The Tale of Two Men

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by Reginald Barbour

Black fathers have it bad. This isn’t a piece to rant and rave about the mistreatment of Black men in this country – although, I could very easily do that too. Instead, this piece is to help point out the inequities in giving credit where credit is due. Far too often, we hear about Black fathers not being present in the home, becoming bad influencers to their children, or abandoning their children altogether.

But I’m here to tell you…there’s something else…the other story (thank you Prince Rogers Nelson).

There’s the story that so often does not get told of the Black fathers who are leaders in their community, head of their households, and doing the damn thing to make sure their children have strong Black male figures in their lives – every day. I see fathers, like myself, at PTA meetings as we collectively call for more Black male teachers for our children. I see them when we volunteer for school functions and volunteer as mentors for students. I see them in my best buddies from childhood when we get together to celebrate each other’s children because they deserve that and need to see it.

I see the different story. As a matter of fact, I live it.

There’s something very prideful about seeing Black men beating the stereotypes that are placed upon us. One action my wife and I were determined to take was to ensure our two children knew how to swim. Because, yet again, there was a belief, studies even, that said Black children disproportionately do not learn how to swim. We wanted to do our part to combat that stereotype, while teaching our boys possible life-saving lessons.

One day, I was at the pool with my boys while on vacation and we were sharing the pool with another Black family – one Black male adult and three children, two girls and one boy. Apparently, the young boy had been afraid to get in the pool; he didn’t know how to swim.

He saw my youngest son swimming, jumping in and out of the pool, and decided he wanted to play with him, but in order to do so he needed to not be afraid of the water. He got in the pool with trepidation at first, but quickly learned that he could stand up in the water and the pool wasn’t a scary place. Witnessing this little boy’s triumph was one thing, but it was the pride of his father and the celebration that ensued after that caused me to get a little misty eyed.

The little boy’s father not only applauded his son’s accomplishment, but as other Black male family members came into area, he shouted “Look at this! Show him man! Show him what you can do!” Each time, the little boy’s confidence grew a bit stronger. He became a bit bolder as he showed his uncle, and grandfather, and cousin, and older brother, and another uncle, and cousin that he had finally conquered his fear of the water.

It was a beautiful sight watching seven Black men, all family, all responsible, cheering on a young Black man for conquering his fear. I knew then what I’ve always known – there is a tale of two men that exists for Black men. We go from being menaces to becoming the President of the United States; and yet, there always seems to exist an ever-present shadow of doubt from those who don’t really know us. False beliefs from those who should believe in us – like teachers, employers, and neighbors. No one race is inherently perfect just like one isn’t inherently bad.

I love that my sons have the ability to discover and try new things. They are exposed to various experiences that allow them to know the world is bigger than the city they live in. They can share stories with their friends who may or may not have similar experiences. But what’s most important is they are surrounded by Black males who love them unconditionally and accept them for all that they are – no strings attached. They have healthy relationships. They can give back the love they receive. They see and experience positive Black men in their lives. It pains me that our story isn’t always told on how Black men step up to the plate every single day of our lives fighting, protecting, working for our families and our children.

I know my voice is not the only one with this message. I write in good company with my other brothas who are doing the damn thing. I salute you.

Reggie Barbour lives in Washington, DC and is a husband and father of two sons.