fathers. I wanted the collection to be an intimate conversation between black men that would help fathers deepen their own self-awareness and more closely connect with their children, and with their dads.
I was pleasantly surprised that the most common reaction to the book was that it presented the vulnerability of African American men in a way that was not often captured in mainstream media. The images of black masculinity that are most often generated by mainstream media are patriarchal ones, meaning they feature the tough, emotionally invulnerable guy who is hardened by society and unable to make real emotional connections. While black men are still the most feared group in our society and there are reasons for them to hide their vulnerability, the media images are vastly one-sided. Thus, I realized that the presentation of black male vulnerability in my book was a way to challenge common perceptions of black masculinity. This, I knew, served the interests of both men and women.