The other morning I was listening to the Santita Jackson show, a radio show that I catch whenever I can. It was a day or two after Father’s Day. The topic was fatherhood.
Apparently, Hallmark Mahogany created a line of cards specifically for single black mothers. This may have been a business decision on the part of the card company. Many African American families are led by unmarried women. Those single women work out the juggling act which is working outside of the home and coming home for the second shift that is parenting. They find childcare. They schedule doctor’s appointments. They care. They love. They parent. And these sisters do these things mostly on their own.
About the Hallmark cards, several people have been commenting on whether this move was smart of the company, whether it was racist or tacky. I didn’t shop for a card this year so I didn’t see the line. But several listeners called in to the show to express their feelings. Thoughts went in a few directions, directions I want to mention and then see what you think.
- Women need to be acknowledged for their work as parents. In this case, we’re talking about black women, but the same is true for any mom. Most mothers work hard to care for and raise children. They are hardly acknowledged by their children or by their partners or by their ex-partners. Their families have high or no expectations. Their love and life as mothers go unsupported by their churches, their friends.
- Distinguishing roles is complicated. It’s tricky saying what a mother’s role is versus a father’s role. Many callers stated there were differences but didn’t describe them or elaborate. And it’s not that easy. Saying what a father does is as unique from week to week as taking a look at my work calendar. I have more meetings some weeks than others. I do more of this and less of that. The same is true about being a father. And me and my wife work together to accomplish this small project called parenting. We both take out garbage, change diapers, feed the boy, wash the clothes. We both are this cute kid’s unpaid staff.
- Men are essential too. Fathers need to be in the lives of their children. I heard callers expressing their frustration with the notion that many women feel that they a) can raise children by themselves or b) are made to raise children alone. It pained me to hear. I knew the reality before the show, and it only reminded me that men, fathers, need to step up and remain standing. It made me grateful for the examples of men I know who are doing just that, even while they go unnoticed.
- Defining what fathers do is a moving target. I hinted at this above, but let me state clearly that whatever we do as parents, as fathers, we need to be present to do it. Every father won’t do the things I do with or for my child. I don’t do some of the things that a few friends do with their children. And that’s fine. But we do need to be around. We need to form our own working definitions of fathers as fathers. Hallmark doesn’t get to define who I am. They may get to inspire me to thank the women who go at the task of mothering, but a card won’t motivate me to parent well. My kid will.