Photo: Courtesy of Andray Domise
“So, how’s fatherhood treating you?”
It’s a throwaway question. A conversation starter as innocuous as asking about the weather or when LeBron is going to stop playing around and put on a Raptors jersey. In the eight weeks since my daughters were born, I’ve probably been asked this question an average of once a day. After fielding it 50 or so times, my mouth still runs dry and my skin crackles. I have to remind myself that I’m being asked how I am faring as a father, not how I’m dealing with my difficult relationship with the concept of fatherhood. That’s a conversation for a therapist, not the work colleague who wants to catch up over drinks.
I’ll often reply with “It’s going great” or “The girls are growing like weeds,” not “I spend every day stewing in the fear that I will repeat the cycle and fail to be the father my children deserve.” But that thought is on an all-day loop in my head and, I’ll admit, it gets in the way of me fully being with my daughters. My partner, who is also wrestling with the realities of motherhood, put it to me this way: “It still feels like we’ve got two tiny roommates.”
This isn’t just a matter of my self-identity struggling to expand into the role of father and provider; it’s also a very real fear of how this world treats black girls and women and my responsibility to protect them from the worst excesses of that world.
It’s the fear of sitting down one day and explaining to our daughters that, while a world of second chances exists for the people who would do them harm, there are few second chances for black children and almost none for black girls. That if they are singled out for their kinky hair or baselessly accused by teachers as potential criminals, the world will be slow to offer remedies. That they will likely be streamed into educational programs far below their capabilities and suspended for the smallest of infractions. That south of the border, they are the highest educated among their peers, yet once in the workforce, so drastically underpaid that their paycheques drag down statistics for women across the board. That even if they manage to hurdle over all of the world’s obstacles and achieve leadership roles, their male subordinates will be so resentful that they stop helping their co-workers.
When my babies are changed and fed, I lay them on my chest and stare into their dark brown eyes until sleep carries them away. After I say a silent prayer, that God bless and watch over them, I swaddle them gently and place them in their bassinets, slow enough as to not wake them. At these times, I wonder how long it will take before the rest of the world stops cooing at them, as I do. When it will regard them too early as young women and withdraw the gentleness from its touch. The adults outside of our community (and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, many adults within it) see black girls as “less innocent” and older than they are. Many of those adults will be too quick to call the police, and those police officers will be too quick to use unnecessary force.
And none of this even touches on the greater likelihood that black girls will face sexual violence, and that the historical sexualization of black women contributes to the lower likelihood that they will be taken seriously when they come forward. People have already said to me that girls mature faster than boys, and I know this is a lie. The world in which girls grow up forces them into adulthood too early.
For months, as my daughters were still being knitted together in their mother’s womb, these were the thoughts that kept me up at night. My partner suggested that I write them down in the form of a diary. The opening of that diary was a letter to my children, letting them know how much they are loved and how much we were looking forward to meeting them. Though it’s customary in Caribbean families to name children after they’re born, we decided to come up with names for the fuzzy pictures on the ultrasound even before we knew their genders. By naming them, there was at least a place where I could anchor my overwhelming feelings of protectiveness. And by writing in their diary, I finally understood what kind of father I want to be.
I intend to be the type of father who helps his daughters reclaim the rights and birthrights that the world tries to take from them. The parents of their future classmates can trace their own lineages back several generations, many of them long before Confederation. For those of us who bear the names of those who enslaved us, our own languages, ancestry and identities were written on the shores from which we were taken and washed away by centuries of bondage.
This is why I’ve begun to write them stories inspired by the lands from which our bodies were stolen. We are adamant that our girls grow up multilingual and have recruited our francophone friends to get them into practice long before their first day of school. We’re already plotting out the ages at which we’ll take them to visit their countries of ancestry (Trinidad, Jamaica, Nigeria and the United Kingdom), as well as scouting out native Edo speakers who can introduce them to the language spoken by the deceased grandfather they’ll never know. We’ll be introducing our daughters to the peoples and cultures upon whose soil we stand and whose struggles against colonialism we share.
I don’t know how long it will take before my anxieties about fatherhood finally subside. I’m sure if I polled a bunch of dads, their answer would be to laugh in my face. But every day, I’m getting more comfortable with the responsibility of raising black girls to be as ambitious and free as their imaginations will allow. And this is why I’ve turned toward authorship, why I engage in community work and why I speak up for black lives as loud as my voice can carry. It’s an ethos that I take with me each day and that helps me keep my most important goal at heart: I am not here to be a father who prepares my daughters for the world; I am here to be the father that prepares the world for my daughters.
This article was originally published online in June 2018.