Mother’s Day is coming up. As a matter of fact, it’s right around the corner. Being a mother myself, I look forward to this holiday. It gives me the opportunity to relish in my six years as a mom and really take time out to appreciate myself for the daily work that I do. As a daughter, I anticipate this day even more. The degree of selflessness I witnessed watching my mother put her all into her children makes her that much more deserving of the outpouring of gratitude.
My timeline will be flooded with words of affirmation for moms and future moms alike, and that’s exactly how it should be. People will chronicle their mothers’ unending struggles, dealing with the various challenges that come with being a mom and the additional challenges that come with being a Black mom. I’ll double tap all of the beautiful collages, scroll past cheesy mommy and me photos, and read tear-jerking dedications. And why not? Black mothers deserve it. Our community operates with the belief that the “mother” in motherhood can never be replaced, she can never be duplicated, she can never be disposed of. Even mothers who don’t do such a great job mothering are lauded with praise. After all, whatever we survive at the hands of our mothers only makes us stronger, right? Mother’s Day is undoubtedly a day for Mothers, an unchallenged celebration of womanhood, and that’s exactly how it should be. Now if only we kept that same energy when Father’s Day rolled around.
Oddly enough, my Father’s Day timeline looks a lot like my Mother’s Day timeline. Photos, dedications, poems and slideshows, all dedicated once again to mom. I mean Walgreens literally has a “Father’s Day for Mom” greeting card section and the trend continues to grow. Fathers in Black households have almost become optional. To what do we attribute this phenomenon? Mass incarceration and the “war on drugs,” inner city crime, state sanctioned violence, and a general lack of familial commitment or sense of responsibility. We may never have one specific culprit to point to, but we know for certain that there is a legitimate paternity element missing in the community with more tha half of our children born to single mothers. The question becomes, do we care? Are mothers and fathers treated with equal importance and does manhood demand authentic representation the way womanhood does?
My son’s father grew up in a single parent home. His mother was and still is praised for her strength and resilience, raising three children by three men on her own in small town Mississippi. She never failed to let it be known that she wasn’t just carrying the load of mom and dad, she was mom and dad. My son’s grandmother receives more Father’s Day cards than most fathers I know, and although a staunch contrast to the environment I grew up in, I never thought anything of this family dynamic until I witnessed its recreation in my own home. My son’s father, raised to believe that his mother carrying his father’s weight made up for his absence, honestly believed that in his absence I could and should be able to do the same. He was raised in a home where motherhood had an actual, tangible expression of itself while fatherhood was reduced to whoever paid the bills. He is not the only one to hold these beliefs, he is one of many. Did his father’s physical absence play a part in his willingness to believe that manhood belonged to whoever displayed the most girth? Yes. Did his mother’s constant dismissal of his father’s absence play a part in his cavalier attitude towards his own absence? Absolutely. And no one is a greater victim of this convoluted family dynamic than our son, who has to live with the consequences of everyone’s twisted pathology.
Unlike his father, my son will never be told that his mother is doing the work of both mom and dad. Quite frankly, I’m simply not capable of it. I won’t kill myself trying and I certainly won’t allow him to live with such a false sense of reality. I know that there are things my son will miss out on simply because his father isn’t present. No matter how hard I work to make up for the lack of relationship between them, I will never be his father, physically, metaphorically or otherwise. I will never be able to teach him how to go about being a dad and I will never become his example of manhood. No amount of single parenting could teach me to be a man, and indoctrinating my son to believe that it can will only harm him and his future offspring. My son will know that his father’s presence (or lack thereof) was important, as is his own. He will grow to accept that he is the only person who can fill that role in his children’s lives and to default that role to anyone else is nothing short of morally criminal. My son will develop an understanding of what manhood is, not from his mother who has never held such a role, but from his uncles and cousins, grandfather and close mentors, people who have walked the path that he is destined to travel. I won’t cripple my son by teaching him that he can opt out of manhood, leaving his barely worn shoes for someone else to fill. He will undoubtedly face challenges as he attempts to learn on his own what other young men are privy to witness from birth. My son will know that his manhood is not optional, neither are the responsibilities that come with it. I won’t leave him believing that some woman can “manage” his job the way I “managed” his father’s job, and the way his grandmother “managed” his grandfather’s job. I don’t know where that cycle of confusion started, but I will end that cycle with him.
Being a single mother does not make you a father, a man, or an expert on either subject, all it does is make being a mother twice as difficult. It’s a very crappy hand to be dealt. One that tests your patience, your sanity, and sometimes your faith. Parenting was a job designed for two, hence the reason we need a mate to procreate. Sometimes our egos get in the way of us acknowledging that there are just some things we shouldn’t have to do alone, even when forced to. And make no mistake, we are still strong women even in this acknowledgement. For this reason, I will not participate in a narrative that gives Black Men the option to opt out of manhood, because Black women “can handle it”. When we validate this idea, we give birth to a generation of young boys who believe manhood is akin to a monthly subscription service and a generation of young girls who are unbothered by the instability of this mentality. This cycle ends when we decide that it does and I, for one, will not sacrifice my son to my ego. I’ll teach him that love is essential and that truth is a necessary evil. I’ll teach him that emotions are meant to be expressed not hoarded. And I’ll teach him that I don’t know what it means to be a man, but I will surround him with loving, supportive, attentive black men who do. Call it what you will, but there is no weakness in needing others, only strength.