Celebrating black dads
by Cassandra Spratling, Detroit Free Press
Whenever he thought about becoming a father, Emmy Award-winning journalist Ed Gordon pictured a little fellow to play ball with, to school on life lessons and to cheer as he ducked and dodged and dribbled down the court to score.
But his bundle of joy turned out to be a girl.
Gordon had no idea what to do with a girl.
But after daughter Taylor’s birth 14 years ago, he discovered a love deeper than he knew possible. And learned he could and should cheer her on, too.
After Gordon wrote about his experience in Essence magazine in 2006, he was overwhelmed by the volume and variety of responses and knew he had to do something to bring more attention to the crucial bond between black fathers and their daughters.
This Sunday, Gordon will launch a national church and college tour to celebrate black fathers who have positive relationships with their daughters and encourage other fathers to develop such bonds.
He wants men to bring their daughters of all ages to the Sunday morning worship service at Second Ebenezer Church on the city’s northeast side. There, they will make a pledge to love, support and protect them and be a good example of what a man should be.
Although Gordon, 48, lives near New York City, he chose to kick off the tour in his hometown. “We’ve been hard-pressed to get good news coming out of Detroit lately,” says Gordon, who hosts “Our World with Black Enterprise,” which airs nationally at 1 p.m. Sundays on TV One. “This is a way to show that there are a lot of black males out there doing the right thing.”
After the service, the fathers and daughters will attend a workshop at the church where they will do activities together, including cooking and taking father-daughter portraits.
Such efforts are critical to strengthening black families, says Obie Clayton, chairman of sociology at Morehouse College in Atlanta and lead author of “Black Fathers in Contemporary American Society: Strengths, Weaknesses and Strategies for Change” (Russell Sage Foundation, $15.95).
“Fathers have more impact on their daughters’ success than we’ve historically thought, in terms of their educational achievement and overall development,” says Clayton. “The father is usually the first man in a daughter’s life and what she gets from that relationship she takes into her relationships, not only with males, but with females.”
The idea for Gordon’s campaign came after his article appeared in Essence. He wrote of the intense love and affection he discovered when his daughter was born.
Gordon says he was floored by the response to the article. Women responded whether they had great relationships with their father or no relationship.
Since then, he’s been working to create a multipurpose, national movement focused on black fathers and their daughters. Bounty paper towels signed on as a national sponsor and 100 Black Men of America, Inc., of which he is a member, is a primary supporter.
“I’m hoping to raise awareness by getting people to talk about the importance of the father-daughter relationship,” he says. “I also want to salute men who are dong the right thing because there are a lot of us out there and you don’t read or hear about them often enough. And we want to push or nudge those who need it. A real man stands strong by taking care of his kids.”
Anton Chastang, 36, of Romulus and father of a 6-year-old daughter, Kennedy, applauds Gordon’s efforts.
“The relationship between black fathers and daughters is paramount,” says Chastang, chair of mentoring for 100 Black Men of Greater Detroit and a senior planning analyst for Henry Ford Health Systems. “That relationship sets the standard for what you’re looking for and not looking for in men, both personally and professionally. If fathers don’t spend time building relationships with their daughters, they’re leaving their daughters to fend for themselves.”
While the effort is aimed at African-American fathers, it is not exclusive to them. All men can participate if they choose to, Gordon says.
“I’m a black man and I have a daughter, so that’s what spoke to me,” he says. “Also, black men have disproportionately not been in the homes taking care of our kids the way we should.”
More than half of all black children are being raised in single-parent households, mostly by mothers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 28% of American children live with a single parent.
Several celebrities have signed on to support the crusade, including singer Will Downing and rapper-actor LL Cool J, who told Gordon that he knows that a lot of young black girls don’t have fathers active in their lives because fathers would not have allowed their scantily dressed daughters to dance as they did in some of his early videos.
Men, Gordon says, have to acknowledge mistakes they might have made early in their lives, including treating women in ways they would not want a man to treat their mothers or daughters.
“We have to be honest in sharing those life experiences,” Gordon says. “That’s not to say our daughters won’t fall and make mistakes. But hopefully, they’ll miss some of those potholes along the way.”
And living apart doesn’t have to spell being apart, Gordon says.
While divorced from Taylor’s mother, Gordon maintains a strong relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who live in metro Detroit. He’s often in Detroit to attend school and extracurricular activities.
“My greatest hope and desire for her is that she become as accomplished as she can be in terms of her life’s goals,” he says. “And, more importantly, that she is a happy person, secure in the knowledge that I love her unconditionally. I want her to know she always has her daddy in her corner.”