Discussing the state of responsible fatherhood on reality television is like engaging in a debate about the existence of unicorns or Big Foot. With every word out of your mouth, you can’t help but feel a little stupid, a tad bit silly.
Reality television has been around so long, and we’ve been complaining about it for so many years that, at this point, grousing about the embarrassment of ugliness feels tired. You might as well complain about the cold in the winter. Of course it’s cold; it’s winter. Of course reality television shows like “Love and Hip Hop,” “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Basketball Wives” and “Black Ink” make fathers look moronic or ridiculous; it’s reality television.
This doesn’t mean that we should accept the clowning and buffoonery. We still gotta speak up. But sometimes I wonder if we are all trapped in a Boondocks episode—like the Wizard of Oz, Aaron McGruder is behind a curtain somewhere, stage directing everyday life in the Black community.
Instead of pleading for the reality TV shows to go away, I am now amending my strategy: My hope now is that we can improve the shows, help them understand how to alter their approach to do less damage to our collective psyche.
First suggestion: Show reality show fathers with their kids.
I understand that many of these TV folks rightly want to shield their children from the craziness. I guess if I was on one of these shows, I’d want to protect my kids from the inevitable playground hazing that must come when your mom was on TV the night before punching somebody in the face.
But if the kids and the families are going to be constantly referenced on the shows—as in, “Who you talkin’ about? I take care of all my kids and baby mamas!”—then at least show the men interacting with their kids once in a while. We get the awkward clips of music industry dudes who clearly have never held a basketball in their lives shooting around on the playground in their crisp white T-shirts and tanks, but how about a dad tossing a football with his son, or reading a book to his daughter?
There is a randomness to the fatherhood on these shows, as if these babies were the product of one-night stands with near strangers. Across the Black reality television landscape, the bond between parents is almost non-existent. I understand that with each generation the urge to procreate is less and less attached to a marriage certificate, but does the act of making babies have to feel so damn casual? The fathers care nothing about the mothers, the mothers don’t want to be bothered with the fathers, and the children are the result of some low-consequence boning.
Second suggestion: Every time a baby daddy gets accosted on the screen about his irresponsible behavior, give us a graphic with a running tally of how much child support he owes for the year.
This would accomplish the dual purpose of establishing his level of responsibility/irresponsibility and also be like a Scared Straight message to all the young knuckleheads watching. If you make a baby, you better be prepared to pay for it.
Third suggestion: Condom public service announcements.
And no, not those painful Trojan commercials that show fireworks in the background as the couple gazes into each other’s eyes (Am I the only one who still trips every time I see a condom commercial on television? Or worse, the “personal lubricant” commercials?) I’m talking about one of the characters from the show staring into the camera and making a direct appeal to the audience, like the ones TV stars are now doing for topics like bullying or tolerance for gays.
“My name is Saigon and I have a little boy with a woman whose last name I still don’t even know. Don’t be like me. Use one of these.”
Okay, you’ve probably guessed by now that I’m kidding. Kinda. I realize there’s about as much chance of getting positive fathers on reality TV shows as there is of the Obamas doing a reality show when they move out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But sometimes a dude just likes to dream.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.