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Father and daughter hanging out on the porch.

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Daddy’s front porch got one of them old school sofa gliders—you know the ones made of metal, with the basketweave squares and the powder coat finish. It’s baby blue and matches the sky and faces it, too, and on summer nights when it’s hot and cumulus clouds feel like showing out, that bench is the front row seat to the most glorious of sunsets—the same exact ones Daddy watched when he was little, and his mama, too, and her mama before her, right there on their land that Grandmother Ida owned outright and built a house on, where she caught all her little grandbabies with her own hands.
Back then, they called it Millner Alley, on account of all those Millners who owned all that land over there and lived on it, too. Walked it. Tilled it. Raised children on it. Built businesses there, too. Sustained themselves for generations. All that dirt, those trees, that grass holds my daddy’s origin story—the roots every bit as glorious, sure, as those summer sunsets.
His living back then wasn’t easy.

Daddy is a product of the rural south, born in the 1930s to a Black and married couple that created seven kids together, which means that my father is living, breathing history; he knows segregation and Jim Crow, gunnysack pants and the various uses for poke sallet and wild cherry bark. He knows the true sting of being called “nigger” and the real, lived consequences of separate and unequal and the balls it takes to leave everyone and everything behind and head north in search of something better, something new, something hopeful, against the odds. He knows, too, what it means to be a motherless child, having lost his mother at the tender age of 10, and what it means to be raised by a single father in the ‘40s who is angry and hurt and overwhelmed and ambitious and old school stern, and by stern, I mean abusive and mean and hard—so hard that wherever there was longing for his mother in my father’s heart, there was also hate for the man who gave him life and filled his memories with sorrow and rage.

Only now, I’m grown has Daddy started to divulge the brutality he suffered at the hands of his father until he ran away to Philadelphia at age 17. He tells the stories and my heart aches for the kid who lived through it, and the man who continues to be haunted by it. By all accounts, Daddy could have been a bit of a trash father, seeing as his own dad didn’t exactly give him a roadmap to being a good one. And isn’t that the story of so many Black children, the product of fathers who were physically, emotionally, or mentally abusive, or just plain absent, leaving it to the mothers to be the mamas and the papas, tasked with teaching their children things that should be the purview of men, like how to pee straight in the toilet, or pick a barber, or shine a shoe or be a gentleman or provide for his family or help a woman feel protected. One need only to linger in the comments section of Father’s Day posts and essays to see just how many children are traumatized by their fathers’ lack. The scars, they are ugly. Deep.

That’s not the story my father wrote for me, though. I suppose Daddy knew what kind of father he did not want to be to me, and so he focused on being the kind of dad he never had, which meant that he loved hard and sweet and thoughtfully. Beautifully. For starters, he was there. He protected me and my brother and our family, physically, financially, emotionally and mentally. He was a hustler all his life—holding down multiple jobs, scheming up paydays when those jobs dried up, always with one mission on his mind: to keep a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothes on our backs. Daddy was and still is a by-any-means-necessary kind of man and, at 87, insists on earning his keep and doing for self. To this day, I’m prone to holding down at least three jobs at any one time; I come by this honest.
But beyond being a solid provider and protector, my father was and is a good dude. He is kind and encouraging and doesn’t hesitate to say, “I love you,” and not only mean it but show it; it was he who talked me into being a writer and, to this day, the first person I call when a new book deal is on the horizon, or my essays and stories are published, or I’ve hustled up some cash to run my household much in the same way he managed to all those years for our family. When I was little, nothing would make me happier than to ride shotgun with Daddy as he went from Macy’s to Sears to Penny’s to the bank, paying his bills and putting a little something aside in savings, and keeping just enough for an ice cream cone at the mall, or a ham and cheese hero with extra mayo at a special deli spot not too far from our house. I still get hyped riding to the store or bank in the front seat of Daddy’s Lexus, black and pristeen and smooth, just like him. He is my cheerleader, my counselor, my confidant, my Spades potnah, cutting fools and running board, high-fiving and laughing and talking and dreaming deep into the night whenever we are together.  And when we walk into wherever we’ve ventured for the day, simple gestures remind me that Daddy’s a helluva man. There is something about the feel of my daddy’s hand on the small of my back… how it moves and shifts and directs as he opens doors, and gently guides me away from the street side of the sidewalk and watches my footing on stairsteps. That’s that old school charm—the gentleman who knows how to treat a lady, yes, but also the gentleman who understands that Malcolm was right about Black women being unprotected and disrespected and neglected, but not this one.
Not his daughter.
Not on his watch.

With Daddy, I am valued.

Priceless. Delicate and precious and worth taking the bullet. Sometimes, this is just what a lady needs—that feeling of a strong Black man’s hands on the small of her back. For me, Daddy set the standard, but I know his being there for me is not unique, despite the running narrative that Black men aren’t there for their children. I see fathers like my dad all around—at the grocery store, pushing their babies around in the shopping carts, and in the park, tossing around footballs and excitedly telling their nervous first-time-bike-riding charges, “It’s okay, move your legs and pedal, you got this!” I see them on the sidelines at soccer fields cheering their babies toward the goal and at swim class, dunking their babies heads in the water and encouraging them to kick. I’m surrounded by friends and neighbors who are doing right by their children and some who didn’t get off to the best start on their fatherhood journey, but who are trying now, nonetheless.
The loving, caring, dutiful Black father exists. My God, he does. They do. Despite what the Black marriage statistics say. Despite what the prison statistics say. Despite what the child support checks look like. Black fathers are capable and do love and care for their babies. It may not be picture perfect love. It may not always be the way we mothers think Black fathers should show their love. But it’s love. And it’s there. It is this on which I choose to meditate on this Father’s Day. As I take this one day out of 365 to celebrate fathers, I choose to give a little air to humanness and imperfection and a pinch of understanding, then focus—really focus—on how love manifests itself in good Black fathers.
Good Black men.
Daddy showed me through word and deed how it’s done. I know, for sure, I am not the only one.
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