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Recognition for Black Fathers

June 16, 1991

White people just don't get it.

It is again that time of year when Americans celebrate family and all that it stands for. Almost all Americans do this. Today, we honor our fathers, for without them we would not exist. And were it not for our dads, for many of us, existing is all we'd be doing. The day is theirs for celebrating, and ours to celebrate with them, a celebration that crosses all ethnic and cultural lines, goes beyond class and language, linking us all as members of a family of families.

Except we are not all linked. And as an African-American male, a father-brother-uncle-son-and-nephew, I'm reminded that I, more than any other male on the fruited plain, am separate.

On this day, my day, our day, as dads, I'm melancholy and also angry. I expect to have to force my darker skin onto most of the white institutions I encounter daily--work, school, business. But on a day as benign as Father's Day, it angers me that I must still create my own celebration. In Los Angeles, for all its talk of multiracial coalitions, a black mayor and other prominent African-American members of the community-at-large, positive images of black males are precious few. Away from the notoriety of sports and crime, black males are invisible to the world outside our families. And at a time people, black and white, are crying for solutions to the crises that plague our cities--drugs, under-education, poverty and crime--perhaps our best weapon against them is kept secret. The African-American father. As a black father, I feel I'm closer to the problems of the city than most others. Trouble is, too many others, especially white males, see us as the problem. When it comes to promoting dads, dads of color are conspicuously absent.

"You see that damn article?" "Yeah," I said to my son's godfather, who called me. "Fathers of the Year," blared The Times' special advertising supplement (June 11), which came in my morning paper. It was the headline that caught my eye. But it was the accompanying story and photographs that broke my heart.

It was like hearing the refrain of an old, sad song. There were eight full pages celebrating the "good" men, the "fine" dads and there was not a single black face among them. No African-American "Fathers of the Year" here, none shown, featured or mentioned. Nothing.

White people just don't get it.

I would gladly exchange a thousand photographs of the Rodney King beating for one good, black dad holding his family. I know many who would qualify.

Take nothing from the men featured on those pages. Worthy fathers they are, I'm sure. But my 4-year-old son, who is learning to read words, but who long ago learned to read pictures, cannot see me or someone who looks like me, doing and being like all good fathers and being acknowledged for it.

We, too, are loving and caring, compassionate and giving, strong and nurturing to our families. I learned how from my dad, who learned it from his. That's what I expected to see the morning I turned to "Fathers of the Year." It was there, all right, it just wasn't there for me. Or my boy. Or my dad.

TONY COX, Los Angeles

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