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“But don't wait to jump in too long”


By Mark Anthony Neal @NewBlackMan |with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)


Wednesday, January 17, 2018.


You never have time for anything” my 15-year-old daughter chides me with regards to something that has nothing to do with her.  My retort, “I have time for you” is met with a defiant “really?”.  She and I both know that it’s not about the car rides to school in the morning, or the trips to Barnes & Noble and Five Below; she has always demanded more than I could give, and more than her older sister was willing to ask for -- and more than her mother, my wife, knows to ever expect.


A recent Pew Research survey suggest that a majority of American Fathers (63%) believe that they spend too little time with their children.  As nearly a quarter of American fathers are not in residence with their children (under the age of 17), such sentiments should not be surprising. Yet the data also captures that such concerns are shared by fathers, who live with their children; I am one of those men.


Among the more disturbing data that is revealed in the Pew Research poll is that nearly half of all Black fathers did not live with their children, a rate that is nearly three times that of their White peers.  Of course such data doesn’t reveal the quality of parenting that Black fathers engage, as there are myriad ways in which fathers, and Black fathers in particular, co-parent without living in the household of their children’s mothers.  Indeed we are witnessing a generation of Black men so traumatized by the idea of the absent Black father -- reproduced ad nauseum in popular culture -- that they are simply better fathers than they will ever be partners.


I know for myself, the idea of not being available to my children has produced a constant anxiety.  To be sure, my own father was a regular presence in my life, he was my first intellectual interlocutor, and I expected to see him return home every night, which he did without fail.  Yet he was also among generations of Black men who understood their primary duty to be that of a provider, and he did that without fail, often six days a week.  


The Sunday mornings when my father was home, cooking breakfast, singing along with The Mighty Clouds of Joy, were precious to me, but in retrospect it didn’t make him any more emotionally or physically available to me. I’ve learned more about who my father was in the world listening to his old records a decade now after his death.


As a father, I was hell bent on being as available as possible to my own children. The bourgeois dreams of a working class kid from the Bronx perhaps; like my father, I am not sure I have been any more available to my daughters than he was to me.  While I can no longer count the number of  school plays, dance recitals,  softball games and swim meets that I attended in support of my daughters -- as much of the by-product of the hyper-programmed lives we’ve bequeathed our children -- it doesn’t mean I have been any more attentive as a father as my dad, who literally never attended my extracurricular activities -- or my college graduation -- because of the responsibilities of making a living.


My daughter gives me that look that should be a meme that says “my dad trying to sing that high-pitched line ‘But don't wait to jump in too long’ from Miguel’s ‘Sky Walker’”; it has become my way to remind her that I know what will make her laugh, that I am paying attention to her, often to break the intensity of our conversations in the car -- a metaphor for our changing relationship.


NPR, ESPN radio, Sirius XM Radio 49 be damned, I’m trapped in the car again for 15 minutes to be bombarded by everything she has been storing to share with me from hours before;  it is exhausting, and she knows it -- it’s how she gets my attention.


Like her older sister, my daughter’s days riding shotgun in the car will become a thing of the past, and no doubt like her older sister, I will lament not having spent enough time with her, will regret not giving enough of my attention to her, because the fact of the matter is there is never enough time, and there will never be.


“But don't wait to jump in too long”

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