Let’s play word association.
I say “black man.” What words or phrases pop into your mind? Tell the truth. I’ll give you a few: gangster, thug, thief, convict, lazy, shiftless, dumb, dropout, hustler, absentee father. I could go on. Even if you get a bit more positive (outside of Barack Obama), it’s singer, rapper, athlete.
Everybody gets in on the act of beating us up — media, white America, academia — even some black men (Bill Cosby and crew). Maybe the worst culprits (though they will take umbrage at me saying so) are black women. According to many black women, almost total responsibility for black suffering (especially in romantic relationships) can be laid squarely on the shoulders of black men. If we’d just get ourselves together, everything would be all right. Interesting.
Brothers are the easiest targets around. The abuse is so frequent that no one even talks about how commonplace it is anymore. In fact, a black man who is highlighted for doing “positive things” is seen as a freakish anomaly rather than proof that “good black men” do indeed exist and are not strange, alien specimens from outer space. For instance, despite the widespread labeling of black men as bad fathers, a whole lot of us are trying our level best — and doing all right.
True, there are bad and/or absentee black fathers. I had one. But there’s another side. I wrote this piece because my daughter, Jordan, turned 1 this week. She’s a gem and I have been very close to her since minute one. I’m not alone. The same can be said of many brothers — including my two best friends. I’ll call them Bogey and The B.O.P. Those who know me know who I’m talking about.
The B.O.P. and I have been boys since we were 12 years old. We’ve been rolling since our days at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Atlanta. He’s a flat-out warrior. Born with sickle cell anemia, doctors said he wouldn’t live past 16. He’s 41 now. My man!
In 1998, a girl whose birth control pills “malfunctioned” (how many times have we heard that story?) told The B.O.P., “I’m pregnant.” She immediately followed up with, “And I’m keeping it. I was just letting you know.” The B.O.P.’s choices were gone — life altered. He responded with a refrain he maintains until this day, “I can’t let that boy grow up like we did, man.” He moved her in, put her through school, married her, and had another son. She left him a few years later. Broke his heart. She broke the news at her birthday dinner, which he planned — only two days after returning home from a month-long hospital stay. Tough.
My other boy, Bogey, is like a big brother to me. When times are toughest, his face is often the first I see. I trust him so much that I asked him to be my daughter’s godfather. I won’t go too deep, but he’s made sacrifices many men would never even think of making for his daughters. His wife divorced him, too — TWICE! To this day, he goes hard for his girls.
These brothers’ wives didn’t leave because their men wouldn’t work, beat them or cheated. They were absolutely committed. The women just got “tired” or weren’t “in love” (their words, not mine) — even though both were adamant about getting married on the front end.
Through heartache, trauma and the financial ruin of rapacious divorces, my boys stay strong and committed to their children. Neither they nor I do it because of examples we grew up with. The B.O.P. didn’t meet his father until he was 18 — and then took care of him as he died of pancreatic cancer. Bogey met his dad at 28. I never laid eyes on mine until I was 34. Bad fathers all. But that doesn’t mean the majority of us are that way.
So, Happy Birthday, Jordan! Your daddy loves you and, come hell or high water, will ALWAYS be there!
Remember, until next time — you know the rest.
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is the author of “What’s Wrong With Obamamania?” His column is published the third week of each month. Visit him at www.rickyljones.com.