A Special MyBrownBaby Love Letter To Black Fathers Getting It Right

I totally heart me some President Barack Obama, I promise you this. But he ticked me off to the highest of ticktivity a few years ago when he took to the pulpit in a Black church on Father’s Day to excoriate African American dads for falling down on their job as parents, saying that all-too-many of them “act like boys, not men.” He added infamously:  “Any fool can have a child.  That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Of course, there are plenty of men who make babies and then walk away from the awesome responsibility of raising them, and those fathers—whom come in all races, from all cultures, from all corners of the earth—do deserve to be taken to task and held accountable for being what they are: deadbeats. Still, I was incensed that Obama, then a presidential candidate looking, it seemed, to right himself in the eyes of social conservatives who thought him too “radical” and “Black” to lead America, used Father’s Day to advance the stereotype of African American fathers as lazy, no-count children too self-centered and foul to do much more than abandon the children they helped to create.

(Seriously—imagine if someone stood up on Mother’s Day and said the majority of Black moms suck. No one would be that disrespectful on the day meant to honor and show appreciation to moms, and the person who’d ever dare would be gutted, filleted and fried like a Friday dinner fish plate, with a quickness.)

It’s a stereotype that consistently hitches itself, like a giant, nasty, pus-filled scab, on the backs of all Black fathers—jumps off book pages and television news stories and especially out of the mouths of policy makers with Freddy Kruger finger-knife precision, particularly when folk need to conjure up scary images for a sensational headline, a bunch of finger-pointing, or to score political points.

It’s hype I simply can’t swallow whole.

Refuse to.

Especially on Father’s Day.

Because while I know there are plenty Black children who have survived without/missed/wished for a stable father figure in their homes—and suffered because their dads didn’t live up to their promise—there are so many more who are doing right by their kids. Fathers like my Dad, who, without the benefit of a caring, nurturing father to show him how to love a child, turned out to be the most loving, nurturing father this girl could ever have.

And like my husband Nick, who consistently reminds me that I picked well when he makes my girls giggle and helps them sort out tough math problems and teaches them Taekwondo moves “so that they can fight off any boy who steps to them wrong,” and throws blue “footie” pajamas in the cart at Target so his girls will be “cuddly” warm in their beds.”

And like Ruby & the Booker Boys author Derrick Barnes, who writes so eloquently on MyBrownBaby.com about his journey raising four beautiful boys—one born just this week! Congrats, Derrick!—to be intelligent, thoughtful, strong, committed black men.

And like dad blogger Eric Payne of MakesMeWannaHoller.com, who pens pitch-perfect stories about his blended family and his abiding love for both his children—his daughter by blood and his son by marriage—and knows enough about how to be a good father to write a book about it, “Dad: As Easy As A, B, C.”

And Shawn Dove, head of the Campaign For Black Male Achievement at the Soros Foundation’s Open Society for Foundations initiative, who, while raising with his wife four beautiful children, has committed his life to mentoring and creating programs for Black boys and helping to reshape the image of Black men—and Lamar Tyler, who, with his wife, Ronnie, does the same with his website,BlackandMarriedWithKids.com and their documentary films, most notably, “Men Ain’t Boys.”

I see committed Black fathers out on the soccer fields and at the swim meets and cheering their babies on at the school plays—in the grocery stores shopping for dinner, at the pediatrician’s office, making sure their children are healthy, on FaceBook, telling their world of friends about their kids’ birthdays and their report cards and graduations and how proud they are to be their daddies.

I know good Black dads exist because I grew up with them and lived with them and went to school with them and am friends with them and work with them and watch them and learn from them and love them…

The fathers who bring their paychecks home…

And kick in toward the mortgage/rent, or pay it outright…

And rub the swollen feet and sore backs of the pregnant women they love…

And change diapers and warm bottles and bounce babies on their arms, even when they haven’t a clue, really, what they’re doing, or we stand over their shoulders, ordering them to do it our way…

And play horsey and helicopter over and over and over again, their exhausted bodies energized only by the glee in their giggly children’s “please, Daddy—one more time?” pleas…

And dole out discipline in healthy doses—with great love and the profound knowledge that setting their kids straight will go a long way in helping them become better human beings.

And make their families feel protected, even when deep inside, they’re scared crapless…

And find a way to raise kids with their children’s mother, even if the love between them isn’t there any more…

And, if they are committed and/or married, kiss their significant others passionately because they think after all these years, she’s still hot…

And do it in front of their kids, so that they can know that they’ve seen true love…

And love the Lord…

And their children with abandon…

I see them. All of them, in their many manifestations.

And they are… beautiful.

Open your eyes, and you will see this, too.

By all means, tweet, FB post, email and print out the post for the important fathers in your life; they deserve to know that they’re appreciated. Happy Father’s Day!

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. President Obama was totally right in his comment. What difference does it make if it was said on fathers day, it needed to be said and it did not take away from good fathers. If it needed to be said about mothers than say that too, but too many African American men have abandon the African American family simply because they don’t want any real responsibilty and it is SHAMEFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Mijoi919—it sounds as if this is a subject that touches you personally. If it is, I’m sorry for what you’ve gone without and for the obvious pain it’s caused you. However, as I stated in my post, I simply do not agree that Father’s Day, a day that we’re CELEBRATING fathers, is the day you stand up and slam ALL black dads. Not all of us have the same experience. Not all black fathers are bad fathers. And it IS unfair to use that special day to take to task the ones falling down on the job. Seriously, Father’s Day is ONE day in the year. We can’t use the other 364 days in the year to tell absentee father’s to get their ish together? One day. That’s it… just one. That’s all I’m asking for the fathers who ARE getting it right.

      • I can see why you take offense to the President’s comments. You had the benefit of having your Dad around and a husband to support you. You wouldn’t understand and that’s okay because you are the fortunate few. A lot of us can understand and appreciate where the President was coming from and it needed to be said then just like it needs to be said now.

        • Denene@MyBrownBaby


          Sounds personal.

        • I am a reader who grew up with a dad there until 8th grade wen he passed away, but our relationship was not close. I wasn’t a daddy’s girl and sometimes when i was a kid i wished he wasn’t around, I thought my mom could have done excellent by herself. I say this to say, Mrs. Miller having her father around doesn’t automatically mean she can’t relate. I think compassionate human beings can relate to any situation, u don’t have to experience it first hand. I agree another Day could have been used to bash the deadbeats because great dads dnt get enough credit as it is. Yes they are doing what they are supposed to, but a more frequent pat on the back my encourage others to jump on board.

  2. What makes you think he was singling out “only black men” when he spoke? Please find the quote and let me know. sounds personal to me. The numbers speak for themselves. Too many “black men” not taking care of their kids and too many “black” women raising kids on their own. Truth hursts!

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      Kay: A simple google search of “black fathers” pulls the stories about the Obama speech up. In fact, when you google black fathers, that’s all you see—stories about how awful black fathers are. And that IS PERSONAL to me, because as I stated in this post, this is NOT my reality. Please understand, I’m not saying that because I grew up in a home with my father present and that I live in a home now with a husband who takes care of his kids that absentee fathers in the black community do not exist. Of course I’m not saying that. Of course ALL fathers need to be held accountable to their children. But dang, NOT ALL BLACK FATHERS ARE BAD. NOT ALL BLACK FATHERS HAVE ABANDONED THEIR CHILDREN. NOT ALL BLACK MOTHERS ARE RAISING THEIR CHILDREN ALONE (even in cases where the father is not married or in a relationship with the mother of his children). And on Father’s Day, I choose to CELEBRATE the ones who are doing it right, as we have 364 other days in the year to get on the ones who aren’t doing squat for their babies.

      • “google search”?

        • Denene@MyBrownBaby

          Yes. Google “black fathers” if you want to see the story about Obama’s speech.

          • I don’t look to google, CNN, or any other main stream media source to define my beliefs about my race, my community. I’m sure you already know when it comes to Black America, society looks down on us. WE define us, not Google. You are doing the right thing by “celebrating.” You are blessed. My point is you cannot relate, because you don’t walk on in our shoes. The President was speaking for experience. His dad was not around. He was raised by his Mom/Grandparents. It’s just so happens that he’s the president who happens to be black. And just like so many situations. A lot of us cling to his every word when I think he genuinely does not mean harm. If we did the same for Bush he would have been impeached. This is real life for too many in the Black Community, this in not political….it’s just the man who spoke about it is the president who happens to be Black!

          • Besides that….that rest of the article was good.
            I’ll be looking into some the blogs you mentioned.

          • Denene@MyBrownBaby

            Kay: Did you not ask me to show you the quotes to President’s Obama’s speech? Am I crazy? Wasn’t it you who asked this? “What makes you think he was singling out “only black men” when he spoke? Please find the quote and let me know.” I told you to Google “black fathers” so you could see the quote you asked for. If it’s that important to you, look it up.

            And please don’t come onto this site lecturing me on the CNN, Google, the media, and who I should look to to define US. I am you. You are me. But we have a myriad of experiences—are not a monolith. It is on this that I’ve staked my entire career (as a part of “the media”) and certainly this website. The entire reason I do what I do is because I can’t trust mainstream media to define me—or us.

            As for the political reasons Obama said what he said: the speech was from 2008. It’s been quite some years—a political lifetime—since he gave it. And it still rubs me raw because of the context, where it was delivered and when he chose to deliver it. I didn’t write this post to debate the merits of Obama’s speech, though. I wrote it to celebrate my father. And my husband. And the beautiful black fathers WHO ARE BEING GOOD FATHERS. Sorry if that’s a problem for you.

  3. I’m with you, Denene!!! I understand taking deadbeat dads to task, but WHY so much emphasis to do so on Father’s Day?!?! Let the good dads have their day and use the other 364.25 to get the deadbeats in check. Like you said, we don’t spend Mother’s Day highlighting the Andrea Yates of the world, so why do we do that with dads?

  4. I agree that Father’s Day should be a day to celebrate GREAT DADS. Let the bashing begin on the following Monday to ALL the DEADBEAT sperm donors of the world.

  5. Samantha Morris

    Father’s Day was the perfect day because Like thousands of black children President Obama knows personally the pain of having a BLACK father that walked away and never looked back. He spoke what he knows not what the statistics tells him. i’m not concerned about anyone else my concern is my people and my neighborhood. i’m sure you failed to mention that he also complimented the men who are taking care of their responsibilities in the same speech. Since that speech he has put his money where is mouth is and is working long and hard to create program to help young men who find theselves in the overwhelming situaton of being young, broke and a father get the guidance and assistance they need. If we don’t talk about the problem how can we correct it. For the record my father has always been in my life, but my ex husban failed to be the father my daughter needed after our divorce. I can’t speak on what white, indian, mexican or anyother fathers have done, but I can speak on what the BLACK one that walked away from my daugher has. We need to stop getting offended and appreciate That my President took the time to care.

  6. Samantha Morris

    @Denene@mybrownbaby if you don’t want people to disagree then maybe you should stick with posting blogs to people who think the way you do. I’m more offended with the way you disrespected some of the people who disagreed with you then anything else. I respect your opinion and you should respect others as well.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby

      I do not feel I was any more disrespectful in this thread than any of the other commenters writing in it. MyBrownBaby readers can state their opinion all they want, but when folk start questioning my motives and my intelligence, that’s where I have to draw the line. I’m sorry if you’re offended by my standing up for MY post on MY site—and defending my father, husband, friends and the host of black fathers taking care of their children. But since this is “Denene Millner’s MyBrownBaby,” stand up for what I write is what I will do here. All day.

      • Denene, I have to agree with Samantha. I saw on two occasions you commented back to your posters “seems personal” It is demeaning when people bare themselves publicly for you to minimize their concerns as “personal issues” Yes, this is an issue that stirs deep feelings, and in many cases for deeply personal reasons. It’s not easy for people to share in the face of circumstances which can be so difficult. I don’t think they meant to attack your position. They just didn’t agree with you.
        I appreciate that you feel you are standing up for your dad who seems to have been a tremendous father to you. I am glad that he stepped up and behaved as every good father should behave. I wonder though if your father felt slighted by President Obama’s statements.
        As a black father who is there for his daughter every day, and as the son of a black father that was there for his son every day, I can tell you I took no offense from President Obama’s sentiments. I did not feel he sought to minimize my dedication to my family in any way. I felt if anything he highlighted the good works of myself and other good black fathers in stressing what a vitally important role we play, and how important it was for others to follow our example.
        Still though, I appreciate you standing up for good black men. God knows we can use all the support we can get 🙂

      • Kia Morgan Smith

        And let the church say AMEN!

    • Some how it seems as if this was toooooo sensitve for many…..However, if mrs. Miller didnt remind yall…….this here is her website…..and can be viewed at the discretion of the reader….dayuuuummmm….
      give it a rest!

  7. I grew up without a Father present so I’ve been there, done that and got the T-Shirt but as a father myself who is taking care of my own children I take offense that the one day that is set aside to celebrate those of us who have stepped up to the plate is full of everyone talking about those who did not.

    How about we try this… Instead of highlighting all of the men who aren’t doing anything on Fathers Day we highlight all of the ones who are doing something. Lets listen to them and give them a platform to talk about how great being an involved dad can be, the benefits of active parenting and what I child’s love really feels like. Then perhaps our young men will see the benefits and advantages to being a real dad. We’ve been scolding dudes for not stepping up and obviously that ain’t working.

  8. ummmmmmm…wow @some of these comments! just wow! anyway, i totally agree with what you are saying about celebrating our good fathers on father’s day. My sister and I grew up with an amazing father and now I am married to an amazing man who did not grow up with his father, and he is great with our son! He feels like it shouldn’t be shocking to people that he is so hands on with our son, he says that is his job as a father. Ex: we had family in town and my husband took our son (age 4) and 4 of his cousins (ages 4,8,8,and 10) by himself to the park to play. a few women asked “are all these yours?” he said “in some shape or form, yes” “awww, your such a good daddy. you’re such a good man” and to him, he is thinking “why is it such a big deal for me to take my kid and nephews and niece to the park?”
    So, like you said, let’s celebrate the good daddies out there! i know i will be celebrating mine!

  9. Thank you for taking the time out to honor the fathers that are doing it right everyday for their kids, grandkids and those they just happen to meet during their lifetime. My dad has been and will always be the role model for what i think a good father should be. Your site is meaningful and full of great ideas and posts and it makes people think.

    Thank you again!

  10. Whoa! So many things going through my head right now. First, I didn’t have any bad feelings about Obama’s speech years ago, but I do loathe the Facebook and twitter comments I see from everyday women and some men. I posted a status on my FB page about backhanded compliments to fathers, and then I took it down. I felt it was insensitive of me since I have a great dad and a great husband in my home. However, this time of year is very vexing for me. The ills related to our fathers and mothers not being able to stay together in love really shows up. Even before facebook and twitter I used to see women wish each other a Happy Father’s Day on the street and weird to me.

    We have huge problems in our community and they all lead daddy not being at home or involved in their child’s lives. I am sure the father’s who are doing a great job feel a little slighted at this time of the year because of all the pain and the hurt that is on display. Happy Father’s day to all dads! Without your seed we wouldn’t be here. For what you have planted you are all good. If you’ve gone beyond that and have been active in your children’s lives, I say kudos and thank you!

  11. It all so familiar that we can take what is meant for correction and turn it to what we think!.We as black men have a high percentage of dead beat dads I believed more than any other race.Instead of worrying about being sensitive to you hurt what about being sensitive to the children of dead beat dads hurt and pain their needs far exceed your.
    What cause scars
    I never hug my dad,and it don’t seem fair that as a growing child, my dad was never their.
    Many time I needed him to show me what to do,to show how much he loved me,and that I was special to. to teach me that a shadow needs light and to show me that rain needs clouds,to show me my heart needs happiness and a daddy to help me smile.
    To show me how to be strong,and the difference between right and
    wrong. These things mention might not seem like much to you, but if the foundation is weak the building is to!
    Sometime our dreams don’t come true,and that can be devastating for me and you.
    Some time it doesn’t seem fair,when a young heart is entrusted to people who don’t care, what cause scars?
    Author a scar!

  12. The good thing about this discussion is that it shows the diversity among us in terms of background, experiences, and opinions. I truly believe that black folk are much more diverse than many peope give us credit for.

    Rather than “good fathers” and “bad fathers”, there is a probably a spectrum with black dads at every point along the way. Let the better ones have their day.

  13. I completely agreed with the President’s comments and I agreed with him saying them when he did, on Father’s Day.

    And before anyone says anything about my experience, I had a GREAT black father who is alive and well and continues to be an inspiration in my life. He was also a teacher, and served as a father figure for a lot of other young black children. I can’t wait for my husband to follow in his footsteps when we have children.

    But just because I have wonderful experiences doesn’t mean that I dismiss the feelings of those who didn’t, and those who told me how much they envied the fact that they had a father. Obama spoke for them, himself and the millions of other black children and adults who dealt with father abandonment.

    And if any day is a good day to send a message to a number of men out there who might be fathers, but aren’t acting in that role, Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to do it. It’s time to stop tiptoeing around this issue that is killing black families, and in turn, the black community.

    With that being said, I’m about to call my Daddy and tell him how much I love him.

  14. My opinion is, if you didn’t have that growing up, don’t rain on my parade because you didn’t. Father’s Day is not a day to bash some men for their lack of whatever it is you didn’t get or have from them. It’s a day to celebrate Father’s. If you have no reason to celebrate any man in your life (whether it be your own father, husband, uncle, brother, or grown son), then that’s too bad. You have the rest of the year to be bitter.

  15. I completely agree with President Obama. Black fathers, especially, need to step up. This is not to say that there are not many many black men doing the right thing every day. I don’t think that President Obama has tried to portray all black men as bad fathers at all. But we have provided more than our share of bad examples.
    The problem with trying to brush this fact under the table is that it makes it ok. If no one objects, it can’t be that big a deal, right? But that’s not right, and it’s not ok. When we let men treat their women and children poorly and do not condemn their behavior, then we are encouraging them. We as a community have to set standards for our people, male and female. If we do not, we have failed them, and the consequences go on and on.
    So by all means, celebrate the good. Let the good fathers know that they are appreciated beyond measure, and that they make the world a better place. But don’t give bad fathers a pass. And don’t give women a pass when they don’t expect and insist that a man behave as a man should behave.

  16. I dont disagree or agree with the timing of the speech made. That mrs. Miller is a matter of opinion on your part.
    However, I believe that a spade should be called a spade, whenever it rears its spade head.

    My father wasnt exactly the greatest of all time, my daughter’s father is far from being worthy of the title……but at least yesterday I let her call him and tell him, and I expressed the same to my dad. My fiance is filling big shoes, especially for a man without biological children of his own, and I gave him his respect due.

    I think equally enough we should save face, and call out that which is necessary. To me it dont matter the day, because if this thing people call a conscience is REAL, which ever day you feel the guilt is adequate.


  17. Wow, I can understand the anger in some of these comments. I also had one of those deadbeat dads, even when he was around, it was really detached and uncomfortable, so I get the anger behind this issue. I think that dads do deserve their credit, where credit is due. But there are some men who will ask for their credit when they’ve never been their for their kids…I think that’s the biggest upset. Dad’s who walk-out and call or linger around Father’s Day to claim their free prize. It’s not that women have a problem with deserving men getting a stamp approval, but it hurts to have men take and take from you and then claim an honor that it seems they don’t deserve. I think Obama knows this hurt and I don’t take anything negative away from his speech, but Denene, you have a valid point…we don’t need the added negativity toward Black fathers floating around in the media. For the good dads, the great dads, they’ve got it rough from people outside of their immediate family and from the media…because when people see them, they often lump them into the same category as those selfish, never around “dads”. We don’t want our good men living under that shadow and they shouldn’t have to. The thing is, we do need more positive messages about fathers in the media and they need to take an active role in making that happen. I love to hear a man talk about parenting…there’s no better sign of a strong, beautiful man, than his pride and adoration in his children! Men need to talk louder and harder about this topic for sure! As a mom, I’m proud of Barack for taking a stand and I’m also proud of all the other Black fathers who are blogging, talking and walking out-loud about fatherhood.

  18. As a black man that tries to do the right thing by my child it was sad to see on fathers day all the negative comments. They are both good and bad parents out there, mothers and fathers. My father did nothing for me a day in my life, so for my daughter i do everything and then some to stop that cycle. I’m not crying over the fact of him not being there, i just had to be better than him. I agree with Obama comments we have to do better on a whole. I think some people just hold on to things too much. If a man isn’t doing what he needs to be a father to his kids. Then you as a mother still have to do what you have to do. My mother did it on her own, with no help and to this day she never bad mouth our father in front of us. So celebrate the good, when you knock the rest on that day your taking away from the ones who deserve. Cause i feel like every day is Fathers Day.

  19. A large part of the problem is that we tend to accept statistics without knowing for sure the intended outcome of that particular researcher or even the key stat used (if any). We also forget that behind many of those numbers are Black fathers who are sitting in court rooms as we speak, desperately trying to be a part of their children’s lives. We like to throw blankets over our pain and ignore the very details that got us there in the first place! The very numbers Obama relies on, we accept, without seeking further details, historical impact, current shifts or underlying circumstances. Would a Black man who is mentally sound, emotionally healthy, historically supported, abandon his children? No! Does continuing to bash and berate those who obviously are not, going to heal and uplift and change the circumstances of those who have abandoned their children? Absolutely not!! What can you actually bring to the table that will make a difference! Ask YOURSELF that!!!! Thank you, MyBrownBaby!! You are making a huge difference!!!!

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