Home > Family, Love, Parenting, Photos, Relationships > Father: No Longer A Dirty Word

Father: No Longer A Dirty Word

I thought little of a picture of a dad brushing one daughter’s hair while holding his other daughter strapped to his chest. It was sweet but unremarkable to me.

When the same picture showed up in my blog reader a half-dozen times, I decided to explore further. What exactly were others seeing when they looked at the photo?

Some of the comments on the dad’s post astonished me. The comments were directed at someone else, but that “someone else” is part of a family that looks very much like my own.

My beautiful family

My beautiful family

“He probably rented those kids. They don’t even look like him.”

People ask me where I “got” my son all the time. It doesn’t matter that he looks like me. His skin tone isn’t mine, so naturally, he must not be mine.

“Your MOM is black and you dishonored her by marrying outside of your race? You probably can’t handle a strong black woman.”

When my now-husband and I fell for each other, it didn’t matter what other people thought was acceptable or unacceptable. We were drawn to each other; he to my strength, which is abundant despite my pale skin, and me to his compassion and silliness.

“OK buddy, cute picture. Now why don’t you hand the children back to their mom so you can go back to selling drugs or your bootleg rap CDs?”

My white father was both abusive and lazy. My black husband is gentle and hard-working. In my eyes, there’s not much you can know about a father by the color of his skin.

daddy love

Some time ago, “father” was a dirty word to me. Over the last four years, it’s come to mean something totally different. It means grace, sternness, compassion, partnership, love, guidance, strength, worry, and support.

I don’t believe I can undo people’s prejudices–against dads, moms, or people of any given skin tone–with any words I use, no matter how carefully chosen or deeply felt. Chances of changing anything are even less if I speak from hostility.

What defuses anger and hostility more than fiery words? In my experience, love. Instead of writing a lengthy, frustrated post, I thought I’d share what love looks like to me, in the form of fatherhood as I have come to know it.

It means:

Providing sustenance


Enjoying my mom’s company before she died . . .

tg with mom

. . . then, after she died, carrying our son through the town she and I had shared in my own youth.

walking snuggli

Being looked up to, and striving to be worth looking up to

My family

Teaching, about bigger things like life and littler ones like toilets

how toilets work

Working together


Holding tight, and being held on to

hugging daddy

When I see my son with his father, I see two people who love each other immensely. Their love is separate from me and joyous to behold. I witness it not as a mother, nor as any kind of owner, manager of or partner in it, but an appreciator of all forms of engaged, active presence in loved ones’ lives.

I see my son and his father together, and it’s all I can do to keep from singing. The past is over and done. In the present, my heart is full when I see, every minute, every day, the countless actions that make the word “father” mean something very different to my son than it did to me.

It’s a joy to leave the past where it belongs, calling on it only as a reminder how very blessed I am today. How very lucky my son is.

What anyone sees from without doesn’t change the fact that, from within our family unit, it is wondrous.


  1. January 10, 2014 at 4:36 am

    This is beautiful my friend. Powerful and beautiful.

    • January 11, 2014 at 6:30 am

      Thank you. ♥ It was such a joy looking back on the last four years and seeing how much has changed. So much joy!

  2. January 10, 2014 at 5:17 am

    I burst out laughing, yes literally burst out laughing when I saw the picture of the two of them doing dishes(?) dressed nearly identically. Now that is love!

    You are right, the past is the past and we should all try to see our present not through the prism of what was but with the clarity of what is possible based on the evidence before us. You have ample evidence of a wonderous compassion, empathy and love in your house. What others think and say, my friend there is simply no answer but to stick our tongues out at their willful ignorance.

    • January 11, 2014 at 6:35 am

      I hadn’t even noticed the match when I went to take the picture; now it’s part of the joy in what I see! I can’t remember which shirts they were wearing, but they have matching Langston Hughes and “N is for Noir” literary tees, so it could have been a perfect, Daddy-intended match.

  3. January 10, 2014 at 6:26 am

    You are so right … only Love has the power to change anything. Thank you for these beautiful pictures and a wonderful testament to the Love oozing out of your family! So happy to be just one of your blog followers, Deb!

    • January 11, 2014 at 6:46 am

      Thank you! It’s easy to be swept up in an unpleasant emotional response, but acting on it doesn’t tend to make anything better! So far I have only had that one encounter with someone saying overtly racist things. I continue to take as a reminder the fact that their hostility took the form of such hopeful–to me–words. I hope I can remember this always.

      • January 13, 2014 at 5:51 am

        You know, one thing that helps me on a daily basis is something I heard someone say many years ago and have never forgotten it: hurting people hurt people. I try to remember that everyone has a story, and some of them are bleaker & more painful than I can ever imagine. People speak out of their own experiences. This is why love really works – it is the only tool we have to break down walls of defense and bring healing to those places inside other people. God bless you BIG, Deborah, for your commitment to LOVE people into change.

  4. January 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

    It’s a beautifully presented post! This time not only your words, but these pictures too are filled up with emotions those express the invisible bond of love so nicely.

    • January 11, 2014 at 6:50 am

      Thank you. It was hard not to include dozens of pictures, but these seemed to capture the core of it. 🙂

  5. January 10, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Aaaawe, beauty, love, peace, and tranquility in what you have now, which overrides anything you experienced many years ago. It’s so wonderful that you treasure and behold it and see the value in every moment, Deb. XOXO-Kasey

  6. January 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

    I absolutely love all of the pictures of your son and his father, you can feel the love they have for each other and that is such a wonderful thing! One of my favorites is them doing the dishes together dressed exactly the same, that is just so cute and heartwarming to see.

    • January 11, 2014 at 7:02 am

      I think that one’s going to be one we print up, when we finally get around to doing a photo print run! At this rate, I estimate that’ll be around 2016. 😉

  7. January 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    I saw the headline about the original photo and even looked at the photo without reading the article. It was cute–Dad and kids. I figured the commotion was over the Mr. Mom sort of thing, not the mean spirited and vile comments that were shared about the photo. I just wrote about xenophobia being a problem in our society, and this case demonstrates that. I am so disappointed by the hatred and stupidity of so many in society. BUT I LOVE YOUR DECISION TO RESPOND IN LOVE–and to share all those great photos of love in action.

    • January 11, 2014 at 7:43 am

      I thought that would be the commotion, too! I was surprised and then, in retrospect, surprised I was surprised.

      Sometimes I get a little frustrated at how my job in contracts can make my writing too precise at a cost of expressing the depth of my emotion. Other times, I am glad for it; it has taught me to–as often as I can remember–act not based on my feeling but my objectives. If my goal is to foster love, I have to take actions that reflect that . . . especially when it’s hard! Work in progress. 🙂

  8. January 10, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I would not have responded to those comments in such an emotionally mature way as you did. Then I would have regretted it. I applaud you. Thanks for sharing such a personal post.

    • January 11, 2014 at 7:46 am

      Thank you. Lots of experience not responding well has taught me to seek a different approach. I don’t always remember, and I don’t always take it when I do, but results are much more positive. And feelings much less bruised on all ends!

  9. January 10, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    A powerful and beautiful post.

  10. January 10, 2014 at 10:35 pm


    • January 11, 2014 at 7:48 am

      Thank you, for saying so and pushing through the WP-Blogspot technical issues to do so. I am always grateful for that. ♥

  11. January 13, 2014 at 12:45 am

    This is such a beautiful post! truly heart warming. its unfortunate that even after so much education and work done against racial discrimination, prejudices continue to plague our societies and minds. Lets hope that our children will rise above these and learn to love people for who they are and not judge them for who they appear to be. Thank you for this wonderful post

    • January 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

      I am very, very hopeful. I suspect change will be slower than I’d like, but then, most things worth obtaining tend to be.

  12. January 13, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I am the same way. I don’t get what people saw in the photo, sure it was cute and tells you what a father should be but this is the new normal. Dads are involved more than ever.

    • January 26, 2014 at 9:17 am

      I do feel like it’s increasingly becoming “the new normal,” and I love it! I think there’s sometimes an instinct to degrade what others have instead of seeking out the same goodness in one’s own life; I hope the people who were affronted by the image find it in themselves to see–and believe–that they deserve the same “normal” in their own lives.

  13. January 15, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Father is a wonderful word. The furor that occured over that picture was astonishing to me. I thought unremarkable as well but the internet always seems to have other ideas.

    Lovely post.

    • January 26, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Thank you! I thought I’d replied to all the comments on this post, but I’m glad to have been wrong. It’s a gift to revisit the post and these thoughts on it, and to ponder again the good in kids growing up to know the kind of father my son does. 🙂

  14. January 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Just beautiful Deb. I can’t see examples of healthy loving Dads like this enough. Thank you for letting us join your joy.

    • January 26, 2014 at 9:21 am

      Thank you. ♥ I recently read a fiction novel that picked at the notion that bad things make people appreciate good all the more. I can’t speak to that author’s experience, but for me, it is a truth felt lovingly every single day.

      • January 26, 2014 at 4:31 pm

        I suppose it’s all in the lens we use to view it…but I’m with you. 🙂

  15. January 25, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    It baffles my mind and bewilders my soul when I read about what others sometimes see in online photos or discussions. I suppose we see what we want to see, what our expectations and prejudices and fears cause us to see. I hope we open ourselves up to seeing what is really there, what is real and not so unusual at all, and it’s called love.

    Thanks for writing and sharing such a loving post. Smiles!

    • February 8, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      I hope we open ourselves up to seeing what is really there
      I love this phrasing! I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last several weeks. I want to see what is, not what I wish would be or what it’s convenient to see. Sometimes it will be a little painful, but other times . . . it will be pure sweetness. There’s something to take away from all of it. 🙂

      • February 8, 2014 at 4:43 pm

        I know I could stand a little more patience in my own practice of accepting what is, unfiltered and unfettered by way of my assumptions and reactions. Then perhaps I can respond more lovingly.

        • February 8, 2014 at 4:49 pm

          I hear that. I have the feeling that, for myself, it will be a lifelong process. It’s exciting, though, to always have something more to learn. That means there’s always something more to seek. I’d once have found that maddening, but now? It’s a sign of life. 🙂

  16. rainascarlette
    January 26, 2014 at 1:41 am

    so beautiful! ur son is very cute too xD
    btw why u block his picha with that love icon lol 🙂

    • February 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      Thank you! I try to limit what I put out here of my son, for a few reasons. Sometimes I want to post all the most adorable pictures. Other times, I feel weird about even posting the funny-angle pictures. Day by day, I go with what feels right.

  17. January 26, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Absolutely beautiful. The pictures and words capture what it is to be a daddy and not just someone who donated sperm to the cause. So few men of any color are encouraged and praised by society no matter how wonderful they actually happen to be as fathers and I find that incredibly sad.

    • February 8, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      I find that sad as well. A few weeks back, I actually read about an academic studying how many excellent dads of color are overlooked by virtue of what people expect to see. I meant to bookmark the page so I could follow up on the study, but failed to do so. I wonder if I can find it now . . . ? Worth a shot, because I’d love to see perceptions updated to incorporate these engaged fathers!

  18. January 27, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Just read your post about fatherhood. It was beautifully written. As a dark woman, married to a white man and mothering our two white daughters, I could certainly relate. Love is colourless and that’s all that matters. Thank you for sharing. Anne

    • February 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. A huge “hear, hear” to this:
      Love is colourless and that’s all that matters.

  19. February 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    I;m glad you found love and respect in your family experience…not all men are the same. You have a beautiful family and it is lovely to see how your husband nurtures his son.My father was not father material either but I am so proud as well that my children’s father has been involved in their lives and today he is also a wonderful grandfather. Bless you and thank you for sharing these lovely photos and a great post.

    • February 22, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you, too, have found such a different experience of fatherhood as a mother. I’m also glad to revisit this post right now, and be reminded anew the truth of yesterday’s post. There is much to rejoice. 🙂

  20. February 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Creating my own family unit has been the most healing thing i ever did. i was terrified of being “mother”, scared to find her lurking within me and sure that i would end up on my own as it was my experience that the father figures never stayed around long or were bad people. just doing your own thing in your own way and building what i dreampt a family should be has been the most satisying journey. i have never faced the race issues, i find it hard to understand as we all bleed red and cry clear. you handle it with such grace.

    • February 26, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      I understand so well the terror you describe above. I was scared up until the moment I met my son that I would find some hidden darkness, inevitable based upon my heritage and young experiences. Then, upon meeting my son, it was a revelation of love. That was not who I was. As I type this side-by-side with my husband, it is so good to revisit what was and again be delighted by what is.

  21. March 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    This is wonderfully sweet. My husband also changed my view of what a father could be like, and I think being a father changed his view of fatherhood, as well. Both of us had mean-spirited, alcoholic fathers. It was certainly his goal to be the opposite of his dad, just as it was my goal to not marry someone like my dad! Great post!

  22. March 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    What a gorgeous, eloquent tribute to the thing that matters most, to me anyway, love, love, love. How wonderful that you have been open to and transformed by its alchemical power, Deborah, thereby creating a most beautiful and inspiring family. Shine on. Xoxo

  23. October 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    I looked just like my father and he never looked at me with the tenderness I see in your son’s father’s eyes.

  1. June 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm
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