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 final story in the series, by three-time New York Times #1 bestselling author Denene Millner, who has movingly examined the many ways that her father expressed his Love for her—and the way that she sees it expressed by black fathers all around her.
I am told that I was left on the stoop of an orphanage, down in Lower Manhattan somewhere—a baby and a blanket on hard concrete.
Still, I was wanted.
My father, a son whose fractured relationship with his own dad could have forever shaped—and ruined—his parenting journey, knew this one true thing: he wanted a little girl, a chocolate drop to call “daughter.” And so he hustled his wife to that very orphanage, four days after I arrived, and found… me.
There are so many ways my story could have ended, but love found its way to that orphanage’s basement, through the dark, to the back of that room, to my crib. And in the moments that eyes locked and fingers touched, hearts connected. No matter blood nor flesh: I was his. He was mine. And that was that.
There is something to be said for a man who can love so heartily, so mightily, so deeply. Surely, all of this could have gone down in another way. Fate is funny that way. But the Heavens saw different—decided to put me in the arms of a man who knew how to love. That good, hearty love—the kind that can’t be found at the bottom of a wallet or in empty promises. Daddy’s love was expressed in action and in deed. All at once regular and… extraordinary.
For starters, he was there. That was love.
There was the roof over our heads and the food on the table and the clothes on our backs and the heat in the cold New York winters—all that, by hook or crook, Daddy made sure was there. That’s love.
He didn’t know algebra or the finer points of the Constitution or care much for penning essays, but he encouraged and coaxed when it came to the school work—knew that a proper education, the kind he was denied in the rural South in the 40s that was given freely in to his children in the 70s and 80s, was not only critical, but needed to be embraced with great reverence. That’s love.
And while I was charged with doing what it took to get a college scholarship by day, his job on the overnight shift would rule his nights—leave him exhausted from working while we slept and cheerless about the fact that while we were up, he had to sleep. But he did it. For the sake of his family. That’s love.
There were warnings about boys. About respect for the elders. About respect for self. Lessons on how to make the perfect over-easy egg. And the perfect bowl of pan-popped popcorn—the kind that tasted dead right on our father/daughter fight nights. All of that—love.
And I felt it, you know. Of this, he made sure. It was most acute on Fridays. My favorite person in the world, gone all week from sundown to dawn’s early rise, always managed to save that one day for his daughter. And that meant… everything.
Mind you, we did nothing special. Exhausted, hungry, desperate for quiet, Daddy would come in from his overnight shift at about 7:30 a.m., lay it down for a few hours, then pop up—clear-eyed, focused. Ready. There were bills to be paid, errands to run, stories to catch up on, friends to visit. And there I’d be, shotgun in the black Eldorado, caring not one lick that an occasional ice cream cone at the mall was the height of excitement during our Fridays together. It was his time, after all, that I wanted. His presence.
When he could, Daddy gave it freely. Still does.
Denene Millner is a New York Times bestselling author and the editor of MyBrownBaby.com.