We can no longer blame systemic shadows for the internal work Black men are unwilling to do.
My uncle is a deadbeat dad. I love him, a combination of obligation and empathy, but I abhor his decisions as a man, as a human being, and especially as a father of five. If you were to ask him about his dedication to fatherhood for the last three and a half decades, he’d tell you how his children (and grandchildren) love and adore him, how he’s sacrificed and struggled for their good and how their progress is proof. I call that equal parts delusion and denial because nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that for the last 30 years of his adulthood, the better part of my life, my uncle has chosen, like many men, to disregard his responsibilities as a father. And his decision has damaged my family beyond description.
As a child, my relationship with my five cousins was distant but never strained. For this, my uncle blamed their three mothers. They were bitter and holding my cousins’ hostage, which was simply what Black women did when you left them; punished the children with your absence. Cousin photos at family functions were never complete, and those women were to blame. They knew how hard it was out there for a Black man like my uncle, one with a criminal record thanks to an unjust legal system and barely a high school diploma, courtesy of an inept public-school education. They honestly had no business laying with him in the first place, that’s what my aunties said, single parenthood was their punishment for picking poorly.
In times of tragedy, death was used to my uncle’s advantage. The tragic death of my grandmother meant bygones were bygones, and whatever grudges those bitter women were holding onto were gonna need to be put on pause. The women in my family agreed, descending upon the mothers of my cousins like a coven. “You know mama wouldn’t want this fighting right now”, they reprimanded, “She would want the family to come together, grandkids included.” The women always relented. And so, our childhood polaroids were replaced by funeral photos every seven or eight years. Cousin photos turned into flicks of cousins plus their kids; our families grew in opposite directions and missing a little time meant missing a lot more than births and birthdays. However, a…