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Why is there no Father’s Day gift that captures my black husband?

Luba Kassova | June 21, 2024
Why is there no Father’s Day gift that captures my black husband? Why is there no Father’s Day gift that captures my black husband?

In our family we typically celebrate Father’s Day a week later than the designated day. My husband prefers to celebrate when both of our sons are at home. On Father’s Day itself our older boy - his stepson - is celebrating with his dad. So my husband always chooses to wait for him to come back.

As well as being a stepdad and dad, my husband also happens to be a black man. Every year for the last 15 years I have wanted to buy a Father’s Day card or mug for him that depicts a man who looks like him. But so far I have never found one, despite living in multiracial south London. All cards, mugs and other Father’s Day merchandise I have seen depict smiley or silly-looking white men’s faces, often straight blond hair. There are no cards, mugs or notebooks with images of smiley and loving black or brown fathers. There is no merchandise that reflects the wonderful father that my husband is. Which makes me sad.

What this absence also signals is that in our culture, black men are most certainly not associated with being good fathers. Report after report tells us that black men are more likely to grow up in single-mother households, to be randomly stopped by the police, to be incarcerated for crimes they did and did not commit, and to suffer mental health challenges than white men are. But being good fathers is not an attribute that black men are celebrated for. And this is a problem. A problem we can only rectify by shining a light on generous black fathers like my husband who tear down stereotypes like old wallpaper off a wall.

My husband, a second-generation immigrant with West African parents, grew up fatherless from the age of 7. He felt loved, even spoilt by his father while he was around. In fact he says that his father showed a somewhat unique adoration of him as his youngest son that in hindsight made my husband feel uncomfortable for its unfairness to his siblings.  The far- reaching systemic racism of the 1970s drove his immigrant father out of Britain. One day he was simply gone, leaving his family behind, without saying goodbye. This was the day that defined the kind of father my husband was going to be. A father who sticks around, who loves deeply, who protects, who provides, who supports, who challenges, who encourages and who invests all that he has in his family and children, irrespective of whose biological genes they carry. A father who goes to school concerts, sports days, school fairs and football matches, who creates customised birthday games from scratch to support his children’s passions, who prints out planning sheets to aid his sons’ exam preparation, who praises efforts regardless of outcomes, who instils compassion more than competition and who believes in his children’s goodness.

I met my husband more than 15 years ago through work and our connection was so strong that we quickly became friends. One day he made a statement that revealed a part of his nature so sensitive and perceptive that for a moment I forgot to breathe. “I would like to meet Nestor (our older son) because I know that until I have met him, I haven’t really met you.”

When Alex (our younger son) was a baby, my husband spent hours gently dandling him in his arms, nap after nap and night after night, until he fell asleep. An effort that I wasn’t prepared to match for it was too strenuous and monotonous.

At a dinner conversation not long ago, while discussing being a bystander in hypothetical street altercation situations, a topic of sustained interest to my teenagers who are trying to figure out the boundary between defending others and self-protection, my husband quietly assured them that he would give his life for them if he had to (after exhausting all other possibilities, of course!) Simple. Straightforward.

I scan the variety of Father’s Day gifts depicting goofy or solid white fathers, having been lucky enough to be raised by one myself, and in my mind I slot in the missing images of good fathers of different colours who too deserve a mug with their facial features on it. A mug that will subtly challenge social stereotypes and send an unconscious message of hope to the next generation of boys of colour, helping them to cultivate trust in their future fathering. I reflect on the day when being a good father will no longer be exclusively reserved for white dads but will be an identity trait shared by fathers of all races. And that makes me smile.

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