By Vernon A. Williams
African American fathers are the cornerstone of our culture, the rock on which our strength is built and the moral compass of a confused, amoral society.
When I grew up on 22nd and Madison Street in Gary, almost every home enjoyed a patriarchal head of household. Most of them were mill workers who didn’t hesitate to put in overtime in sweltering blast furnaces to satisfy the needs of their family.
There was also Officer Nichols across the street and Gary Police Sgt. LaBroi around the corner on Jefferson Street along with Mr. Latimore whose son, Michael, was my classmate from first grade at Garnett and Eric Calhoun’s dad.
In one stretch of homes on the block, there was Bishop Jennings on the north side, Pastor Williams in the middle and Reverend Butler next door in the other direction. Apostolic, Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal – all in a row.
My friends and I had sports heroes like Gale Sayers of the Bears, “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks, AND national superstars Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. Most boys had visions of playing professional sports – no matter how marginal their talent. But those were just sports figures – not role models. We had plenty of those on the block.
Every father I knew growing up echoed the sentiment that they worked hard, dirty, thankless, jobs so their children would not have to do the same. What greater display of moral authority than to sacrifice ONE’S life for the betterment of the next generation. These fathers had few indulgences, few luxuries. It was all about taking care of the family.
Fatherly discipline was rigid on Madison Street. It was rib-splitting hilarious to stand outside an apartment hearing someone get a whipping – until that someone was you.
Our apartments were built close together, separated by a few feet of sidewalk called “gangways” in between. There were no Madison Street mansions, but there was no squalor. The dominate three-story apartments were modest but sufficient, clean and well kept. If you had a yard, lawns were manicured. Small as the area in back of my house, my father still managed to maintain a stunning, tiny rose garden. His “green thumb” was amazing. Every potted plot he touched flourished. He didn’t, however, PASS that particular gene down to me (PERIOD)
The greater point is, growing up we all learned the essence of fatherly responsibility not by words or lecture but by example. Son of a steelworker and part-time domestic worker mother and I never went a day hungry, or without lights or heat, or homeless.
You may not have gotten all the things you begged for in that stage of early childhood, but without even having the capacity to recognize it, you were never deprived of any of your every need. You took for granted that when you turned a faucet, there would be water, hot or cold as needed.
All the fathers on my street acknowledged God first. They were unashamedly men who believed prayer changes things.
So fast forward a few decades and most of those children are fathers, some grandfathers, a handful great grandfathers. The principles taught early lingered.
I could not be more proud of the fathers that I see today in my old friends, classmates from Roosevelt High School and Indiana University, colleagues I worked alongside over the years, brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, and those men with whom I collaborated over the years with Indiana Black Expo.
The distinguished men of God at Mt. Zion Apostolic Church in Indianapolis–beginning with Bis- hop Lambert W. Gates Sr. – exude quintessential Godly fatherhood.
So many young Black men are stepping up to the challenge of quality parenting in impressive fashion. And every brother that I know primarily through social media who proudly stresses social media POSTS that focus on family ties, you too stand tall.
All of the committed, loving Black fathers throughout the U.S. represent the best manhood this nation has to offer.
May the Lord continue to strengthen, guide and bless each of you. Happy FATHER’S Day!
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].