NAACP President and CEO Benjamin T. Jealous has two little children. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has a son and two daughters. Rev. Derren A. Thompson, a Chesapeake Bay-area clergyman, has two sons.
Each has achieved a high level of success and each said that being a father has been the icing on the cake.
As Father’s Day approaches on June 16, men, women and children across the nation are contemplating the meaning of fatherhood. Though Father’s Day doesn’t create the same gift-giving frenzy of Mother’s Day, the celebration does, none the less, offer families a formal opportunity to thank the men whose traditional role is to protect and guide us.
“Fatherhood is a series of dynamic relationships, each one on the other for purpose and strength,” said Dr. Alvin Thornton, associate provost for Academic Affairs at Howard University, nationally known for his education reform work in Prince Geoge’s County and Maryland. “Fatherhood must be grounded in respect and love for the extended family unit and the mother of the children.”
Thornton, who has worked for more than 25 years to improve the plight of children and young adults, said fathers should take the role seriously.
“Fatherhood must be child-centered and a source of personal discipline that allows the investment of time and resources in the children,” he said. “Fatherhood must also be a source of awareness among the children of their cultural mandates: their past, current obligations and role in the future.”
Frank Malone, founder of 100 Fathers, Inc., a District of Columbia-based privately-funded non-profit whose mission is to help fathers be effective in parenting their children, said the importance of the role of fathers is often undervalued. He said that is especially true among African American families, where the father is often absent.
“There is a difference between a mother and a father and though the mother has a certain role to play, a mother cannot be a father,” he said. “They will try to be a father, but they can’t. Men bring a strength that women don’t. Men discipline in a way that is final…Risk-taking behavior and some of the other problems that children face can be controlled when a father is involved.”
He said girls benefit from a positive relationship with a father when they seek to establish their own relationships.
“Girls who don’t have a positive relationship with a father will love the first man who pays her any attention,” he said. “She needed a male presence to understand what it is to be loved by a man.”
While women raise children alone frequently who grow up to be happy and productive citizens, studies suggest that boys and girls who grow up with a positive father figure may have an advantage.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, positive father relationships can influence everything from academic success to health.
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America—one out of three—live in biological father-absent homes,” the organization’s website, www.fatherhood.org, said. “Consequently, there is a ‘father factor’ in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.”
Children raised in homes without fathers, according to fatherhood.org, are more likely to be poor, show aggression, engage in delinquent behavior, face incarceration, become teen parents, suffer abuse and neglect, abuse drugs and alcohol or become obese.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, has a portrait of his late father, Rushern Baker, Jr., hanging in his office. It was painted by his son, Rushern IV, a professional artist.
It serves as a reminder of the gifts his father, a retired soldier, gave to him and inspires him to be a good father to his son and daughters, Baker said.
“I’m doubly blessed to be able to look at a picture of my dad that my son painted,” he said. “I get to be reminded of someone who was a hero to me and believed in me, even during times when he had the right not to…Father’s Day gives me a chance to tell my children stories about the wonderful influence he was on my life…from his work ethic to the way he treated people.”
Fathers speak out about what the role means to them:
“When my little girls, Kennedy and Reagan, entered this world, the true meaning of life was defined for me. My decision-making became centered around protecting and ensuring a better future for my children and all children of Baltimore City. “
Cory V. McCray, Baltimore
Activist, board chair of the Young Trade Unionists
“My father wasn’t around when I was a kid, and I used to always say, ‘Why me? Why don’t I have a father? Why isn’t he around? Why did he leave my mother?’ But as I got older I looked deeper and thought, ‘I don’t know what my father was going through, but if he was around all the time, would I be who I am today?’”
“Every child has a father, and some of those fathers don’t want to live up to the responsibility of being a father. Whether it’s a father in a marriage or a father in a good home, that father…owes that child financial support, owes that child companionship, owes that child an example in life.”
Colin Powell, retired general and former secretary of state on CNN.com, Nov. 2009
“The best thing about being a father is knowing that when the world kicks my tail, and situations are not kind, I can come home to my two sons and I am the king in their eyes. I am their hero, just being Dad. Knowing that makes going through what I need to go through all worth it. I love these two guys, Derren Jr., and Darius.”
Rev. Derren A. Thompson, Edgewood, Md.
Pastor of More Than Conquerors Worship Center
“Every day I’m proud to be a dad. When you have kids, there’s no such thing as quality time. There’s just time. There’s no, ‘Ooh, his graduation’s better than going to the mall.’ It’s all kind of equal. Changing her diaper and her winning a contest—it’s all good.”
Chris Rock, comedian
Good Housekeeping interview
“The other night, I was walking down the stairs behind one of my daughters—I have three, and one son, ages 8 to 16. I was tired, and she was goofing around, you know, like kids do, doing all this stupid stuff on the stairs. And I was thinking, ‘Please just go down the stairs and let’s get you to bed. It’s after your bedtime. I’ve had enough for one day.’ And then I sort of caught myself. I snapped out of it. I was like, ‘Dude, you should be dancing down the stairs behind her!’”
Forest Whitaker, actor/director
Esquire in 1997
“From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms I knew I’d meet death before I’d let you meet harm. Although questions arose in my mind, would I be man enough? Against wrong, choose right and be standing up.”
Will Smith, actor/rapper/director
In his song, “Just The Two Of Us”
“The way young people think, you want to think like them so they teach you a lot. Having a child teaches you so much,”
Russell Simmons, entertainment mogul
In his book “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All”
“If the new American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a 50 percent chance of being right.”
Bill Cosby, actor/comedian
On Elev8.com on June 9, 2011
“I would say my greatest achievement in life right now—my greatest achievement, period is, and and I’m still trying to achieve it—is to be a wonderful father to my kids.”
Bo Jackson, former NFL player
“Fatherhood means a great deal to me. I love it. To me, there ain’t nothing better, because your kids keep it real with you. When you think things are bad, you look at them and they show you how things could be all right, and it’s all worth it.”
Martin Lawrence, actor/comedian
“As fathers, we need to be involved in our children’s lives not just when it’s convenient or easy, and not just when they’re doing well—but when it’s difficult and thankless, and they’re struggling. That is when they need us most.”
“Fatherhood is listening, laughing and learning together.”
Ben Jealous, NAACP president and CEO
“When you have a good mother and no father, God kind of sits in. It’s not enough, but it helps.”