For Black Fathers, Protecting Family Is Priority Number One

At Atlanta Black Star, we are spending this entire week celebrating, honoring, exploring and uplifting Black Fatherhood by examining it through the lens of 7 themes: Lead, Build, Provide, Care, Protect, Work and Love. This is the fifth story in the series, examining how committed black fathers are to protecting their families.

Before we go any further, let us put one thing to rest.

Black fathers are good fathers, in ways big and small, regardless of whether they are good husbands or boyfriends—and there is documented proof.

“An increasing number of quantitative and qualitative studies find that of men who become fathers through nonmarital births, black men are least likely (when compared to white and Hispanic fathers) to marry or cohabit with the mother. But they were found to have the highest rates (estimates range from 20 percent to over 50 percent) of visitation or provision of some caretaking or in-kind support (more than formal child support),” according to The Myth of the Missing Black Father, edited by Roberta L. Coles and Charles Green (Columbia University Press 2009), which reviewed a range of studies that looked at fathers’ engagement with their children.

One study found that only 37 percent of black nonmarital fathers lived with their children, “but of those who weren’t cohabiting, 44 percent of unmarried black fathers were visiting the child, compared to only 17 percent of white and 26 percent of Hispanic fathers. These studies also suggested that black nonresident fathers tend to maintain their level of involvement over time longer than do white and Hispanic nonresident fathers.”

That involvement goes beyond a support check. That means spending quality time with their children and doing their best to protect them physically, of course, but also emotionally.

“There are a lot of good men out here who are good fathers,” said Mister Mann Frisby, a journalist, author, songwriter and track coach who counts himself among them.

Frisby, who has a degree in journalism, four books and several songs under his belt, including his latest “On the Road to Wonderful,” served three and a half months in prison when he fell behind on child support. Recently, however, he won increased shared custody of his daughter, Skye.

That prison stint, he said, “was the scariest thing that ever happened to me,” not because of being imprisoned, but because he saw it defeat men and make them feel they were little more than a check.

“You don’t want to see the light go out of their eyes. They give up and say, ‘Screw it. I’m not doing it anymore.’ So they get out and disappear. They don’t even try.”

Our Father, Our Heroes:

Frisby said regardless of what he earns, his goal is to ensure that Skye knows she is loved and that her father will be there to support and protect her. He said the prison stint made him especially sensitive to making her feel secure about their relationship by being a steady presence in her life.

“I’m not a paper dad,” Frisby said. “I know her favorite color, her favorite teacher, her friends.”

Frisby said he doesn’t harp on the negative things; he just deals with them as they come up. He finds activities that he and Skye can share that don’t cost much, but that have meaning.

“Instead of watching the Grammys, I take her to meet someone who has won a Grammy and let her meet them and shake their hand. You heard about the Pulitzers? Let’s go meet (former Philadelphia Daily News colleague) Barbara Laker and talk to her. You like this author? He’s coming to the library; let’s go there and meet him.”

On Father’s Day this year, three of his male friends who have full custody of their children will join Frisby and Skye for brunch at Frisby’s home.

He said his mentors in parenting are men who are fully engaged with their children and who work to ensure their children feel loved and protected—especially from the notion that black fathers are largely absentee.

And Frisby said he knows his efforts are paying off.

“We were on the El taking her to school one day and she said, ‘Dad, I don’t know what I would do without books.’ And I almost broke down and cried because I know that was my influence because I was the same way when I was her age.”

He proposed writing a book with Skye as their summer project. “I said, ‘I’m a writer; I’ve done books and you like to write. We should write a book together.’ She was doing back flips and has been talking about it every day since.

“I tell people all the time that being a father is the most important job I’ll ever have,” Frisby said. “I’m passionate about being a journalist, author and songwriter, but being a father trumps all that…and I’ll keep fighting for her. If I only had two french fries, Skye would be on my hip with me, holding one french fry.”

Jackie Jones, a veteran journalist and journalism educator, is director of Jones Coaching LLC, a career transformation firm.

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