At the end of Michelle’s speech, Sasha Obama grabbed the mic and said, “I love you Daddy.” For obvious reasons, that little add-on pushed me to the emotional brink. There is nothing new about the continued decline of the black American family. The struggles associated with those loose ends and disconnected familial bonds are studied ad nauseum. In particular, the black father figure in the popular American mind is approaching museum status, a relic of a different time. The language connected to black men as fathers today has boiled down to – “my baby daddy,” “that sorry motha$&!#,” “where’s my daddy,” “any nigga can have a child, but it takes a man to be a father.” As a father in the middle of this morass, I find that not only does this language hurt, it is disorienting. The statistics say that nearly 70% of black children today in the
Sasha’s “I love you Daddy,” stood like a breakwater against a depressing tide. Love and black men are hardly ever connected to each other in the public American landscape. Often when they are, it is despite the man, rather than because of him. If only for an instant, Sasha gave us a different view. She gave us an image of what a child looks like when she sends the love signal out…. “I love you Daddy”… and the love of her father comes raining back down on her, confirming that her message was received and that her love is cherished and connected to her father’s love of her. In Days of Grace, Arthur Ashe wrote what has to be one of the world’s great love letters from a father to his daughter. He explains a similar love volley with his daughter, Camera. He wrote it when he was dying of Aids and it ends…
I may not be walking with you all the way, or even much of the way, as I walk with you now. Don’t be angry with me if I am not there in person, alive and well, when you need me. I would like nothing more than to be with you always. Do not feel sorry for me if I am gone. When we were together, I loved you deeply and you gave me so much happiness I can never repay you. Camera, wherever I am when you feel sick at heart and weary of life, or when you stumble and fall and don’t know if you can get up again, think of me. I will be watching and smiling and cheering you on.
Listening to Sasha, I heard my own daughter’s signal, “I love you Daddy.” It made me think of the ways I respond to her. It also made me think about how deeply I love her and how that love itself is a rudder that steers my sense of responsibility and my conduct as her father and as a man. I just hope that my love and my example are sufficient to keep her sense of manhood away from the morass.