Father’s Day is a time to express appreciation to dads. But this year, we wanted to hear from fathers themselves. Here, four Washington area men share what fatherhood means to them. Their words are humorous, vulnerable and uplifting. And be sure to check out our photo gallery of local dads.
One of the best lessons that I learned about the impact of fatherhood came from an episode of the classic 1977 television miniseries, “Roots,” based on the bestselling book of the same name. Renowned author Alex Haley wrote the story after discovering that he was the descendant of an African slave named Kunta Kinte.
Kunta was a proud and determined man, who tried to escape several times only to be caught and harshly punished. After one of his failed attempts, he was nursed back to health by Bell, the plantation’s cook. They fell in love and decided to “jump the broom” and marry. Kunta soon got a position as the plantation owner’s carriage driver.
One day, while Kunta was putting the horses away, he heard a drumbeat that sounded very familiar. So, he followed the beat, and it led him to an old slave. Turns out that this man was from a tribe that lived close to Kunta’s people. In any case, this man told Kunta to listen for the drumbeat again because it would signal an upcoming escape attempt.
An excited Kunta rushed home to share the news about the drumbeat and the escape with Bell. However, she became very afraid. Her first husband had tried to escape, and he was killed. She said that she did not want to lose Kunta, too. Then, she put his hand on her stomach to feel a baby growing inside of her. Kunta understood and promised not to escape.
When the baby was born, Kunta wanted to dedicate his daughter in the same way his father did for him. One night, he swaddled her and took her outside for the special ceremony. But, as he lifted her into the night sky, he was interrupted by a familiar sound. It was the drumbeats. They were calling to him. He quickly bundled up his little girl and ran toward home. Bell, who was clearly panicked, rushed to meet him. She had heard the drumbeats, too. She approached him quickly and said, “The drums. . . . You ain’t gonna run, is you? This is our home.” Kunta said defiantly, “This is not my home.” Bell’s legs buckled as she burst into tears. But then, Kunta steadied his wife, pulled her close as he wrapped his arms around her and said, “But, this is my child, and we are a family!” And, they walked back into their home. As this episode ends, you hear the voice of Kunta telling his daughter her name was “Kizzy,” which means “stay put” in his native tongue.
Consider what happened here. Kunta was a father with no economic rights, no civil rights or no rights of any kind. But he had one power that no master’s whip could take away. He had the power to stay put, despite the obstacles, risks and challenges, and do everything that he could to provide for and protect his family. Remember, it is the “kizzy” of Kunta Kinte that gave us Alex Haley.
As president of one of the nation’s leading fatherhood organizations, I am often asked questions around Father’s Day about the state of fatherhood in our nation and the social/economic cost of father absence and the benefits of father involvement. These are important questions. I am also asked what it takes to be a good dad.
Now, I could certainly rattle off many fatherhood do’s and don’ts. But, frequently I just tell them about Kunta Kinte’s simple and selfless act. It is the quintessence of fatherhood. One can’t be the involved, responsible and committed father that his kids need unless he is willing to resist the myriad of “drumbeats” in our culture that beckon him daily to commit his time, talent and treasure to everything except what makes him a dad in the first place: his children.
Moreover, Kunta Kinte’s story has a personal relevance for me. When I was just 20 years old, I had “drumbeat” moment after my girlfriend told me she was pregnant. I had grown up without my father and there wasn’t much social pressure on me to step up to the responsibilities that my actions had created. Life’s syncopation was calling to me to be “free.” But, by the grace of God, I didn’t run. I chose to “kizzy” and be a husband to my girlfriend and a father to my child. And, I have remained so for over thirty years.
You see, fatherhood is about the power of one: One man, who makes one choice to change one child’s life and leave a legacy that can change the world.
Roland C. Warren is president of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) (www.fatherhood.org). NFI is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization promoting the importance of involved, responsible and committed fathers, and is the number one provider of fatherhood skill-building resources.
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