What behaviors make for an ideal father when the nuclear family has been blown up like the Cosby Show?
Fathering as a practice has never been tethered to a household or marriage, especially for the sons of slavery and Jim Crow. Most black children – 72 percent – are born out of wedlock. And although approximately 54 percent of black children live with only their mothers, rising rates of cohabitation and mixed-status families among all races are increasingly reflecting the black family experience, which has always represented the modern family.
Black fathers who live apart from their children can teach all men how to stay engaged with their children.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, shows that black fathers who live with their children have the same if not higher rates of involvement as other racial groups. A Pew Research Center study found that among fathers who don’t live with their child, blacks (67 percent) are most likely to see their children monthly or more (59 percent of white, 32 percent of Hispanic).
The crisis of the absent black father is fraught with stereotypes. However, let’s be clear. Children born out of wedlock face more problems than their peers born to married couples.
I asked several men who have children and are in a “modern” family to give concrete ways they stay engaged in their child’s education. What emerged is a list of practices that all fathers can use to bond with their children and extended families. I placed these responses in categories that form essential practices of being a father.
An engaged father provides educational enrichment: a solid intellectual and academic foundation.
1. Read to your children. (My personal favorite book that I’ve read to my four year-old since birth is Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin.)
2. Group reading (great for step children bonding as well as for family members who read at different levels).
3. Create picture books with photos.
4. Co-write a short story.
5. Co-write a letter to the editor.
6. Make homemade slime.
7. Build vinegar and baking soda volcanoes.
8. Build homemade rockets – with baking soda and vinegar.
9. Curate an art show showcasing your child’s art. The show should be replete with invitations, guests and hors d’oeuvre.
10. Go on weekend field trips to museum and historic sites.
Engaged fathers create spaces in which learning, bonding and conversations can occur.
11. Establish no-headphone zones in the house and car.
12. Create a chore list together that hangs on the refrigerator.
13. Draft a weekend schedule with your child.
14. Establish common house cleanup times.
15. Chalk the sidewalk with educational themes.
16. Create small signs that name plants in the yard.
17. Set family reading/home work times.
18. Don’t spank.
19. Establish yelling fines. When someone yells antagonistically towards another family member, a coin goes into a jar or money/time taken.
20. Paint the child’s room with your child every four years.
It’s stereotypical, but being a father has something to do with transmitting the value of sport and competition.
21. Play one-on-one basketball.
22. Play H.O.R.S.E.
23. Hold WWE style wrestling matches in the living room.
24. Bowling night.
25. Attending professional sport competitions.
26. Bike riding.
28. Train for a 5K running race.
Our black dads did not ascribe to traditional notion of the distant, stoic, emotionally inaccessible dad. Good fathering means teaching communication skills.
29. Say “I love you” when you see your child after long stretches and before you depart.
30. Play charades.
31. Perform skits on particular topics (bullying, asking someone out on a date, inappropriate sexual advancements).
32. Make sock puppets.
33. Create a puppet show (scripted and improvised).
34. Have children present proposals for weekend trips, vacations.
35. Create homemade Valentine’s Day cards to family and friends (including the mother).
We all have something to teach. Good fathers feel the need to pass down professional and/or personal skills.
36. Teach child how to play an instrument.
37. Form a family band.
38. Hold weekly art classes (1 hour).
39. Job shadowing.
40. Include your child in work activities.
41. Have child co-present a project at work.
42. Play doctor (role play your profession).
43. Build robots using Lego Mindstorm robotics kit.
44. Look over blueprints of the house or apartment.
45. Have child assist in making repairs to the house.
Men who live apart from their children are fully cognizant their marital status and relationship with the mother of their child influence the child’s behaviors. Consequently, re-establishing relationships is a critical skill that fathers want to teach their children.
46. Celebrate Grandfather’s Day (twice a year) to relink the relationship with your father.
47. Help child create homemade birthday presents for the mother.
48. Creating an entire family photo album in the house (include all members of the family – biological and adopted).
49. Attend family counseling.
Father engagement teaching good grooming habits and taking care of your child’s appearance.
50. Take regular trips to the barber shop.
51. Doing daughter’s (natural) hair.
52. Teach child how to tie a tie.
53. Help child prepare for the first date.
54. Decorate old tennis shoes.
55. Cologne shopping.
56. Suit and tie shopping.
57. Non-judgmental clothes shopping (child gets to pick out anything he/she wants).
58. Have your child pick you out an outfit.
A family that games together stays together. This doesn’t only include video games. Fathering means making family fun.
59. Playing chess, checkers.
60. Card games: tonk, spades, UNO, Go Fish.
61. Other board games: Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary.
62. Team video game playing.
63. Old school vs. new school dance contest.
Building bridges to the larger community is an essential part of being a father. Connect with children by making them aware of local, state and national issues through community service.
64. Volunteer at a homeless shelter.
65. Pass out water at a 5K.
66. Participate in protest together (#blacklivesmatter).
Some moments leave an indelible imprint on children through your presence or absence. Be there for milestones.
67. Teach your child how to swim and/or ride a bike.
68. Teach child how to shave.
69. Buckle up and teach your kid to drive.
70. First day of school attendance (and graduation).
Men feel they should construct, which serves as a metaphor for life. Construction projects, taking the time to successfully put something together, bonds participants and teaches life long lessons.
71. Build sand castles/snowmen.
72. Build a sandbox.
73. Build/ race go-carts.
74. Transform a cardboard box into a car/bus.
75. Build/fly paper planes.
76. Build a website dedicated to a shared hobby.
Try these general activities fathers deem germane to the role of father.
77. Attend religious services with child.
78. Participate in local traditions, i.e. second line parades.
79. Visit the zoo and aquarium.
80. Host a sleep over.
81. Climb trees.
82. Plant and tend to a garden.
83. Take care of an aquarium.
84. Perform a lip-sync routine in front of family.
86. Start a stamp collection of black heroes.
87. Design a T-shirt.
88. Change the oil in your car with your child.
89. Visit a fire station to view the trucks.
90. Visit a train station to view trains.
91. Ride a train to another city.
92. Take make a photo album comprised of pictures of particular themes.
93. Play with matches to teach the child how to properly use fire.
94. Costume on days other than Halloween.
95. Pretend to be Batman and Robin or the superhero of your choice.
96. Bake a cake for a friend or family member.
97. Have your child teach you the latest dance.
98. Attend a father–daughter dance.
99. Create and debate a top 10 rapper list between your child.
100. Camping in the backyard.
101. Pick up child from school on specific days.
Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The GardenPath: The Miseducation of a City (2011).
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more columns by Andre Perry.