By Reginald Williams
Have you ever asked a man how he’s doing and he says, ‘I’m alright?’”
That was the question posed in a viral video popular on YouTube.
Colion Noir, a video producer and self-confessed “responsible gun owner” narrated a video shown at the start of Kean University’s tenth Annual Union County Fatherhood Conference that divulged real answers from hundreds of Black men to the standard question “how ya’ doing?”
“I’m here to tell you that man is not alright,” said Noir. “That man is battling demons that you cannot possibly imagine.”
“That man is struggling every single day to find a reason to keep going. And the reason we say we’re alright is that as a man, nobody really cares what you’re going through,” the video clip continued.
The video represented a salient fact: mental fitness among Black men is a fleeting reality for some.
The suicide rate for Black men is rising faster than the rate for other ethnic groups. It has risen even more sharply during the pandemic according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Suicide by Black men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, was four times greater than for African American women in 2018.
Many mental health professionals agree that Black men’s predisposition to chain themselves to societal and cultural ideologies serves as the primary reason why men, Black fathers, too often suffer in silence. Human biology professor Judy U. Chu, of Stanford University, shared “that boys are socialized to mask their sweetness and emotional attachments.” One central message taught to boys is that “big boys don’t cry.”
The 10th Annual Union County Fatherhood Conference, challenged men to connect the traditionally male role of provider with providing and nurturing one’s self. In a packed Kean University auditorium, Tracey Syphax, told the men gathered from New Jersey and states across the East Coast, “you can’t be the best version of yourself if you’re not good with yourself.”
Terry Ford, a conference participant and father of two girls from New Jersey said he is an emotional wreck. Not because his health deteriorated- but because his ability to financially provide for his family declined as his health deteriorated.
“My father taught me from when I was a little boy that it was a man’s responsibility to provide for his family. I don’t feel like a man if I can’t provide for my babies,” said Ford.
Indoctrinated to push their pain aside, men from their childhood willfully embrace values that discourage embracing truth, vulnerability, or seeking help – a theme echoed during the Fatherhood Conference.
Boys chronologically age to become men. Men then become fathers. And fathers then suit up with their childhood wounds and bequeath them to their children—most times unknowingly.
The spirits of being emotionally well and a Black father line up on opposing sides waging these intense internal battles that resemble National Football League linemen in combat. For far too many fathers, emotional, mental, and physical health occupied no priority in their lives. The resounding resolve spoken by many present Black fathers is their need to ‘grind’ for their children, not be concerned with their emotional well-being.
Emotionally drained yet well aware of his need to place his health above everything else, Ford was reluctant to think about his own needs. Even in a workshop where men were challenged to engage in self-care.
“I’ll do whatever I have to do to take care of my babies,” he said.
The determination to provide for their children was the overwhelming sentiment echoed. Fathers felt they couldn’t afford to be concerned about their self-care. As a man, it’s their responsibility to provide no matter the circumstances.
They wore the “spirit to grind” like badges of honor, naive to the reality that grinding is equivalent to wearing oneself out.
Syphax, who spends the first hour of each day praying and meditating and performing yoga daily, pushed for fathers to work on themselves by engaging in self-care practices including regularly seeing a therapist. “You must do the internal work to heal yourself,” he said.
Black fathers often exert energy emotionally battling negative narratives and micro-aggressions about their presence or lack thereof in their children’s lives. They usually live with some degree of defeatism.
“I live in some level of discomfort, being three hours away,” shared Professor Naeen Bronson. Bronson’s emotional fatherly distress is rooted in fear. “I fear the challenges he would face as a young Black male growing up in a predominantly White town.”
Understanding the challenges of Black fatherhood and being a Black man, Matt Prestbury, founder of The Black Fathers Foundation, built the non-profit to support, serve and be a healing force for fathers in their fight and struggles to be engaged.
“I wish I could keep every Black man from ever feeling like he’s failing his child(ren) just because he doesn’t have the means to give them what they need and deserve.”
As Father’s Day approaches, some daddies will be surrounded by their children, laughing about times of old and relishing their parental patronage. However, on the other side of that coin, a large congregation of Black fathers will view the day as no different from any other day. Father’s Day is indeed just another day to showcase that “big boys don’t cry.”
Reginald Williams is author of “A Marginalized Voice: Devalued, Dismissed, Disenfranchised & Demonized.” Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit amarginalizedvoice.com for more information.
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