Fear of a(n Evil) Stepfather

by Carolyn Edgar

My teenage daughter often stops by my office for brief visits. During one of her recent visits, I found myself telling her about one of the couples I follow on Twitter, who are planning their wedding. 

“Ugh, I guess, whatever,” she said, or words to that effect. “I mean, I just don’t see the point in getting married.” 

This isn’t the first time she’s expressed those feelings. I understand why. During the time her father and I were together, we didn’t exactly model marital bliss. What she said next, though, shocked me. 

“I hope you and ____________ [my current boyfriend] never get married.” 

My kids get along great with my boyfriend. He likes them, and they like him. He does “guy stuff” with my son, like wrestling and playing basketball, that I can’t do or have no interest in doing. My boyfriend talks to my son about all those “guy” things my son no longer wants to share with Mom (although my son uses me as a sounding board for the advice he has gotten from my boyfriend). My daughter says he’s “cool,” and he gets extra cool points for treating me well. 

But I have only been seeing my current boyfriend for less than a year. We’ve talked about marriage – as a concept, as an institution – plenty of times, but we’ve never discussed the idea of getting married to each other. So the fact that my daughter brought up the subject of us getting married seems a little odd to me. I guess it’s the influence of movies – in the movies, two people who get along and care for each other in a romantic relationship, are by definition head over heels in love and destined for the altar. 

My daughter’s comments were even more pointed than, “I hope you don’t get married.” When I asked why she hoped ___________ and I never get married, she said,

“I don’t want a stepfather.” 

The kids are 100% in agreement on this “no stepfather” thing. A few months earlier, my son told my boyfriend that his Mom didn’t need another husband. “It didn’t work out so well the first time,” my son said. 

My boyfriend and I concluded “don’t marry my Mom” was my son’s way of warning, “Don’t hurt my Mom.”  Later, I asked, and my son confirmed “don’t hurt my Mom” was what he meant. Judging from my daughter’s remarks on the subject, it sounds like she and her brother have talked and agreed that one father – even if they don’t see him very much – is enough.

In the abstract, it’s easy to understand why a stepfather would be undesirable. In literature and movies, and especially on TV news, stepfathers are violent, cruel, and abusive. The evil stepfather is almost as common a trope as the wicked stepmother.

But it is still hard for me to comprehend why the thought of my marrying this particular man – someone who is not violent, not cruel, not abusive – is so scary to them. 

“It would change things,” my daughter said. “My attitude towards him would change.”

I could see from her facial expression that the very idea of it was upsetting her. There was no point in continuing the conversation, especially since it’s not even a possibility at this point.

“No need to worry about that, since it’s not something we’re considering,” I told her. “If we ever need to, we’ll talk about it again.”

 “Ugh,” was all she said in response, making sure she got the last word – or noise – in.

Original to CocoaMamas

My Brown Boy?

Written by new CocoaMamas contributor HarlemMommy.  Welcome her to CocoaMamas!

As a Black woman, I was prepared to nurture my brown child.  Showering her with love for her complexion. Empowering him with the strength of his heritage. I had so many books about African-American heroes and trailblazers. Seriously, my grandmother got me a complete set. Lena Horne, Crispus Attucks, Oprah. My kid was gong to love himself, his people and his color.

My husband loves Dave Matthews Band. He played high school lacrosse. Yup, he’s white.

My son? Handsome as all get out and a smile that’s out of this world. Brown? Not so much. He’s Black. He must be; he’s mine.  He’s also my husband’s child. How do I nurture that?

In The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, the main character, Rachel, is often asked where she got her blue eyes. The question is intrusive, but not completely unexpected. The way her grandmother answers however is poignant. “You know Roger’s granddad had these eyes.” This is a lie. A lie told to “protect” Rachel from the white mother who tried to kill her as she herself committed suicide.

Rachel, however, sees the lie for what it is; an attempt to remove her mother, her whiteness, and her complications from her new life. This obviously pained Rachel. If you have to deny a parent, you have to deny a part of yourself.

There’s the rub. You can’t deny a child’s parent and expect the child to be unaffected. Whether you deny the Mom because she’s white or say negative things about Dad because he’s always late with child support.

So where does that leave me? Before meeting my husband, I had a good beat on the world. Biracial people are Black. Yes, race is a social construct, but if you’re Black and something else, then you’re Black. It’s cool to be Black and that’s how society will see you, so that’s who you are. Duh.

It felt good to know so much and not feel ambiguity about race. Then I met this white guy. Then I fell all in love. Now we have this impossibly adorable munchkin we get to raise into a man. A Black man?  Can I call him my little brown boy if he’s not that brown?

Would it be fair to my Scooba to tell him that he’s Black because that’s how society will view him? What if, because he’s so light, people view him as white? How would I feel if he identified as white? Is that “passing”? I would be devastated if he identified solely as white, regardless of how society views him. I would have failed him as a Black woman; as a Black mother. It would mean he was ashamed, that he felt Black was less-than. That he felt I was less-than.

Children are not carbon copies of the parent. You can set a foundation for a child, but he ultimately must get in where he fit in. But how would any of us feel if a part of us that we felt was fundamental to our being was not fully reflected or embraced in our child?

Can I expect him to identify solely as Black? To deny either his Black or white side would be unfair. So when he asks what he is, we’re going to say he’s Black and white. As for how society sees him? That’s society’s problem. Scooba has the right to define himself; as do all of us. President Obama identifies as Black and his white mother approved of this. Am I a jerk that I can’t be selfless and let my son identify as white if he wants to? I’m gonna be that jerk.

Husband and I need to work twice as hard to ensure he sees both parts of himself represented in books we read to him and the media he sees. This means we read Whose Toes Are Those and sing Sweet Honey in the Rock. He’ll see plenty of images of white people, so we’re covered there. We’re going to be extra vigilant not to put him in a box or let others do so either. Scooba determines who he is and where he wants to stand in the world. Is that naïve? Perhaps, but we are not post-racial, so race still matters; and I at least want to have a plan when it comes up. I will fortify my son to stand up for who he is and allow him the space to establish that for himself.

HarlemMommy is a breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother of one. She works with middle schools and loves to read. Her husband is very funny and they love to travel. She also writes at www.BoobsAndBummis.wordpress.com.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

Written by new CocoaMamas contributor Tracy B. Welcome to CocoaMamas Tracy!

I am blessed in that I am surrounded by beautiful Black men. These include (but are not limited to) an older brother, younger brother, husband, and two perfect boys who love their mommy dearly.

When I look at them, I see strength, intelligence, perseverance, purpose, promise and my reasons for living. But somehow, in the midst of all of the positivity and goodness I see in them and feel from them, it saddens me to know that the world doesn’t see the same thing.

For my older brother and I, life has been challenging. Our father was killed when we were very young – and while it has certainly had a profound impact on me, I can scarcely imagine what it has been like for my brother, his namesake. I have watched him grow into an inspiring young man who continues to overcome adversity and defy odds daily. He is a father, a husband, a brother and a mentor and I don’t know who I’d be without him.

My younger brother is a gift from God. He was born when I was 12 years old and has been a joy to our family from the start. Young, smart and saved, he is also an anomaly. A college graduate with a promising future, he is one of those young black men we don’t normally hear about. He loves God and his family and the world is a better place with him in it.

Photo Credit: TellMeWhyImWrong

I married a man who was made to be a great father. When I see the way my husband lights up when he holds our youngest son, I can only smile with pride. This wonderful man brought our first son home from the hospital alone as I recovered from a stroke after his birth. He gently fed our first born with a syringe because he knew that I would want to continue to nurse him when I was able to come home. He takes pride in being a father and he loves his sons tremendously.

Because I am surrounded by strong men who each love me in their own special and beautiful way, I feel extremely blessed. I cannot imagine how anyone who would encounter any of these men would see anything but smart, loving and caring individuals – most of whom would give their last to help someone in need.

I never really thought much about what it was like to grow up as a Black male in America. How could I possibly know what life was like on that side of the spectrum? Being a Black girl, growing into a Black woman – that’s what I know and it is an experience that continues to provide lessons and opportunities for understanding. Becoming a mother was one of the most powerful and scary things I have ever endured.  And as I watch my beautiful young boys grow, I am afraid for them.

It is no secret that Black men are not viewed positively in this world. We could blame television, rap music, or any number of disparate images – but that doesn’t mean a thing. Truth is, when my brothers, my husband, my sons walk out the door, they are seen as criminals, thugs … threats.

I have seen women clutch their bags as my husband passes by because to them he’s a scary, big Black man who’s surely going to rob them. White people have scowled at and scolded my playing toddlers with such hate and disdain in their voices and faces that I wanted to hide my babies away.  People looked and instantly judged my younger brother in his locks and baggy pants, assuming that he was just an everyday thug menace to be monitored.  All the while they remain true to who they are and keep proving the world wrong, but I still worry for them.

I know that they have to experience life – for better or for worse – as who they are. It is beyond our collective understanding why Black people have been burdened with being hated, used and abused. This is not a diatribe about race relations – or at least that was not my intention when writing it. This is a writing to express how much I wish the world would change. I wish I could just love my Black men freely, without fearing that they will be taken away or hurt. I wish I could raise my precious sons and send them out into the world without worrying whether they will encounter racism in school, on the playground, or anywhere – because it is painful and they don’t deserve to have to endure it.

Somehow I hope that they will be able to fly above all of the hate and pain and disappointment in the world. Just as they all are blessings to me, I hope that they will be able to find peace and prove wrong all of the stereotypes that have been passed down from generation to generation. I pray that when they look in the mirror each day they see what I see. May they see their beauty so clearly that it is reflected off of them so brightly that anyone who encounters them can’t help but stand amazed – by their character, their commitment to greatness and caring for their families and themselves.

May my brothers, my husband and my perfect, precious sons know in the depths of their souls that they are loved, that I am proud and that God made them all for a divine purpose. And it is a blessing to be Black. It is a grand responsibility to be a Black man and I am here to help them be the best that they can be – thankfully blessed to also be a blessing.

Tracy B. is best known as an expert communicator and brand development professional. With extensive experience as a journalist for prestigious national publications, Tracy honed her skills and natural talent for recognizing newsworthy subject matter, topics and personalities in positions ranging from General Assignment Reporter to Managing Editor of daily newspapers as well as monthly magazines. A mother, wordsmith, world traveler and woman of many talents, Tracy B. is gifted while yet demonstrating her truest desire to leave a positive mark on the planet. Using powerful and transformational words as vehicles of communication, bridging divides and authoring an American fairytale one day at a time, Tracy intends to change the world, endeavoring to, in her own way, make each day more meaningful than the last.

Is the high black abortion rate a problem?

I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.

Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care. 

So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:

Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.

In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.

This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.

Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.

THIS is not all there is to black culture, despite the moniker...

The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.

If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.

And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?

Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.

This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.

Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.

This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.

Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.

A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.

Single Mommy Blues

It seems we mothers spend a lot of time – and ink – talking about how hard it is to be a mother.

Numerous books, parenting blogs and websites are devoted to the topic. On playgrounds and playdates, mothers huddle together and talk about how incredibly difficult this motherhood game really is.

And yet the voices of some of us mothers mostly remain unheard.

The point of this post is not to compare notes to see which moms have it worst. Mothering is hard. It’s hard whether you’re single or married, whether you’re successfully co-parenting with a cooperative ex, or doing it all by yourself, whether you have the help of a village or only the help you are able to pay for.

But I want to talk about the special hardships faced by single mothers who are doing it alone. Really alone. Without the help of a reliable spouse, co-parent, or a network of friends or family members who pitch in whenever possible.

For several years after my divorce, I sacrificed having a personal life for the sake of my kids. Weekends were consumed by soccer, gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, ice skating – you name an activity, we probably tried it. Dating? Hah! I wasn’t ready. Focusing on the kids was a great way to avoid thinking about how badly I’d flubbed the whole “picking the right partner” thing.

I didn’t become SuperMom because I wanted to. I did it because I lacked an alternative. I live in New York City. My family is in Michigan. My ex-husband was – and is -absent and uninvolved.

I had the help I was willing to pay for. I paid full-time rates for part-time babysitters to ensure I had someone to pick the kids up from school and care for them on half-days and school holidays. The extra expense killed my budget, but my work schedule was too demanding to enable me to rely on afterschool programs.

Recently, I tried co-parenting with my ex-husband, an experiment that now seems short-lived. His last overnight visit with the kids was New Year’s weekend. He is too unreliable to keep a regular visiting schedule, and I don’t have the energy to deal with the litany of excuses.

Although single parenting would be tough even if I worked at home, my demanding executive job makes the juggling even more difficult. Plus, in addition to my day job, I do speaking enagements and lectures. I write, for this blog and others, on my own time.

I even finally started dating again.

The writing, the dating, the lecturing, and some occasional exercise are things I do for myself. But they take away from the time I spend with my kids. I can no longer devote every weekend to their activities. And I feel incredibly guilty about it.

For example: my son is a natural baseball talent. Yet I don’t have time to take him to a baseball coach to work on his skills. I don’t have time – or a good enough pitching/throwing arm – to take him to the park and help him work on his catching, fielding and hitting. I haven’t found time to have him try out for a travel team – and even if he did, I’m not sure I would be able to haul him around from game to game.

His father, who played baseball in high school, takes no interest in his son’s baseball development. I get angry about this sometimes, and then I realize being angry is futile.

Well-meaning friends tell me to stop beating up on myself. They tell me to focus on the fact that, all by myself, I have raised smart, independent thinkers who are thriving in some of New York City’s most competitive schools.

I do acknowledge my blessings. But still, I’m tired. So please forgive me for indulging in a bit of whining.

Mothering is hard for all mothers. It is especially hard for us single women who are parenting completely by ourselves. And because we’re so used to doing everything all by ourselves, we don’t ask for help easily. Or always know how to accept it graciously, without constantly thanking the person who agreed to step in for us. Or apologizing for being burdensome.

So if you know a single mom who parents by herself, maybe you can offer her a little help. If your kids are friends, maybe you can offer to pick her kid up from school and host a playdate at your house. Or you can invite her kid to a weekend playdate or sleepover. Let her be the last parent to pick up her child from the birthday party. Because whether she says it or not, she values every single moment she gets to spend by herself. But she may not feel she has the right to ask for that time.

And try not to get too annoyed when she keeps saying “thank you.”

Happy Birthday to Us

One year ago, January 2, 2010, I started this blog. A week or so before, I’d put out a clarion call on facebook for mothers of color to start a group blog about being, well, mothers of color, because I was appalled by the lack of brown mommy representation on the 2009 annual list of the best mommy blogs.

I’m looking through this list again, for 2010, and sadly, not much has changed.

But CocoaMamas definitely made a splash amongst our own – we were nominated and in the running for a Black Weblog Award in the Parenting/Family category this year  – a huge honor for a blog as young as ours. And although we didn’t win, we made a name for ourselves as a well-written, highly timely, blog-to-know-and-read. For our first year, I think that’s fabulous.

So what have we talked about this year? Our most popular post was from just a few weeks ago, written by Carolyn in “Can Fathers Just Walk Away?” , a story about a father who is struggling to maintain a relationship with a son that seems to not want the same. Another post that generated a lot of discussion, written by ORJ in “Too School for HomeSchool”, focused on black parents and the homeschooling option in the face of failing public schools. I wrote, in “Dude, You’re a Fag” about the tragedy that is occurring in the country when children are taking their lives because of bullying for being who they are, which is gay. Benee wrote a provocative piece, in “Father’s Day is For Fathers. Period.” in which she spoke out against single mothers who claimed father’s day as their day. Salina wrote, in “First Day of School Blues” about how she still, in 2010, has to coach her son about the realities of racism as he attends his predominately white and Asian high school. And Tanji brought us to tears in “The Architecture of Violence” with the devastating story of baby Dalaysia, her second cousin, who was brutally raped and murdered this past summer.

But we’re just getting started, folks.

Continue to follow us, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. If I have my way, we WILL not only win a Black Weblog Award, we WILL also make our way onto one of those best mommy blog lists. You must conceive it to achieve it.

Peace and Blessings in this new year, this new decade,


the in-between ones

We’ve been talking a lot about fathers who aren’t in their children’s lives, either because mothers’ have made it extremely difficult, or because they themselves have refused to step up.

I don’t really know any fathers that fit either of those scenarios. Most of the fathers I know are either the “good” ones, the ones that are either married to the mothers AND fully participatory in their child’s life, or if not married, have joint physical custody and/or joint legal custody, see their children several times a week, and are fully financially supportive of their kids. Their children KNOW, beyond a doubt, even if both biological parents are re-married or otherwise committed, who their biological parents are, and they love them.

But I also know many “in-between” fathers. Fathers who have “stories” that don’t quite add up to me, fathers who say they are doing all that they can, but I can’t quite figure out why their relationship with their child is not better than what it is. They see them sometimes, sporadically, inconsistently. Their children love them, when they see them. There’s always some excuse about why they couldn’t get there, or why this court date was missed, or what happened this pay period, or how he gave her extra last time. Or there are those that I can understand why their relationship is what it is, usually due to a father’s actions against a mother that has made a child withdraw, or a father’s actions in general that has made a child say, “what the…!” and back up. Say, “I don’t want to see dad” b/c of dad’s new girlfriend or dad’s new apartment or the sleeping arrangements or how dad leaves me with a babysitter every time I go over there.

And when we, as children, as women, grow up, our relationships with our fathers get murky, at least as I’ve seen. When you become a mother, and look back on your childhood, you see things, actions, events, through new eyes. You see your mother and her relationship with your father, through new eyes. Perhaps not through her eyes, as she is not you, but through a mother’s eyes, through a grown woman’s eyes, through the eyes of a woman who perhaps loved that man and had sex with that man and wanted that man. And you see how perhaps that man was not the man you thought your father was. In some cases, you see how your father was not the father you thought him to be at certain times in your life. And that is unsettling.

So often we talk about the “good” ones and the “bad” ones, but what about the “in-between” ones? The ones that try, maybe hard, maybe not. The ones that are there, kinda. The ones you root for, but let you down. Sometimes.

Of course, this is not just about fathers. Relationships with parents are tricky things. My relationship with my own parents has changed so much even in the last five years – perhaps not from their perspective, but definitely from mine. Things have happened, words have been said, impressions have been made; things that make me question whether any of us can, at the end of the day call ourselves “good” parents. We will probably all do something that leaves an indelible negative mark on our child, maybe not when they are young, but when they grown older; perhaps though they will be more emotionally mature than I and will see their parents as “people” with “flaws” and not as their parents who are supposed to perpetually have some sort of superior wisdom. I’m not bitter; far from it. I’m just trying to understand how we draw the lines.


Fathers and Daughters

I still remember his deliberate movements; his even-paced, leisurely walks around the block in the late afternoon sun; the slow grin into which he would break when I read to him in French.  At 66, my grandfather was not the authoritarian he had been when raising my mother.  With my sister and me, he was all warmth, his smiles and displays of affection a constant reminder of his approval of us.  He visited during the summers, and the room in which he stayed was named “chambre de Pere-Pere” even after he returned to Haiti at the end of his visits.  After he died, my mother summarily announced that the room was no longer “Grandfather’s room;” instead, it was just the TV room.  She wore only black and white for one year to mourn his passing, despite the fact that their relationship had not been everything she wanted it to be.  One of the first colored items of clothing she wore when her grieving period was complete was an embroidered short-sleeved linen shirt that had belonged to him.  Even now, when I see men wearing Guayaberas in the streets of Miami, I am reminded of my Pere-Pere.

For reasons at once complex and simple, my daughter does not know her maternal grandfather; they have never met.  My relationship with my father is strained; and the offenses that have passed between us are made heavier by our cultural differences.  A West African man, he is comfortable neither acknowledging the pain he has caused his children, nor spontaneously reaching out to connect with his daughters; because he is an elder, we must contact him first, and keep contacting him even if he chooses not to respond.  An American girl, I’m well versed in pop psychology; I know that toxic people, even parents, do not deserve space in my life.  As a result, I’ve made peace with the distance between us, no longer needing his validation.  We talk on occasion, but the conversations are often muddled by his insistence on settling the score, noting what I did or did not do that requires his reprimand.

It’s okay, necessary even, to give myself what my father has not been able to give me.  But what of that which my father could give to my daughter?  I would love to marvel at his ability to be tender and understanding with her in a way he cannot be with his first-born, much like my mother probably marveled at my grandfather’s soft touch with my sister and me.  There must be something liberating about being a grandparent; freed from the burden of active parenting, grandparents are only expected to offer love, unfettered by the messy complications of disappointment in failure, or anxious hope for success.  And just as easily, grandchildren offer only love in return, aware that a grandparent’s love is more truly unconditional than that of their parents.

I think about the possibilities of that unconditional love between grandfathers and granddaughters when I do call him; I am always hopeful that our conversation will finally be less about who wronged whom, and more about catching up.  My daughter babbles cheerfully in the background, and instantly his voice softens.  “Oh, I can hear her,” he says wistfully.  “She must be so big, now.”

Father’s Day is for Fathers. Period.

Father’s Day just passed, June 20, 2010. It was a beautiful day, for the most part, and it was so wonderful to see so many fathers out with their children. Their proud smiles beaming, happy children laughing… it was just amazing.

However, it wasn’t so positive for a number of people, mainly a lot of single mothers. Every year, I see more and more single mothers being wished “Happy Father’s Day” and every year, it really grates my nerves. Women are not and can never be fathers. It’s against every possible biological, emotional, mental, spiritual law known to us. It is an impossibility! Similarly, men cannot be mothers.

Father’s Day is already a diminished holiday as it is. The top day when greeting cards are exchanged? Mother’s Day, followed by Christmas. Father’s Day was created after Mother’s Day. Much of this dates back to the time when mothers stayed at home and took care of the children while men worked and remain somewhat disconnected from their children. Mothers have since been looked at as the primary parent, so giving special attention to fathers has not been something we’ve done as a society. The tide is changing, however, and more fathers are taking active, hands-on, equally nurturing roles in their children’s lives. More and more men are staying at home and more men are acting as single fathers. Fathers deserve their day and I don’t think we should do anything to take that day from them.

Yet, there are those women who are rather bitter about being abandoned and believe they deserve to be celebrated on Father’s Day in addition to Mother’s Day, because they believe they play both roles.

No, they don’t.

Single parents more often than not have to work harder, spend more money, time, and energy raising their children. Single parents probably experience more stress on a day-to-day basis. Some single parents may find that they don’t have a lot of support when raising their children. However, this does not mean they somehow have absorbed the role of the missing parent. They are just doing what they are supposed to do and what the other parent is not doing. Do single parents deserve kudos for not giving up in the face of adversity, when it is easy to do so? Sure. Should they receive special treatment for being the parent that didn’t leave? I don’t think so. Leaving is not the default; staying is. Therefore you get no extra props.

What is up with us congratulating parents on doing what they are supposed to do? Like, why do we give special props to Black men who are active in their children’s lives, when that is what they should be doing?

I read so many Facebook posts and tweets from some really bitter women! I kept saying, why are we focusing so much on the ones that don’t when we should be focusing on the ones that do? I asked a number of women to explain how they “play both roles” and I have yet to read a coherent answer that justifies those assertions. Nothing they described was any different than any mother who has an active partner co-parenting with deals with.

I understand being hurt. I understand wishing your child had a father around to provide that fatherly attention and support. I understand wanting to give up. I understand that the struggle is harder for most single parents. I’m sympathetic to that, really and truly. But there is no way a woman can fill the role of the father. Fathers bring something different to a child’s life, something that cannot be mimicked or reproduced by a woman. As strong as single moms might have to be, that strength doesn’t translate into some weird morphing into fathers.

I think wishing single mothers “Happy Father’s Day” undermines the spirit of the day for fathers. I think it steals something from them and I don’t think it is fair. I really hope that we move past this and we stop saluting mothers on Father’s Day. It’s just sad all around.


The man of my dreams

So, I was going to write about something else today, but today is too special to ignore. Today is the day that my soul mate turns 32 years old. That may not seem significant to those of you reading this, but it is to me. You see, I’ve been with him since he was 17 and I was 16. March 2010 we will celebrate 15 years of being together. And in June, 8 years of wedded bliss (well it wasn’t always blissful, but that’s for another blog). We have literally grown up together and been through ups and downs together. What didn’t kill us, made our union stronger. I’m sure you are now asking what this has to do with being a Cocoa Mama.

To me, my union with my baby daddy has everything to do with being a Cocoa Mama. I couldn’t imagine, and try not to think about, what my life would be like without him. I often ask him questions about his childhood. He grew up with a brother 3 years younger. This is the same age difference between our boys. As I watch our sons interact I began to ask…Did you and your brother fight like this? Were you friends growing up? What type of relationship did you have? What did you think of your mother growing up? What did you think of your father? What was your relationship like with your parents growing up? Did you want to be like your dad?

You see, we have always communicated about our childhood experiences and what our children’s experiences will be like. But, I find myself constantly in awe of my in-laws, my husband and my children. Of course we talk about the things that our parents did that we swear we will not do. But, we also recognize the wealth of knowledge we gained through the unconditional love we both received. I consider myself fortunate to have this man be the male role model in the lives of my boys. If they are have the man their dad is, the world better watch out.

And as an educated Cocoa Daddy who puts his family at the forefront of everything that comes his way, I say thank you. To my best friend, thank you for allowing me to be your partner in life. Thank you for being the father who plays football in the basement, baseball in the backyard and reads to the boys every night before bedtime (well now our oldest reads to him every night). Thank you for encouraging me to pursue my dreams while picking up the slack at home. Thank you for getting upset when people congratulate you for “babysitting” your own children. Thank you for being my sanity and telling me, “Honey, go lay down. I’ve got the boys.” Thank you for allowing me to be the Cocoa mama that I am.

32 years ago, the Lord in is divine wisdom saw fit to bring forth into the world the best friend, confidant, baby daddy and lover (that’s right, I said it cause I can) a girl could pray for. Happy Birthday Clifton Holmes! I pray that God blesses you with many more. I love you!

Annie is a CocoaMama who is married to her best friend of 15 years. They have two sons, a 6  year old and a 3 year old. She currently works at the Pennsylvania State University full time where she  is also completing her doctoral degree in higher education. She has worked and been a student for as  long as she has been a mother. So, she has had to learn how to simultaneously juggle all of her  identities. While she has not perfected this skill, she continues to assure that her family remains her  number one priority.