A Black Father Wonders: Is Being A Hard-Working Dad Making Him A Bad Dad?


The rearview mirror conversation I had with my daughter while driving her to pre-K made my heart tighten. I could almost hear it break.

Her: Daddy, why do you have that other shirt hanging up?

Me: Because I have to work at the other job tonight, babe.

Her: Oh… *insert sad, pout face here* Well, I’m just going to miss you…

I used to wear my two jobs on my chest as a badge of honor, but at that moment I felt a bit as if my daughter had pulled back the thick veil of “good daddy” and revealed how much I was actually… failing? The part of me that, with heavy eyelids, stares at a 60-hour workweek dismisses that notion as ridiculous. But the part of me that realizes I’ve only spent a handful of hours with my family reluctantly nods its head in agreement. And now, I’m struggling down to the core with an internal conflict: Is my attempt at being a good father in the traditional sense making me a bad dad by modern standards?

I’ve got a wife, two kids and two jobs and now, I’m able to understand older generations of men. I’ve felt the feelings of pride in my work—feelings that turn into resentment. I’ve known purpose that’s faded into an existensial sense of despair. I’ve birthed anger and frustration—disguised my selfishness with entitlement. Past generations of men, worn out and down from hard, mind-numbingly, back-breaking work, found an escape by being moody, seeking other women, finding their way to the bottle. It was, at its essence, an attempt to find some personal joy in the abyss of responsibility. An escape.

This is the feeling we’ve all felt. One that reminds you that you need and deserve a smile crafted just for you—that you are entitled to it. How you respond when that need is not fulfilled is when it becomes problematic.

I have no doubt that a home is missing something when a father is not physically and mentally present. I know mine does. But it’s also hard to reconcile that the sheer physical and mental strain of a hard work schedule can turn a man into a father he never intended to be. An angry father. A father constantly in physical pain. A father who is mentally exhausted with short patience, low tolerance and a firm and aggressive attitude. I try to stay aware to make sure this doesn’t become me.

Sometimes there is no way to find a balance—you just do the best you can. The little time I have available to spend with my loved ones isn’t enough to keep me from consulting with my wife on what our sons cry means or about all the subtle nuances of our daughter’s growth that I’ve missed. We plan our “family fun days” around my time off and dates with my wife have included late night, after work drives to Berkeley for pizza while listening to a Marc Maron podcast. I think more and more about my wife and how I don’t want her to be in the position of all-too-many women—the one where she bears the burden of the man’s struggle. My absence has caused her to pick up more work at home with the kids, less time to herself, less time with me. These are all things she wouldn’t have chosen for herself.

I am torn in other ways, too. As I work more in one field, the further I fall in the others, and it becomes this cyclical feeling of never doing enough and each day feeling like a Sisyphean labor.

I’m working to bring us to that next stage, but the risks are slowly revealing themselves. What if my plan doesn’t work the way I want it to? How do I reconcile in the future all the time lost right now? This is the price of admission for this ride—this investment. I have an idea, a dream, a goal and a plan and with the stakes being this high, I must make sure it works. I must. I’m sure it will.


Jamal Frederick lives in California’s Bay Area with his wife and their 4-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son. Jamal also contributes to www.uncouthed.com. Follow him on twitter @jamalfrederick

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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. That is an awful burden to place on one person. I hope you find a balance that works.

  2. 1. What do you cry about?
    >Not being happy with not being there for my 4 year old daughter everyday like I want. Everyone tells me I’m a great dad that I’m my daughters hero, which she shares with the world everday, but I emotionally have not grown past the feeling of not being there. I want to travel and do more with Parkour and life but don’t want to bring growth the sense of me leaving her life even more because her mother and I are not together for 2 years now. I’m married, no children on the way. I feel it comes from the sense of repeating my families history and that even though I”m beyond that in this human being called New Howard, I still hold on to an emotional experience I had growing up.
    -This I wrote yesterday in response to a request to interview me on my life in Parkour and how I’m able to hold down three jobs, a daughter and a marriage…which is a MUST.

  3. Hey Jamal…it’s Traci!

    First, please tell Ebony I said “hi”, and congratulations to you BOTH on the new baby. I had no idea.

    I read what you had to say, and I believe I can say, without certain, that whatever you do to maintain the strength of your family unit, you will succeed at. I never got the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with you guys, but as an outsider looking in, I have to say that what you guys have is one of the strongest bonds of love I’ve seen. Your acknowledgement of the struggles being endured, speaks volumes. Your commitment to lessening those struggles is to be admired.

    I wish the family nothing but success.


  4. Perhaps try readjusting priorities. Look into spiritual(bible) sources for happiness and meaning in life. Do things for free. Downgrade. Try not to keep up with the Jonses. Discuss with family.

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