Growing Up Strong: A Daughter's Reflections on the Impact of Fatherhood"
By Dr. Imani Strong
Presented by Omni-U Virtual University
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
Exodus 20: 12
“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
Psalm 147: 11
I am an anthropologist, an African American, and a daughter. Therefore, Father’s Day means a few things to me. First, Father’s Day—from its Catholic origin to its current worldwide celebration—is a social ritual regarding a social phenomenon. It has varied significance and performance across the world but fulfills the effect and purpose of all rituals in creating social boundaries. In its adoption and enactment, we make choices about how, whether, and who to celebrate. Fatherhood, like personhood, cannot be taken for granted by the biological fact of existence.
As an African American, I am aware that honoring fatherhood takes on a unique significance within our communities. The—ultimately unsuccessful—attempts to shatter kinship bonds through the trauma of the slave trade, mass incarceration, and institutionalized inequality have been apparent to social scientists for well over a century. This, of course, has been accompanied by imaginaries constructing Black fathers as absent parents, ignoring the great structural difficulties Black families have had to overcome and the many significant avenues of care and community that have been pursued outside of the Eurocentric, normative, nuclear family. Such fragmentation, trauma, and attack has emphasized, for our community, that fatherhood need not be reliant on consanguinity. We know better than many that fathers are truly made through community, connection, time invested, and values shared.
So, if fathers are not always biological fathers and fatherhood is a social choice within a network of care, what is fatherhood? And what is Father’s Day? To that point, I must turn away from my other identities and to my own experience as a daughter. Fatherhood, I posit, is about delight, and Father’s Day about honor and remembrance. My father—Black, proud, and a #GirlDad before there were t-shirts—exemplified fatherhood through this delight. He did not take fatherhood for granted but used his time with me to usher me into cultural understandings of Our music, art, and history, to listen to my ideas, to guide me spiritually, and to be there as a shoulder to lean on when life inevitably got hard. He found joy in and encouraged my intellectual curiosity, desiring my growth in every area and making sure that I had what I needed to succeed. During the times when being a woman was hardest, he had the humility and compassion to know that he could not fully understand my experiences but made it clear that he would walk with me and support me on my path.
Fathers of all types, the ones that we celebrate happily and without a sense of social obligation on Father’s day, delight in us. I was brought up to believe as well in a Heavenly Father, and no less than ten times in the Bible does it say that He delights in us. Fatherhood is in social fact- the delight in being a father. Of course, my father also had a model for this kind of fatherhood. His father, biological and social, delighted in him. My late grandfather had Alzheimer’s during his final years, but I still quote him and know his favorite stories, even though he had lost them by the time I was old enough to understand. I was given access to him in the fullness of his personality through my father’s recollections and ability to keep him alive. It was important to my father that I knew his father’s humor, insight, and life story. In this way, he continues to honor his father.
Before my wedding, I asked my father for his advice on how to have a long-lasting marriage. He told me to always keep in mind that the decisions you make now are not just about the present moment but that they have an inter-generational impact. It is that piece of advice that sticks with me as I watch my own child with her father. I knew what kind of father I wanted for my child by watching the choices my father made. He knew what kind of father he wanted to be by watching his father in the world. The inter-generational impact of those decisions and visions—of taking fatherhood as a relationship seriously—cannot be overstated. I was blessed with many father figures in my life—a godfather, grandfathers, uncles—and I know many young women for whom these figures were central to their development, and they celebrate them on Father’s Day as I celebrate my father.
Now, as a mother, I know what it looks like when a man is in the trenches alongside you in the path of parenthood, no matter what your relationship looks like. Regardless of family constitution or who is filling the role, true fatherhood is a daily mission of spiritual, mental, and emotional guidance that will have an impact on generations to come. Fathers who delight in children, support, and nurture them, and are kept alive in memory, storytelling, and the expansion of their legacy. Our Father, for this reason, delights in them.