Working as a parenting educator for teen parents for about five years, I heard the term “baby daddy” tossed around in many of classes as young mothers complained about lack of childcare, incarceration, custody battles and other barriers they had to overcome while raising their children. In my first few classes, the label made me cringe mostly because of the negative connotation it carried. “Baby Daddy” was almost always associated with young men who weren’t providing for their children, financially or otherwise or in some way weren’t living up to their expectations. But in my position as a facilitator I didn’t feel like it was my place to censor them. In addition to child development and positive discipline, the workshops were a safe space for young parents to vent and be vulnerable about their successes, setbacks and insecurities, some of which they shared with parents much older than them that many say were “better prepared” for parenthood. I wanted my students to use words they were comfortable with and focus on how to provide healthy upbringing for their children without getting tripped up on labels. As much as I am a writer, I still believe that words are only as powerful as the people who use or receive them make them, because context really is everything.
A few years into leading those workshops I was paired with a male facilitator who suggested that students avoid using the term at all. From a male perspective, his position was that the term stripped fatherhood of its maturity, and in his opinion the word “baby” acted more as an adjective to describe “daddy” as opposed to describing his role as parent:
“When you say ‘baby daddy’ what you’re ultimately doing is describing the father of your child as a child.”
For those classes we decided to use the term “co-parent” or “father of my child”, but the truth was many of my students were still children themselves despite having adult responsibilities. Many of my students didn’t feel like they actually had a co-parent which essentially means you have a person who is equally investing the time and resources into parenting as you are. So honestly, as of today the term doesn’t really make my ears bleed as much as it does for others.
What is interesting is the fact that around more than a decade or so ago the term was inducted into the mainstream (aka as white people began saying it) and somehow “baby daddy” became goals. 2004’s My Baby’s Daddy was a feel-good comedy starring Anthony Anderson in role that was far removed from the Andre Johnson pro-black, proud papa just trying to make it in corporate America character we’ve witnessed in Black-ish. ABC Family (now Freeform) had a pretty successful sitcom that lasted for six seasons titled with the colloquialism that took on a “Three Men And A Baby” approach to parenthood the cast being predominantly Caucasian and looking very different from the people of color the term was initially used by. Fast forward to 2018, and if anything sealed the deal on “acceptability” it was when Kylie Jenner, member of the American family we love to hate, referred to her partner Travis Scott as her BD after recently giving birth. Slowly “baby daddy” has come to be somewhat synonymous with co-parent with reality stars like Tamar Braxton even using it to refer to their husbands. So my question is: Are we still big mad over the term, or nah? Because in today’s issue of, “What Are We Mad About?” all of social media is giving retail giant Target the side eye for carrying a line of Father’s Day cards sporting the slang term featuring a couple of color.
Target eventually removed the cards as shoppers complained about the cards being culturally insensitive, but it makes me wonder if “baby daddy” is added to the collection of terms much like the “n-word” where it’s all good as long as those accepted by the culture are finger-popping and having a laugh but as soon as someone outside of that culture uses it, it becomes problematic.
As the terms “baby mama” and “baby daddy” began to be used more frequently in the early 90’s, critics argued that the terms disqualified parents as whole people and were meant to disseminate what may have once just been sexual or actual monogamous relationships to one sole activity that resulted in the conception of a child. A 2012 For Harriet article shares why referring to your co-parent as simply your “baby daddy” is so damaging:
“Baby Daddy was coined in the urban communities with the explosion of young unwed mothers and fathers in the late 80’s and early 90’s. According to Childtrendsdatabank.org, the percentage of births to unmarried women had increased dramatically from 5.3% in 1960 to 32.2% in 1995. As long as the couples remained together, they called each other boyfriend and girlfriend. When they broke up, the man started calling the mother of his child his “baby mama” – almost always combined with the dismissive put-down ‘just.’ ‘She’s just my baby mama’ signified that the man had moved on and was available for another relationship. Distressingly, women found the flip-side term, ‘baby daddy,’ equally useful, and the phrases caught on and spread like viruses, carrying with them their derogatory subtext of abandonment and irresponsibility.”
But sometimes I can’t help but feel like we’re so caught up in complaining about the dirty silverware on the table that we don’t notice the crap we’ve literally been served. Some of us are quick to protest Target while procreating with folks who are incapable of properly caring for a hermit crab and then are surprised when they don’t turn out to be “Father of the Year” (which by the way, there’s a whole aisle of cards available for too, I’m sure). I can see how it would be offensive when these terms are used as a cute way to describe someone who is fulfilling their parental responsibilities, but the original term described a person who was in fact not much more than a sperm donor, so if the irresponsible and immature Adidas slide fits, wear it. Furthermore, acknowledging that there are parents who are not pulling their fair share of responsibility doesn’t negate or discredit those that are pulling their weight.
Do I think the term is derogatory and offensive? Yes, but what I am more offended by are the behaviors exhibited by any parent that delegates them to nothing more than participants in conception. Like, Cheryl K. Chumley, I’m inclined to believe that the Target greeting card aisle is distracting from a bigger issue. In her Washington Times article she refers to “the father absence crisis in America” and notes statistics that paint a grim picture for children raised in fatherless homes:
“…the four times greater chance of fatherless homes to struggle in poverty; the seven times more likely chance of girls being raised without fathers to become pregnant in their teen years; the higher risk for children in homes without dads to face neglect and abuse, to have behavioral problems, drug and alcohol issues; the greater likelihood of those raised with dads to commit crimes and go to prison.”
I’m not out to attack single parents out there who are doing their best to raise whole, grounded, well-rounded children on their own. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed how much harder it is to take on parenthood alone when compared to parents who have dedicated and concerned support systems, even better, systems that include their co-parent as an equal counterpart. However, I do agree with Chumley as far as the idea that sometimes we get do caught up catching feelings over the details that we miss the big picture:
“That Target has recognized this fact with a greeting card for Father’s Day isn’t the problem. The problem is that we have so many ‘baby daddy’ households in America that there’s a niche, a marketable niche, to create and sell a ‘baby daddy’ card in the first place.”
Are you offended by the term “baby daddy” or do you think we’re just once again distracted by the details?
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.