Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. I just want to say thank you for being a father to your child. You’re doing the most important job of all. There’s nothing better than a good dad. This is Father’s Day and it’s our time to say, “Thanks!”
Having grown up with my dad, being one myself and now seeing my son be a great father to his children, I fully understand the importance, benefits and joys of fatherhood. And yes, I’m very sorry for all those men who don’t get to experience those joys and even more sorry for their children. I really think they’re being cheated.
Let me acknowledge a couple of things first. I am not intending in any way to slight all the single moms out there doing double and triple duty raising their kids. I’m also not saying that you can’t make it without a father—many of you have and you can. I’m not saying you can’t make it without a mother—you can do that too. You can even make it without any parents at all, because I know people who have done that also. People make the best of the hand they are dealt, but I don’t think anyone would recommend these scenarios for any child.
In my mind, every child deserves and good mother and a good father.
In my years of community work with young people, the toughest day of the year by far is Father’s Day. It’s not rocket science to figure out why. It’s because many of them don’t have one. Their dads are dead, in jail or just not involved. As much as they try to hide it, play it off or just bury it, those feelings and emotions are right there front and center. For many, it’s the main issue in their life. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the lack of fathers is the biggest problem I deal with. That might surprise some of you, but please hear me out.
Because I had a father—and very good one at that—I know the benefits and the joys that dads bring to the table. The kids I work with don’t know that. Just about all of them know what mom does and what mom brings and they swear they couldn’t make it without her. With dad, they’re not so sure. “I think this is what they do,” they say.
Here’s a true story that says it all for me when it comes to the importance of fathers. I was talking to the kids one evening at our regular Tuesday night group meeting and one of the girls said that she hated taking the bus so late because she had to make the walk home from the bus stop and men always accosted her along the way. I told her to call her dad and have him pick her up from the bus stop. She replied that she didn’t have a dad. Then I told her to call her uncle or cousin or somebody in the family to make sure she got home safely. She told me that she didn’t have any male to call, because there weren’t any men in her immediate family. She felt totally unprotected. I felt so bad for her that I told her to call me anytime day or night and I would come and get her. I then wrote my phone number on the board—and every girl in the room wrote it down. Every girl. Wow! None of these young women had any fathers or men they felt they could count on.
A few years ago, I asked the young people (and the listeners of my radio show) to tell me what they thought the qualities of a good father were. I want to share their responses with you. Some of them might surprise you as they did me. Here is what they said:
A good Dad is………
- A teacher
- Provides leadership by example
- A protector
- A provider
- Has the ability to balance sternness and sensitivity
- Instills organization and structure
- Is kind
- Is loving and supportive
- Is calm, patient and understanding
- Listens and inspires
- Believes in you
- Urges you to be the best that you can be
- Has consistency in presence; is there
- Is the foundation for everything else
- Provides discipline
- Teaches you that your word is everything
- Provides balance
- Shows quiet strength
- Is resilient
- Is responsible
- Is able to express emotions
- Provides quality time and is attentive
When we finished the list, the kids—both boys and girls—just looked at each other and said, “Wow, look at what we’re missing out on.” And then I said, “Yeah and look at what’s missing in the community. We’re out of balance. We’re trying to do this child raising thing with one hand tied behind our back. We need both our mothers and our fathers.”
After taking stock of what these young people said, maybe it will help some men out there understand what your kids are missing when you’re not in their lives. Maybe you don’t have any idea what your value is or what you bring to the relationship. Maybe if you did, it wouldn’t matter how difficult the court proceedings are or how much child support you’re paying (or not), or if you’ve got another family, or if your ex has a boyfriend, or if you’re feeling guilty because you can’t buy them things—or any other reason you’ve come up with. Maybe you won’t engage in any illegal activity that puts them in harm’s way or that jeopardizes your freedom and your ability to parent them.
And maybe this list will help some women understand not to deny a man who wants to be a father because he’s got a new girlfriend or because he doesn’t want to be with you anymore or because he legitimately can’t pay the money. Realize that he wants to be a dad just as much as you want to be a mom.
Our kids and our communities need their Dads!
My father of the year, of the century, of the millennium is a gentleman named Gus Smith. Maybe you’ve heard of him, but more than likely you haven’t. His only daughter Kemba Smith got involved with a drug dealer while she was a student at Hampton University in the early 1990’s. She was ultimately sentenced to 24 years in federal prison without the possibility of parole under the mandatory minimum drug sentencing guidelines. Many viewed the sentence was grossly unfair as Kemba never used or sold drugs herself and also suffered tremendous abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. Her father, more than anyone, realized that and then set out to do the impossible—to free his daughter. To him it was the present day equivalent of Moses telling Pharaoh to let his people go. Certainly it was just as daunting a task.
But don’t tell that to a dad. Not this dad. Not Gus Smith. Gus spoke everywhere and everyplace he could and to anyone who would listen. He organized rallies and garnered petitions. He reached out to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Congressional Black Caucus. He even wrote a letter to President Clinton.
Dear President Clinton
I am the father of Kemba Smith, a young lady who is serving a 24.5 year sentence in a drug related case. I appeal to you not as President of the United States but as a father. You see, I have a special bond with my daughter as I have seen you have with your daughter.
I have gone through a transition by having my daughter incarcerated. I lost my job… had to liquidate all my savings… mortgage my home and finally had to file for bankruptcy, not once but twice… You see Mr. President, we love our daughter… and are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary for the future of our family.
…I leave Kemba’s fate, her son, and our family’s in God’s hands and your hands, the President of the United States, who has the express power to send Kemba home.
I thank you for your consideration.
[Excerpt from Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story]
Pharaoh, let my daughter go!
Have you ever seen a miracle, a real miracle? Do miracles really happen? I’d heard about them and read about them but never actually witnessed one. Well I have now, because on December 22, 2000, Kemba Smith walked out of prison a free woman 15 years before her actual release date. President Clinton granted her Executive Clemency. Now if that don’t beat all. Amazing. Never underestimate the power of a dad.
Job well done, Gus Smith. You’re my all-time Father!
So this tribute is for all you dads out there—sung and unsung. We salute you. Thank you so much for the doing the most important job in the world day in and day out.
Thank you for being a father to your child! Happy Father’s Day!