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Redefining Black Fatherhood

Illustration by Cat Willett

Whether it be a dad, grandpa, uncle, teacher or a neighbour - celebrating the paternal figures in our lives brings importance to exploring the often-overlooked mental health issues prevalent amongst fathers. Black fathers particularly, are disproportionately affected by depression, anxiety, and substance disorders. Yet despite the increased need, Black fathers are half as likely to seek therapy in comparison to their white counterparts. A parent who prioritizes mental health, is more likely to be present with their children, happier at home, and a more supportive partner.

In Canada, over 7 million children grow up without a father in the picture. The lack of a second caregiver, particularly the absence of a father, can have detrimental effects on a child’s upbringing. The statistic, however, only considers the nuclear family structure. Children that grow up without a second parental figure, specifically fathers, consistently display a wide range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and suicide.

It’s also been found that children have more difficulty with friendships and social adjustment when they are brought up without a father, which can serve as a gateway to poor academic performance. In this way, an absent father can be strongly correlated with lifelong adversities, ranging from poor self-esteem to experiencing poverty.

Why is it that Black fatherhood is consistently being painted with a tainted brush? The ‘absent black father’ narrative - one that has persisted for 50 years now – has deteriorated the reputation of Black men and their families, perpetuating microaggressions and other forms of social inequality targeted towards Black communities.

The racial stereotype that Black fathers are less dedicated to their children arose from a report written by white sociologist, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in 1965. He claimed that the abundance of single-mother homes and “out-of-wedlock births is a direct cause for the issues that Black families face. Decades later, another report released claiming that 70% of all births to black mothers are non-marital, further shaping the stereotype that Black fathers are largely absent. While the numbers are true, the narrative is not. It’s also important to note that the number of single-mother families among all racial groups has risen dramatically since the 1960s.

According to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics, Black fathers are actually more involved in feeding, bathing, dressing, reading to, and playing with their children in comparison to their Hispanic and white counterparts. Black fathers are on average more active in their children’s lives. While the involvement of fathers does drastically drop after the parent’s relationship ends, these declines are less dramatic for Black families in comparison to other racial and ethnic groups. As journalist German Lopez writes, when it comes to Black fatherhood, “absence is not the norm, involved parenthood is.” From policymaking in the government, to the TV shows we watch in our bedroom - society stroked its broad brush to paint the ‘absent father’ narrative over Black men, masking real causes for black unemployment, troubled children, and overworked mothers.

Whether it be unjust decisions made in court, police brutality, or the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black communities- disproving racial stereotypes like the ‘absent black father’ is yet another source of systemic racism piled onto Black families. Studies have reported Black men feel less valued and unimportant within both societal and familial settings. The need for culturally appropriate therapy has become all-the-more important considering the country’s current state of racial discrimination. Although therapy is a potential source of liberation and empowerment, a series of barriers are posed against the Black community, preventing them from accessing such tools. Past treatment of Black men in mental health facilities, stigma around men receiving therapy, along with the scarcity Black therapists drastically reduces the accessibility of therapy. It is of utmost importance that mental and public health professionals work towards deconstructing structural and systemic barriers that prevent Black men from being fully present in their children’s lives. Let’s work towards creating a space, where Black men can reclaim the tainted narrative of Black fatherhood. Black fathers are involved, loving, present parents that deserve to be celebrated each and every day.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Buvneet Madan is an Indo-Canadian 2nd-year student at McMaster University majoring in Life Sciences and minoring in Gender Studies.


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