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Commitment: Fatherhood in Black America

by Carole Patterson, Anthony Barboza, Arvarth E. Strickland, Minion KC Morrison, Clyde Ruffin and Marlene Perchinske
Book review Copyright © 1998 by Bert H. Hoff


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Carole Patterson, Anthony Barboza, Arvarth E. Strickland, Minion KC Morrison, Clyde Ruffin and Marlene Perchinske, Commitment: Fatherhood in Black America.(Columbia, MS: University of Missouri Press, 1998) (Museum of Art and Archeology, University of Missouri-Columbia).Order on-line


At a time when fatherhood seems to be so devalued, this beautiful coffee-table book is a breath of fresh air. It celebrates Black fathers, but its positive message about the joys and challenges of fatherhood is universal.

According to the book jacket, "The father is often perceived as someone absent from the African American family ... This book shows another side to that image, a positive one depicting black men who are supportive and nurturing parents. ... These portraits ... deliver an important message to everyone, especially young people, about parenthood and the obligations and responsibilities attached to it."

The 50 black-and-white photographs of fathers and sons and daughters are beautiful and moving. But the power of the book is in the words of the fathers - fathers who speak their own Truths, but speak for all fathers.

Hear the words of 38-year-old Thomas Stubblefield, from Yazoo City, Mississippi. "I want my children to see the real me, the person that I am, and love me for who I am." "Having my baby daughter made me open my eyes and see that I can't be any good to her whatsoever if I continued to live the way I'd been living." "I don't want a family like the Partridge Family or anything like that. I just want a very close-knit family. I just want to live a comfortable life. I don't want to be rich, I just want to know that my family is taken care of. I don't want to be able to give my kids everything, but I do want to be able to provide for them and I want them to grow up to be responsible."

Gerald Russell, born in 1942 in Little Rock, was the first black high-school all-American. He couldn't play football for the segregated Arkansas Razorbacks. He was going to join the stellar track program at the University of Tennessee (home of Wilma Rudolph) when he found out that his now-wife was pregnant. "The way I was raised, if you plant a seed, then whatever you do, stand behind it." Son Derek is a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, and now the Houston Oilers. Gerald says, "I think a real man is a person who goes to work and supports his family and do what he can in his neighborhood to help. What a man is supposed to do is take care of his obligations, take care of his family, eve if he has to sacrifice himself. I never got to see Derek play basketball, and they say he was a better basketball player than he was a football player. I missed all of that working. He was in Hot Springs and broke the Arkansas record of 13.7 in the meter championships. It was a world-class feat, and I missed all of that working. It's rough being a father, especially when you are trying to work so that you can help your kids."

Timothy Edward Record, 28, was born and raised in East LA. "I will always be there for my son, because I don't want him to go through what I went through." His mother was still smoking drugs when he went outside on his 15th birthday and suddenly realized what smoking crack was doing to him. He was in an active gang, and the youngest drug dealer in East LA. He never had a father in his life. Thanks to Father Tom Boyle's Jobs for the Future program, Timothy is office manager of the company that produced Forrest Gump.

Lawyer William E. Hickman, 52, also from Los Angeles, is President and CEO of Avis Capitol Group, Inc. "I loved getting in the car with my father, just riding and having a talk about things. ... My father personified what it means to be a man. He wasn't afraid to show his emotions, to cry at the beauty of a sunset, or to express his joy with his family by tearing up. ... My father died when I was a sophomore in high school. There is no way to describe that day." He continues, "One has to sped time with children, that's where it begins. We talked an awful lot as a family and it helped to keep them grounded. I don't know if there is a secret to anything; it was just being able to spend time and to talk to your children."

There's also a chapter on the Responsive Father's program under the auspices of the Philadelphia Children's Network. This program circumvents the belief that unmarried fathers are "worthless and dispensable." While it recruits through churches and community centers, the biggest draw is word-of-mouth, young men talking to other young men. These guys want to do the right thing. Founder Tom Henry says, "What gets left out of he equation is how much these guys care about their children. They think about them. They worry about them." The Responsive Father's program 's goal is to help fathers recognize the costs of parenting, not just in money but in emotional involvement.

If Father's Day is about acknowledging and honoring fathers, this book is a wonderful way to do it.

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