I’m Black, female, and a product of a two-parent household – this shouldn’t be an anomaly. Thanks to my dad, I can charm or argue my way out of (and in some cases into) almost anything; my father basically originated the concept of using a “charm offensive.” He is the shadow mayor of our small town, often making quick errands last hours – which drove my mother crazy. And while he may have driven her crazy, she was always along for the ride. They were an unbreakable team.
As a child, I never doubted his priorities – my mom came first and my sister and I came in a close second. He supported our family in myriad ways beyond simply covering our teenage girl expenses; for example, he happily spent his vacation days chaperoning our school field trips. While my father is neither enormously wealthy nor at the tip-top of the corporate ladder, he has had a tremendous impact on our extended family, friends, and community.
Over the course of our 32 years together, my dad has taught me countless lessons, the most important of which I’ve learned in the past ten years. After my mother battled late-stage breast cancer and multiple sclerosis for nearly three years, my father, sister and I lost her in 2008. During my mother’s final years, at times I saw my father rise to the occasion and other times I watched him fail miserably in his attempts to support and comfort her. My father and mother had been together since high school and some days he could barely function as a result of his loss. Watching my dad during those years taught me what love really looks like; I now know intimately what “in sickness and in health” really means.
In rebuilding our lives together after losing my mom and learning to communicate with my father as an individual rather than a part of a two-person team, I have had to develop an entirely new set of communication skills. And at times when he has been simply unable to support my sister and me emotionally, I’ve also been forced to learn forgiveness and acceptance.
As a member of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit that aims to improve pathways to opportunity for boys and young men of color, I’m often asked, “But what about the girls?” That question ignores the unusual reality of my life. My dad made me who I am today – someone who thinks the word “no” should never just be accepted, was taught to believe oversized confidence is a good thing, and knows pushing yourself outside a comfort zone is a requirement.
The New York Times’ data driven blog, “The Upshot,” suggests that there are 1.5 million Black men “missing” in America that our nation’s sons and daughters need desperately. My story is living proof that by better enabling and supporting our nation’s young men – turning them into fathers like mine – we are simultaneously creating the households and communities that young women and girls of color need to thrive.
Many of our nation’s young men and women of color feel that some doors to opportunity are closed to them – doors that should be wide open for them to enter with the confidence that my dad instilled in me. It’s time that we as a nation help those young people understand that, just because they have heard “no” all too often, the narrative is changing to a more resounding “yes” to their futures. Fathers are integral couriers of that message, and we as a nation must continue to lift up our fathers and father figures to help us #ChangeTheNarrative.
Happy Father’s Day.
Marisa Renee Lee is the Managing Director of My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the gaps in opportunity and achievement for boys and young men of color – making the American Dream available to all. Lee resides in Arlington, Virginia with her fiancé Matthew and their dog Sadie. In her mother’s absence, her father regularly drives her crazy.