Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Be a Father to Your Child: Real Talk from Black Men on Family, Love and Fatherhood

by April R. Silver
Soft Skull Press
Paperback, $17.95
218 pages, Illustrated
ISBN: 978-1-59376-192-9

Book Review by Kam Williams

“I will be completely candid here and say that I have carried around a great deal of resentment toward older Black men since my father disowned me when I was eight years-old. Indeed, I have had little tolerance, little respect, and very little interest in what most of them have to say for themselves.
It is the worst form of cowardice to bring a child into the world and then abandon that child either because you cannot cope or because you and the child’s mother are not able to get along. How many Black boys and Black girls have had their emotional beings decimated by that father void?
How does one break the vicious cycle, begun on the plantations, of Black man as stud? [And] what of slavery… which lingers still in the collective bosom of Black men in America? So how could I really be mad at my father… that no-good do-for-nothing, as my mother often referred to him?
I may never see the man again in my lifetime, don’t care to, really, but I know… he is wounded… like older Black men and like a lot of younger Black men in a state of arrested development.”
Excerpted from “What Is a Man?” by Kevin Powell (pages 34-35)

How does the Hip-Hop Generation view fatherhood? Depending on whose statistics you believe, anywhere from 70 to 85% of black kids are now being raised by single-moms. This suggests that African-American males raised during the heyday of misogynistic gangsta rap might be unwilling to shoulder their fair share of the burden when it comes to parenting.
But before you jump to conclusions, you might want to read Be a Father to Your Child: Real Talk from Black Men on Family, Love and Fatherhood. Edited by April Silver, the book is a collection of empowering essays by black men born between 1965 and 1989 who have not abandoned their children.
Each contributor shares his unique perspective, some of which you are bound to find a little surprising. For instance, Bakari Kitwana, author of such seminal cultural touchstones as The Hip-Hop Generation and Why White Kids Like Hip-Hop, readily admits to being “old-fashioned” and that the bulk of the music he writes about is off-limits for his own eight year-old son.
Then there’s hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, a father of two, who says, “Education is the key of a wonderful life.” He also acknowledges that rap has served as a surrogate father, filling in for absentee dads. But he warns that the music only “teaches you how to appear like a man.” Also among the two-dozen young sages weighing-in are professors William Jelani Cobb, James Peterson and Alford A. Young, Jr., filmmakers Aaron Lloyd and Byron Hunt, DJ Davey D, rapper Rhymfest and playwright Shaun Neblett.
Be a Father to Your Child amounts to a heartening mix of poetry, prose and pictures which combine to reassure skeptics about the prospects for the black family, the daily dire predictions of the mainstream media notwithstanding. For if these dedicated brothers were able to overcome the odds and avoid the self-destructive paths glorified in the materialistic, violent and misanthropic music videos on which they were weaned during their formative years, there is indeed plenty of promise for this and future generations of African-American dads.

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