by Carol Ross

My son was born at 5:07 a.m. on what couldn’t have been a more perfect May morning. His father was on him like a second layer of skin, eager to cut the cord and whisk him into his arms. Our child stared into his daddy’s eyes and quickly stole his heart like a thief in the night. As my tough-as-nails spouse metamorphosed into a warm gooey mound of melted chocolate, he looked back into his son’s eyes and whispered, “Break the cycle. Break the cycle”.

His desire to break the cycle came to him honestly, as his strongest memory of his dad was when he was eight. His father pulled up to the corner and said, “I’m your dad”. He bought my husband a hamburger, then sent him off to school. That was the last time he saw him. Sadly enough, there are many black men who tell similar or worse stories about experiences with their fathers. But there are also many who have had opposite experiences with fathers who are committed to being present in their lives. Many! Too many to continue to ignore.

As my son grew, I began to notice how his connection to his father transformed as he began to rely on him more for validation of his own identity. Whether wanting to go with him on errands or walking around in his dad’s big floppy shoes, my son was beginning to imitate his dad.

With this realization, I began to connect with the validation I had received from my own father. With a heart of solid gold and the patience of growing grass, my father lays claim to a brilliant mind and a wacky sense of humor. He provided me with more than enough tools to face the world with wonder, anticipation, strength and laughter. Without exception, he demonstrated the importance of exploring all possibilities with an open mind to gain a proper perspective. He surrounded me with a natural love of my skin in an environment that didn’t look like me. He supplied my validity in a color-conscious world predicated on invalidating. He carried me around on his shoulders, played “grab like a crab” and tickled me silly. He drove me to school every morning, dug in my ears if he suspected wax and unfailingly answered every one of my thousands of questions. He gave me the one thing that mattered most: himself.

POP began as a natural appreciation for the love I have for my father and for my husband as my son’s father. Initially, I thought I could simply acknowledge black men who are present in their children’s lives, but after the process of creating this book began, this simple act of acknowledgment became much more. While every magazine and newspaper that mentioned black fathers seemed to focus on their absence, it appeared to me that everywhere I went black fathers were present, taking their children to school, playing catch with them in the park, hugging and kissing them. Though I don’t doubt the accuracy of the number of absent fathers, I often wonder why the focus rests on them, while the great many who are present remain uncounted. I became more keenly aware of the disregard that society has for black fathers, even when they do get up every day and find ways to make better lives for their children. The sense of isolation that is so prevalent for many black fathers, having to function in such a nonsupportive environment, became the catalyst for making POP much more than an acknowledgment.

Ranging in age from their mid-twenties to 74, the fathers in POP are all different and from varying backgrounds, but they are all black fathers whose children are very blessed to have them.
We are often overwhelmed with images of black men as unusually serious, angry, or tense, but what I experienced with all of them was quite the opposite. I saw gentle, fragile hearts, carefully guiding the spirits of their young with the strength and foundation of steel. I saw great fear and sometimes desperation hidden behind calm composure, especially from fathers raising teenagers. I saw hope and anticipation from those with infants. I saw fatigue and sleep deprivation from those who nonetheless mustered enough energy to chase, laugh and play. I saw books being read, alphabet songs being sung, pancakes cooked and little teeth brushed. I witnessed Bible readings, serious discussions, debates and disagreements. I watched, I captured, I learned and then I left, my heart always warmer and my spirit much wiser.

In celebration of all fathers and all little boys who will one day be fathers, I present POP.

This is an exceprt from the novel POP: A Celebration fo Black Fatherhood by Carol Ross.