Thoughts on Fathers and Fatherhood

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MIJE Staff
June 12, 2014

"Father's Day for me is always a festive occasion." - Michael K. Frisby

"My greatest memories of growing up with my father, and my grandfather, are of fishing together for salmon." - Mark Trahant

"Father's Day has always been an odd holiday for me, because I grew up without a father in my home." - Eric Deggans

"While Sunday will be for us dads, I always do a pre-Father's Day on June 14 to remember my own late father." - Emil Guillermo

"I love being a father to my two children." - Kai Dupé

"When I think of my father, these words come to mind — loving, caring, strong." - Frank Sotomayor

"In 1961, the advertising agency Ted Bates was given the task of coming up with a slogan to promote then-president John F. Kennedy's year-old service program, the Peace Corps." - Jeff Yang

Jeff Yang's youngest son, Skyler, custom made father's day card.

Sunday is Father’s Day. There are always articles and broadcasts to mark the occasion. Often, fathers of color are barely mentioned. So, here are some thoughts on fathers and fatherhood from some men whose work we admire:

"Father's Day for me is always a festive occasion." Back to top

I have two wonderful children, who make a point of dropping their routines and spending quality time with me on this day.

My thoughts always turn to the Brothers who have been shunned by society and never had the opportunity to raise and support their children in a nurturing environment. They don’t get the chance to be good fathers.  Think about the fact that there are more Blacks incarcerated today than there were slaves in 1850. It’s stunning.

What it means is that those of us who can relax on Father’s Day are blessed.  Not a lot separates us from the Brothers wasting away behind bars.  Somehow we persevered and had opportunities to succeed; many of them didn’t. Oftentimes, it wasn’t fully their fault. It’s tough to cope in a society that puts a bull’s-eye on your back.

So on Father’s Day, I think about how damn lucky I am.

Michael K. Frisby
Frisby & Associates, Inc.

"My greatest memories of growing up with my father, and my grandfather, are of fishing together for salmon." Back to top

Even as a child I liked the idea that this was something that our family had been doing for thousands of years.

I remember my first salmon. I was in my early teens. And my father said well done -- and that I should give it away. "That's how it's done," he said. Now, as a father, I relish taking my sons out to the same rivers.

Mark Trahant
Atwood Chair in Journalism
University of Alaska, Anchorage

"Father's Day has always been an odd holiday for me, because I grew up without a father in my home." Back to top

He lived elsewhere in the town where I grew up, Gary, Indiana, and we saw each other occasionally. Still, I had little idea what it was like to have a father around regularly. But media, especially television, gave me a taste. I saw the separate beds on the Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy and assumed that's how married people slept. I saw John Amos play the no-nonsense, passionate dad on Good Times and thought that was how most dads in my neighborhood were (frankly, I wasn't sure I wanted somebody in my house who yelled as much as he seemed to do). And when I needed to learn how to tie a necktie, I clipped a diagram out of the newspaper, because I didn't have a father in my life who could show me. When it came time to raise my own kids, it turned out I mostly had the example of fathers like Bill Cosby's Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show or Bill Bixby's Tom Corbett from The Courtship of Eddie's Father. So media images of dads are incredibly important. You never know what people might learn from them.

Eric Deggans
TV Critic, NPR

"While Sunday will be for us dads, I always do a pre-Father's Day on June 14 to remember my own late father." Back to top

June 14, 1978, was the day my Dad and I had our best moment ever: We took in a day game at Candlestick and the Giants won!

My dad had an immigrant's passion for baseball. He loved the game and all it stood for. And he loved the Giants. His name was Willie, appropriately. Weren't all the heroes in San Francisco named Willie in those days?

Born in the Philippines, my dad spoke English, but I spoke it better. It made our relationship a relatively quiet one. The only time we really connected was while watching baseball.

My dad was many innings older than me--50 years worth. I remember when he taught me how to play ball. We'd go to Golden Gate Park's Panhandle--where else would a fry cook teach his son to play catch? We both had gloves that looked like the big one out in left field at AT&T.

My dad wasn't all that athletic. But he knew the difference between a basket of fries and a basket catch. And when he couldn't do it just right, he'd bring us to Candlestick to watch the other guys named Willie (Mays and McCovey) do everything masterfully.

Baseball always gave us a context. "What's the score?" one of us would always ask. The other would always know. We followed the score. But of course, there were seasons when not even baseball could save us.

Before I was out of middle school, my father was an aging senior, and I was going to father-son events alone. He wasn't father. He was grandfather. By the time I was twelve-years-old, I was an ageist.

We kept drifting apart, our lives patterned like a baseball diamond. He was the first base line, I was the third base line, a field apart connected only at home.

But then I went to college on the East Coast where I learned a little about the hardship and racism endured by Filipino immigrants in the 1920s.
I learned about the anti-miscegenation laws that dictated his life story. Men from the Philippines immigrated in droves, mostly as laborers. By comparison, few Filipino women were allowed to come to America.

I never fully understood why my father, after coming to America In 1927, lived a bachelor's life until the 1950s. I thought it was by choice, or lack of social skills. I never saw it as a function of the kind of wastefulness that comes from racism.

History taught me that, and through it, I found a clear path to my father. Perhaps a little late, but it set up our ninth inning perfectly.

On the Wednesday before Father's Day, 1978, we did a day game, my treat. We were a striking pair. I was wearing a jacket and tie so we could get a businessman's discount. He was in a Giants cap and running shoes, and acting like a rascal--cutting in line, running about, me in tow.

Seats cost a buck-fifty to sit in left field back then. But the little guy wanted to sit closer. So we sneaked down past security and wound up in prime third-base territory.

During the game, we enjoyed our passion quietly. Fancying myself a broadcaster, I did play-by-play in my head. Every now and then, I would turn to Dad for a little color. He was involved with the drama himself, in between bites of his homemade adobo sandwich--vinegary pork bits on white bread, tastier than a ball park frank.

The Giants celebrated our outing with a fine performance. They fought back to take the lead from the visiting Phillies. And then it was up to Vida Blue to mow them down in the bottom of the ninth. Blue, no longer in his prime and written off as an old man in his 30s, struck out both Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, the heart of the order, to end the game.

We stood and cheered together in wild appreciation, which led to our only real conversation of the day. Would the Giants get through June and go all the way? My dad was willing to take a psychic flyer on that one. "They will go all the way now," he said.

As it was, the Giants didn't. And neither did my dad. Two hours later, back home, after seeing the game highlights on the local news, my father died on that June 14th before Father's Day. Hardening of the arteries, the doctor said. But deep in my heart, I knew it was Pennant Fever.

The origins of this essay date back to 1990 when I first read a version of it on NPR's "All Things Considered." Every year I reprise some of it as my personal Father's Day salute. And then I go to the ballpark and hope the Giants win. (This version is from the web site of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and is reprinted with permission of the author.)

Emil Guillermo is a journalist, commentator and humorist.
See his work at

"I love being a father to my two children." Back to top

I have a daughter Kisa, whose name means “first-born daughter,” and a beloved son Johnkai, who is named after his deceased grandfather and me. Kisa is 8 and Johnkai 6. They are the absolute joy of my life, and I love them dearly.

I have never met my father but do not worry about it because as I was growing up, I did not really feel that I was missing anything. I have never spoken to him on the phone. I have only seen pictures. Quite honestly, I have not cared for a very long time.

Until now.

I mean now that I am a father. This is the first time that I realize I have no reference point. I never had a role model. Oddly enough, my closest friends as I grew are also learning on the job, so I can’t rely on them for advice.

What to do? What do I teach the children? What is the role of discipline? I know that I am supposed to provide but am not sure about my emotional responsibilities. My wife knew her father as she grew up, so when she sees my confusion at certain points in the process, she lends an ear and/or helpful advice based on experiences with her father during childhood.

I am experiencing all these things for the first time as parent and child. I have never gone fishing with my dad. I am taking my son fishing this summer and find myself excited as his father but also as the child who has never been fishing with his father.

Obviously, to learn what fathers do, I have read books about fatherhood, seen role models on television and watched the few fathers present in my childhood community. I remember being jealous of my friends who had a father at home to guide and advise them. God bless them. Many of those men also gave me advice and guided me on my way even though I was not their son.

I have come to realize that I am basically learning to be a father on the job. I am certainly making my share of mistakes. But I am here. I am here.

Kai Dupé is a doctoral student at Pepperdine University where he is conducting research on the under representation of African American males in computing.

"When I think of my father, these words come to mind — loving, caring, strong." Back to top

What characterized him most was a resilient work ethic that enabled him to support his family financially.

Florencio E. Sotomayor was born in Tucson, Ariz., to a couple who had journeyed from Mexico around the 1880s, long before Arizona became a state. He assumed responsibility early in life when his father died. As the oldest sibling, he took charge of ranching and farming duties at the family homestead in Tucson.

Florencio was so immersed in caring for his mother and siblings that romance did not find him until his mid-30s when he married my mom, Amelia. Soon thereafter, the country sank into the Great Depression, and fire destroyed the family house. Sadly, the twin tragedies forced Dad to sell the homestead at a cut-rate price.

The family moved into a Mexican-American barrio, and dad built a home for us. I had not been born yet during the move into the city, but I clearly recall later when he constructed adobe blocks from mud and straw for an added room.

Florencio worked long hours in the sun as a gardener at a Tucson resort hotel. At home, he grew vegetables and flowers to take to the cemetery in honor of his parents.

My dad had only a third-grade education, but he and my mother were devoted to the family and understood the value of education. Dad’s paycheck was tiny but something we could depend on. Our parent’s commitment enabled my siblings and me to gain an education, to build our lives and to make contributions to our communities and country.

Mom and dad loved their children, grandchildren and other familia. Dad died on the Fourth of July in 1981. On this Father’s Day, I will remember him as loving, caring, strong and devoted to his family.

Frank Sotomayor
Journalist, Co-Founder, Maynard Institute

"This Father’s Day will be my second as a new dad and, with it, my happiness has grown tremendously." Back to top

Explaining the value and excitement of being a father is difficult. It requires that a man lay down his shield, take off his breastplate and expose his heart.

On the third Sunday of each June, family members make phone calls, send cards and gather to celebrate biological dads and the many men who serve as father figures. Each of us has unique experiences with our dads and the men who support us. Many commercial images we see will remind us of men who hold a special place in guiding our lives. As we view those images, men like me, a black father, feel explosions of happiness like all fathers. But something puts an asterisk on the joy.

The asterisk often refers to the many news reports and pundits offering statistics about how engaged black fathers are more rare than a leap year. My many experiences tell me otherwise. Yet the counter messages fight very hard to settle in our minds. So let me offer a perspective on how reality should lead the way we view black fathers and how those fathers should view themselves.

Let’s start with a report last December demonstrating that black fathers that are in their children’s lives are more involved than fathers of all other ethnic backgrounds. (Yes, read that sentence a few more times.) As I reflect on my life and the men in it, I do not need a scientific study to inform me of how loving and engaged black fathers, biological or not, are.

The Wilson familyWithout guidance by my dad, uncles, cousins and mentors, my life would not have been as happy.

Each man in my life has given a bit of himself to shape the man that I am. That is a debt that I cannot repay. At every turn of my life, a community of fathers has been there for me. That perspective can be found throughout the vast majority of families and communities nationwide.

Most recently, I have witnessed men around me caring for their children each day. Because fatherhood is a way of life, it can easily go unnoticed. When you look more closely, you realize that a large percentage of those men are black. They are walking their kids to day care and school, playing with them in the park or humbly taking care of daily tasks.

Seeing black fathers simply being fathers is so normal that negative statistics should be viewed with a powerful dose of skepticism. We should be alarmed about the fact that our society has an aversion to acknowledging and celebrating black fathers who are humbly and courageously the personification of fatherhood. Highlighting examples of immolation-worthy fatherhood undercuts the historical narrative that denigrates and marginalizes black men’s humanity.

My experience as a father follows that path. Being available to my daughter and her mother is natural because it is the culmination of what I have learned. Taking care of your family is expected. Yet the public gets the message that black men are not doing their duty. Therefore, Father’s Day imagery is often presented with rare glimpses of black fathers.

The impact of the lack of positive images and negative stories is that the public does not see the humanity of black fatherhood. Fortunately, our children, mates and families constantly fill our hearts and replenish our well of happiness.

On occasions when fathers are not consistently in their children’s lives, each critical word must be tempered with supportive efforts. Rather than casting absent fathers aside, we should consider being a consistent, very serious voice encouraging them to be active dads.

Without his constant support, my dad and I would not have the great father-son relationship we have today. His relatives urged him to reconnect when he and I were estranged. My dad put aside the fear of rejection and anger that I had toward him. With consistent action and courage, he worked to repair and build our relationship. As my dad tried to reconnect, I had to be open enough to let him be a part of my life. We had love for each other and the love of our family, the cornerstone of all familial relationships.

Family support allowed us to navigate the road back to restoring our bond. That is the approach that I implore families to take. A father may not be engaged with his children for many reasons. Only love and support can reinvigorate that critically important relationship and move it back to where it should be.

Like fathers of all backgrounds, I thoroughly enjoy getting my child ready for the day. Her smile and calls of “daddy” are more valuable than anything else that life offers. Seeing the security and joy that my presence fosters in her mother’s eyes buoys me throughout the day. Feeling the pride projected by my father and entire family as they watch my development as a father is very humbling.

Above all, I hope that all fathers and father figures enjoy this and every Father’s Day. You are appreciated for quietly doing what you should be doing. The value of your love and presence is appreciated most by those affected by your love and guidance. Your children and family salute you on Father’s Day and every day of the year.

Happy Father’s Day!

Caleph B. Wilson, Ph.D.
Biomedical science researcher
Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania


"In 1961, the advertising agency Ted Bates was given the task of coming up with a slogan to promote then-president John F. Kennedy's year-old service program, the Peace Corps." Back to top

The phrase they came up with, "The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love," is still used today to convey the combination of compassion, grit and sacrifice that's needed to abandon your former life to care for people who sometimes ignore you, occasionally resent you and regularly ask if you have any idea what you're doing.

Parents everywhere can relate.

Like being in the Peace Corps, having children and raising them to preserve their basic awesomeness while shaping their random-impulse behavior into something approaching socially acceptable is tough. Sometimes impossibly so. And yet, despite the tears and turmoil, the hair lost or torn out at the roots, the accelerated spiderweb of stress lines that will accumulate on your forehead, you love it.

You have to. Because it's not a two-year tour of duty — it's quite literally the job of a lifetime.

I loved it so much that I re-upped: I have a 10 year old and a six year old, both boys, both incredible. I wish I could say I'm a perfect dad, but I'm not. I learned how to be a father from an imperfect man, my own father, who inherited his skills from another flawed person, my grandfather, and on all the way up to our clan's original ancestor, who according to family legend was a monkey that sprang from the heart of a peach.

The lessons that each generation above me have passed down are of limited use, not least of which because time continues to march on, presenting us with new challenges and conundrums. Peach-monkey papa was primarily worried about his kids not being eaten by tigers. I'm trying to kid-safe my iPad against online predators and stray links to nasty stuff, which on the Internet is an infinitely renewable resource. When I ask my dad for advice, he closes his eyes and says the same thing every time: "Pray." I'd like to think that muttering "Oh, Lord" under my breath is kind of like praying. It's tough.

But I love it. Oh, Lord, I love it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go prevent a few small monkeys from making $15,000 in in-app purchases.

Jeff Yang
Columnist, Wall Street Journal;
SVP, The Futures Company;
editor in chief, SECRET IDENTITIES



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