Therapy has played a major part this week. My father played me against my siblings, choosing them over me, and thereby setting things up so that I would just never be chosen. That I would always be on the outside. That I would be the black sheep, the one who would wander through life alone, the one who would never win. This has played itself out in my life, my love life where I never knew my worth as a man, my business life, where I never knew how to succeed or would undermine my own opportunities. All lessons from my father.
In our society, whilst we do not talk enough about masculinity, we definitely do not discuss the role of the father enough. Being a father, the role of the father in a child’s development; these areas have regularly been left out of research, predominantly by men, into the roles of parents and caregivers. From Winnicott, to Bowlby, to Klein, the early forerunners of psychotherapy did what every scientist within a patriarchal structure did, and focused outwards at women and the other, often neglecting to observe their own masculinity and, in this case, the role of the father (Bowlby, 1988; Mitchell, 1986; Winnicott, 1961).
The consequences of this are that we, as a profession, have been a bit myopic in recognising the needs of fathers, a recognition of which would allow us to design services for such a large portion of the population. Of the research out there, the website Dad La Soul says that there are presently, 96 men under 45 who are lost to suicide each week in the UK. They couple this stat with the fact that 73% of dads admit being lonely or socially isolated, 61.9% of dads feel they lack companionship, and 76.2% of dads felt they were left out of family life (Various, 2022).
Social constructions of masculinity therefore have often left us to believe that men being strong was the way forward, and that research which gleaned statistics like those mentioned above would in no way be needed. But they are. Fathers struggle, just as those stats say. They worry, they feel low, they get depressed, sad, and lonely. As a father, I know these stats speak to myself, and at times I might have found myself within any one of those three percentages presented above. I wonder how many father, or how many who have/had fathers might recognise the same?
Not having a father as such hasn’t hampered me, as I’ve always found my way otherwise, through mentors and therapy etc, which means I’ve defined it for myself, with the help of ancestors etc. I was therefore was thinking about the relationship I have with my daughter as her father, and how I am so very different to him in how I relate to her. I was considering that lack of relationship together with the strange coincidences which come up between us from time to time (the dream he had about me this week, and last year when he rang at the same time I was talking to my daughter about him). I’ve just realised that on both occasions I was with my daughter, which might be relevant.
The lack of a black father is one of those annoying cliches and stereotypes that is used by the white majority to beat up the black other. I am not here this month to play into that though. What I am here to state is that the fracturing of the family unity (I initially wrote unity and meant unit when first writing this paragraph. I kept unity as it says what I need it to so much more succinctly) is a tool used by many a oppressive group. It was a tool used by slave owners to maintain control over their slaves. It was a tool used by the British and Americans during World War 2 in order to control Japanese, German and Austrian immigrants who were suspected of being Nazi sympathisers. The splitting of the family, the bracketing off of the father away from his children, meant that the power of the masculine was contained, imprisoned as it were, whilst the rest of the family, including the children, were left at the whims of their captors, jailers, or overseers (Akbar, 1984; Thomas, 2000; Unknown, 2016).
Whilst there is lots of research exploring the impact of this upon the mother and the child, such as Golding’s (2012) work exploring the developmental and psychological impact upon children raised without a father, for the father I can surmise, the impact upon them would have been as enormous psychologically as well.
Given the enforced psychological absence of the father, in the modern day, these internalised messages of the father need not the impetus of the social constructionist societies they reside within for them to still function. As witnessed, I will suggest, via the words of Memmi (1974) the interaction between the coloniser and the colonized, leads to a mutual internalisation of the messages passed each way by both. This then means that for these messages to become reactivated all they need is a gentle nudge upon an internalised transgenerational superego for them to be reactivated. From the racialised messages that there are no good black men and therefore no good black fathers, to the need for whiteness to observe and treat black men as less than where they laugh at the children without black fathers, the black father is often presented as an endangered species. One worthy of observation in an Attenborough documentary, or some other such nonsense. Yet, I am one of many black fathers, fathers doing their thing, getting on with raising their children, be it within their biological families or without. Not questing for recognition from whiteness, not suggesting they are bucking the trend of our cultures internalised racism against black fathers.
So, for this month’s blog, I have decided to write some personal notes about what it is to be a father. Beyond that baseline fathering so rooted in my own father’s colonised psyche, his persona dominated by the internalised supremacist who divided and conquered, who denigrated and repressed. This blog is about what it is to be a father, a black father, and how this enhances who I am as a man in all my intersectional identities.
My daughter is my world. You once said to me that she will know how strongly I feel for her from how I relate to her on a day to day basis. From the times I have had to fight for her, to my joy when we go out for our Dad/Daughter Dates, my relationship with and to my daughter has always been a strong one. I don’t mind that she is sassy with me at times (in fact I actively encourage it as a means of her asserting herself as a girl, teenager, young woman). I am proud when we cook together, when I do her hair, or when I teach her to ride her bike, her scooter, or Barney the horse. I even don’t care when her massive unicorn toy beats me up (although why it has to have a Jamaican accent I have no idea). Being able to engage with my daughter in her world is one of the joys of my life. Being a father who plays, that repairs so much for me from my own childhood where there was so little of that.
My daughter was 5 minutes old when I stuck my tongue out at her cheekily. That she did the same I like to believe was not just because I am a mirror for all that she is and will become. That she did, like to believe, is because we have a bond, a deep one a meaningful one. I am a father because of her. I am a better man because of her. And what I enjoy about being a father is that I learn as much from this now six-year-old girl as she does from me. I love thinking of games to play, things to bake, what movies to watch, trips to the theatre, road trips to visit my brother and other relatives. In the car, we do the sweetie reach around, where we make sure we have enough snacks on our long journeys. We have our favourite episodes of Bluey on BBC iPlayer, and I have watched all four Toy Story movies, and all three original Star Wars films. We have made sausages rolls for picnics and baked a birthday cake for Minnie Mouse’s birthday (apparently on December 29th in my house).
Just like the research done by Downer and Mendez (2005) in their exploration of African American father and how they relate to their children, there is as much play and adventure as there is learning and study. Palkovits’s (1984) father questionnaire takes this a stage further in the exploration of what it is to be a father.
Yet for me, I think there is something spiritual, archetypal even, in understanding and reconnecting with what it is to be a black father. In moving beyond the internalised colonised self, decolonising the psyche involves a form of individuation, as Tyagi (2008) recognised in his paper link between individuation and spirituality. This matches up with a series of other papers on the subject which explored the link between working with black men in therapy and a tie to their spirituality, where they recognised this link is to their African archetypal soul self, the inner spiritual Father who bypasses the internalised colonized father. An archetypal father which can connect with the other, and in my case to my own daughter (Frame & Williams, 1996; Paris et al., 1993). This is a journey which moves the black man beyond the westernised patriarchal objectification of woman to the Afrocentric adoration of the deities which represent the feminine (Drewal et al., 2008).
When we recognise this, when we see the link between black fatherhood and the spiritual, then one recognises that no man, no nation, no culture, could ever destroy the black father. Not if we let it. It is always there, a spiritual archetype in the unconscious, waiting for us, waiting for us to connect to it.
Letter To My Ancestors: This has been an interesting time. I am with my daughter this whole week. It is a pleasure to guide her, and my love for her grows each day. We also had a wonderful weekend, with a mixture of rest and fun, and we especially enjoyed spending time at the Black History Event in Brighton, where she had fun playing, doing arts and crafts, and dancing with her father. So dear ancestors please look after us both.
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Unknown. (2016). Isle of Man exhibition features history of WW2 internment camp. BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-isle-of-man-36906504
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