It’s a common misconception that Britain’s African Caribbean community is “blighted” by absent father figures. So many issues get laid at the door of these dads, from academic achievement levels to the current spike in knife crime. But according to the charity Gingerbread, only 21% of single parents are from a black or minority ethnic background.
A new generation of young black British men are determined to dispel the unhelpful, sometimes hurtful, stereotypes. These are career-driven, hands-on dads who take pride in playing a more consistent role in their children’s lives. They are part of a community who want to get rid of negative tags.
I know this because my son is one of them. Two years ago, he became a dad for the first time and I became a grandmother. Tyrell currently has sole custody of his son, Clay, and we live together in a family of three. Now I see my son parenting, I feel a sense of pride in the way that he has stepped up and taken his responsibility seriously and I’m amazed at how good he has been at it.
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So, recently, I gathered Ty and fellow dads, Nate and Kadeem, all close friends since school, to hear them speak candidly about how their lives have changed with parenthood, what their hopes and dreams are for their children’s futures – and what being a father means to each of them.
‘My mother has shaped the way I parent’
Ty, 28, is dad to Clay, two:
Living in a single parent household, there are a lot of little things you notice when you grow from boy to man with just a mum. It’s difficult at 14 going to football and noticing your mum is the only woman when the rest of the team have either both their parents or their dads there. But it’s my mother’s parenting that has helped shaped the way that I parent.
When I first held my son in my arms, I knew straight away my life was going to change. I was responsible for this tiny innocent baby. I remember the first time he looked at me – I bonded with him straight away and I knew then I was going to be his protector and provider. But when I’d first found out I was going to be a dad, I wasn’t happy about it all. I was 25 and there was so much I wanted to do before I had kids. I just wasn’t ready.
Now, when I look at Clay, I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility, especially raising a black boy in the UK. When he gets bigger I am going to explain to him that, growing up, I made a lot of mistakes so he won’t have to. I want to teach him to be proud of who he is and where he comes from. I am going to be his closest friend, but the boundaries won’t be crossed. He will know I am daddy and that I make the rules.
What is great for both him and me is that most of my closest friends have had kids who are roughly the same age. Our friendship dynamic has changed: instead of meeting up to play football or Fifa, we now arrange to meet up with the kids. It could be at someone’s house or a play centre but it’s good.
We still laugh and catch jokes, but at the same time we share our parenting experiences. That could be the red tape and bias dads face at family court or simpler things, like teething, crawling or general baby milestones. When we all get together, sometimes it’s like a daddy daycare centre!
Even though there is a stereotype of ‘the absent dad’, it’s changing a lot. You just have to walk down the street and see the amount of young black men out at the weekend with their partner and kids. The majority are taking this responsibility very seriously.
‘I felt that it wasn’t me anymore but we’
Nate, 27, is dad to Asaiah, two:
It was mixed emotions when I first found I was going to be a dad. Initially, I felt I wasn’t ready but at the same time I was kinda happy. And like Ty, I felt that sense of responsibility – that it wasn’t me anymore but we.
I’ve been very lucky as I have always had a great relationship with my dad. We are very close, we talk often, and I am proud to say my dad has always been present in my life growing up. Our relationship has had a strong influence on the way I parent my son. At the same time, I want to give him a better start than I had. I’m not saying that I had a bad upbringing because my mum did a fantastic job, too. I just want to give my son opportunities.
It’s great being a young dad: it brings you positive attention, you’re still young enough to appreciate the active stuff like playing football with them, and you’re not too far away from them in age to understand what they’re going through. I’ve promised myself I will be Asaiah’s provider and his best friend. He will be able to turn to me for absolutely everything
Culturally, I want him to know his heritage, I come from a Jamaican household and I want him to be proud of where he comes from and know his history.
The great thing about friends having children the same age is that they can grow up together. As they get older, children make friends and you don’t really know their background, their family and their parents. Knowing my friends are on the same page as me is very reassuring. It’s a nice feeling that we will be sharing more memories together like we did as kids.
‘I will always have time for my kids’
Kedeem, 26, is dad to Mya, seven, Ava, six, Kiana, four, and Rico, one:
I was 16 when I first found out I was going to be a dad. I felt way too young to start a family and when I met my first daughter’s mother and my two other girls’ mum, I never planned to have children with them. I had fathered three kids by the time I was 21. With both mothers, we never discussed having children and, due to our ages, the pregnancies put a strain on the relationship. But it never stopped me loving my girls unconditionally.
If you’re not both on the same page, it can be hard to co-parent successfully and I’ve found it particularly hard because I was raised in a two-parent household with siblings who share the same parents. That was my norm so having more than one woman to co-parent with does have it’s challenges.
All I’ve ever wanted is the best for my children and I’ve put plans in motion to make sure all my kids are well looked after. I currently live with my son’s mother and I am in the process of buying a property big enough for all my kids to be comfortable in. I play an important and active role in all of their lives and my weekends are dedicated to spending quality time with them.
Having friends with children the same age as mine has some great benefits, too. The kids seem to have bonded really well and hopefully they will maintain great friendships like the ones we have and will grow up like cousins.
I parent differently from the way my father parented my sisters and me. I wouldn’t say my father and I are close – he was quite a strict disciplinarian and I resented it for a little while, but looking back it wasn’t such a bad thing and it has given me some good values and morals, which I instil in my own children.
Thanks to my dad, I am the stern voice in the kids’ ears guiding them to do well. But I love them all equally and everything I do at the moment is for them. I will always have time for my kids, always put them first. I will never let them down and I show them as much love as possible.
• This article has been edited after publication folllowing a query from one of the families involved.