His oldest son had been unapologetically self-involved as a boy, Ron Mincy said. He carried that tendency to put himself and his concerns above most everyone else’s into adulthood. But when his wife became pregnant with their now 3-year-old daughter, Daru Mincy, 40, morphed into a totally different man.
“While she was still in the womb, he read to her, he played Beethoven for her. He’s totally given over his writing time and free time to his daughter and family. It’s amazing. I look at him and say, ‘Who is this guy?’” Mincy said.
Friday afternoon, as he prepared for his two sons, their wives and offspring to show up at his Harlem townhouse for the clan’s yearly Father’s Day weekend fest, Mincy was marveling at how fatherhood has transformed his oldest child. In fact, added the Columbia University economist, Daru Mincy and his brother Ron Mincy, 35, are precisely the parents that the senior Mincy set out to make them, following what for him was a fail-proof template.
“I learned everything I know about fatherhood from the scriptures. The story of Abraham…blessing his children, those images were seared in my head as I began thinking about how to father my own kids,” said Mincy, reared in a New York City public housing project by a single mom.
With the Bible as his guide, said Mincy, director of Columbia’s Center for Research on Fathers, Children and Family Well-Being, he gave his boys an abundance of love. But love is merely a starting point, said Mincy and others fathers bent on raising their boys to someday be good dads. The fuller, protracted pursuit demands others tools. Rearing sons to be stand-up dads themselves requires the parent to model good behavior, good character; to discern when to be the authority figure, the disciplinarian, the life coach. With many black men in modern America, by turns, sometimes suffering a kind of self-sabotage but also battling the real and residual impact of retrenched racism, rearing black boys the right way is more than a matter of personal and familial legacy.
“This is about is raising our children well,” said father Shawn Dove, manager of the Open Society Institute’s Campaign for Black Male Achievement. “But it’s also about being cultural fathers and community fathers and standing up for who we are and what we’re supposed to be. I truly see this as generational work.”
If his 9-year-old twin boys are to help build that future, as family men, their capacity to do so rests largely on his shoulders, said Dove, also publisher of Proud Poppa magazine, on hiatus for the last few years. (An anthology of essays from that publication, “Proud Poppas: Our Purpose, Our Power and Presence,” is due out later this year.) “I stumble through the dark on many a day, trying to be the best dad. I know that everything I do and say, my presence, impacts them,” Dove said. “It’s a huge responsibility. They want to be like me, they copy me.”
In 2010, when the then 8 year olds, seated with Dove in the gallery directly behind President Barack Obama, fell asleep as soon as Obama began a speech promoting father’s concentrated involvement in their children’s lives, Dove fretted that network television would zoom in on that moment. “But when we were driving back home, what they were talking was not that they got a chance to be with the president but about the road trip and hanging out with me and having pizza,” Dove said. “The memory for them was being stage with their superhero, their dad.”That cherished road trip was in keeping with what Mincy, when his boys were young, called their “Footloose and Fancy Free” days. That meant “movies, restaurants, eating all kinds of stuff that we shouldn’t,” Mincy said. “That provided a context for building relationships and being in relationship with them.”
Sons must witness how their fathers relate, the dads said, whether on the job, in the community and, especially, perhaps, at home. “My children are in a household where they see their mother and father clearly, affectionately, in love,” Dove said. “Also my sons see me vulnerable. They’ve seen me cry, they’ve seen me read poetry. They’ve seen me in my work of helping other children.”
It’s essential that a father be well-rounded, and that his children witness that essential aspect of him, said the Rev. Conway Boyce, an urban planner-turned-corporate executive-turned-seminarian and classroom teacher in a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn classroom where 10 of last school year’s 13 special education students were boys. Only one had a father at home; and his mother was absentee.
Coming of age in a hyper-sexualized, hyper-monetized era when person-to-person aggression is condoned through, say, invective-riddled reality TV makes it all the more important that black boys tap deeply into what makes them human rather than what merely makes them men. In the household run by Boyce and his wife, their three sons — they also have a daughter — were drilled in the merits of that.
“That means my sons respect women, and that they understand this gender thing to be an issue of all people’s equality,” said Boyce, whose sons are aged 17 to 33. “My boys were not able to get away with doing less than they were supposed to do. Raising them with a sense of gender equality is very important for young black men. Too often, we have this notion in our society … that men have the right to establish their own norms and not consider the needs, the expectation of others.”
Putting sons on that path — reminding them that they are part of the human community — means setting the bar high early on: You will excel in school. You will be a good neighbor, an upright citizen. You will know that every action elicits a reaction and consequence. Should love, marriage and fatherhood find you, you will aim to be an even better father than your own dad sought to be.
“My dad taught me accountability,” said Daru Mincy, a banker and book author, “and [the importance of] education and work ethic. Those are biggest things I take from him. It’s a basis for how I parent. Everything else I do on top of that is what I observe from others and what I do from my heart.”
Said Ron Mincy Sr: “Men have a paternal instinct, not different from women. They want to reproduce themselves, and not just physically. They want to reproduce their good character, or the character they would like to have exhibited. They want to bring young people in the world that they would like to be.”
For Reg Hamlett, a widower and father to two boys, 7 and 15, that means having his children leave a positive mark on their society. “I certainly want to be a grandfather at the appropriate time,” said Hamlett, who lives in Chicago and is general manager of Nike’s North American youth athletics division.
“But, before that, what I tend to think about is what kind of men they will be to the woman they love. When the times come to procreate, I want them to do it in the right way. Right now, I’m more concerned about whether they are mannered young men and engaged in the world. When you’re raising black boys, those issues are critically important.”
“What has worked for us is that I stayed in my son’s life,” said Darryl Pearson, a retired New York City corrections officer, now working as a consultant for the federal Department of Homeland Security in Orlando, Fla. His son, an engineering major at the University of Florida, is a summer intern for General Electric in Milwaukee. “He’s a perfect gentleman, mild-mannered, the intellectual. He always holds the door. He walks on the outside. He put $100 in his sister’s banking account today, without her even asking. You won’t see anything negative on his Facebook page. I’ve always told him, ‘You have to be even better at this than I have been.’ I know he’s going to be a great father.”