Joshua Hunter 2022

Joshua Hunter poses for a photo with his daughters, Nalaya, 8, and Ny’Asia, 13. He says “doing life with them makes it worthwhile.”

I am aware of the stigmas and stereotypes of “Black fatherless homes,” under which the media, TV and music have perpetuated this idea that Black fathers aren’t in their children’s lives, and which have threatened to define what it means to be a Black father in America.

I know the importance and power that come along with children having a father figure. Fathers play a critical role in the development of their children and their families. I can admit that, while growing up, I had a very different perception of a father’s role. When I became a father, I was able to appreciate it more than I did growing up.

Being a father is an incomparable gift; I found the true meaning of unconditional love.

I understand that my children’s view of fatherhood is being shaped by what they see in me. There is an opportunity to change the narrative. I come from a culture that encourages men to pursue a very narrow set of traditionally masculine career paths.

I also come from a time when “stay in a child’s place” rang loud and clear. Children were to be seen and not heard. I leave space for my children to communicate. I am intentional in those moments of listening with my whole being. I am learning to be a better man, husband and father. I know patience is key.

I want my daughters to know what it truly means for a man to love them, and some of that comes through how I treat their mother, as well.

I’ve learned that it’s about more than just giving my children what I lacked growing up. There is a fear in not only myself but I’m sure in most men, because we’re taught how to be strong all the time — but how not to show any emotion. Sadness and anxiety were considered excuses, there was no room for vulnerability and, because we had to be strong, there was an unwillingness to ask for help.

I believe there aren’t enough support networks for men in general, but that there are even fewer when it comes to fatherhood. Women have a network, but there’s no one really designated to understand and help fathers navigate through the process. I think it’s time that we start looking at how we can become better as a nation.

While I understand how fortunate I am in this place in my life, I also recognize how difficult it is for most men to take time off when they have a new baby, or a sick child or parent. I am grateful that I can take time off and be an active parent and caregiver when my family needs me the most.

I admit that I am not always the best dad. Some days, the pressure of the world is overwhelming and failure isn’t an option for me. I am also navigating through a world where I must try to stay alive and not die because of the color of my skin. I also must answer some very difficult questions and have conversations that other folks don’t have to have at their dinner tables.

It is frustrating, traumatizing and, simply put, exhausting. I’m not always fair to my children and family, because sometimes they get only what’s left of me.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a different beast and conversation, and that’s for another time, but even before that, I have maintained social distance. I’ve seen purses clutched and pockets tapped when I pass, and I’ve seen salespeople look me over.

But I must keep on keeping on. I must keep on teaching my children that their value doesn’t decrease based on anyone’s inability to see their worth. I must continue to show them what love looks like and use the words of poet Amanda Gorman — “That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped” — as a guiding force for change, or at least hope.

I carry this fatherhood title proudly. Those beautiful smiles, those long hugs, those moments — they call out for me to make the world stop, even if only for a minute.

My children have inherited siblings, because I believe that every child deserves a champion. Educator Rita Pierson summed it up: “Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them. Who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Sometimes we’re placed in places at the right moment in time.

The meaning of Father’s Day changes as I get older. I pray more, and I’m hopeful that my children understand what I tried to teach them. I hope they know that everything I do and have done is for them. I hope they continue to come home when they move out. I hope the world is gentle to them and success flows.

My children are my world, and we try not to say “goodbye” but always “see you later” and “I love you” after every encounter. I hope I am the best father my children could have ever wished for.

Joshua Hunter is the director of the Crispus Attucks Community Center in Lancaster.

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