Over the weekend, Dr. Boyce Watkins over on Kulture Kritic put me on to a photo that’s been making the rounds on the Internet. Frank Somerville, a reporter on Oakland station KTVU, posted a picture of himself, a white man, taking out his adopted Black daughter’s braids. I don’t have to tell you what a frustrating process that can be, and Somerville — rat tail comb in hand — wore a determined expression I know well as he focused on the long task ahead.
“So for those of you who think TV can be glamorous, this is how I spent my morning, learning how to take out my daughter’s braids,” he posted on Facebook. “It takes a long time and a lot of patience!”
It was a cute picture, a nice daddy-daughter moment, and I definitely empathized with Frank’s efforts. Many viewers seemed uncommonly touched by the image, and praise for Somerville poured in from readers declaring how “awesome” he was. The responses to the photo seemed a little extra to me — and to Dr. Watkins and Frank, too.
Frank responded to the praise, downplaying the attention: “It’s not often that I am speechless, but I am floored by the response to the picture I posted…. To me the picture shows a dad doing what a dad SHOULD do.”
I’m with Frank. And I’m reminded of that now-classic Chris Rock skit where he talked about people who brag about what they’re “supposed to do.” In no way do I think Somerville was bragging. He was sharing a snapshot of his life, and I don’t find fault with him at all. But I do wonder — like he does — why he got heaps of credit for doing what a father should.
I’m well aware that there are many men who don’t have any act-right, who are not present in their children’s lives and let them down repeatedly. (I log off Twitter and Facebook on Father’s Day to avoid the sideways well-wishes to “dads who actually stick around.” Ouch!) Stories about deadbeat dads are all too prevalent and images like President Obama with his arms draped protectively over his growing girls, or the hilarious video from fatherhood.gov where a daddy is helping his adorable daughter practice her cheerleading routine, or the viral video of the coordinated father-daughter wedding dance where Dad gets it in, doing the stanky leg, the robot and the wop on the dance floor, come too few and far between.
Maybe it’s the lack of positive images that caused the massive support for Somerville, but don’t be fooled. There are lots of papas — Black, White like Frank, and all other colors too — who are active, present and, as my friend and colleague Lamar Tyler from the blog Black and Married with Kids always puts it, “purposeful” in their children’s lives. Of course, it’s great to cheer them on — and mothers too — for the hard (and fun) work of parenting. But when we go all gaga for dads doing basic acts that we would rarely applaud a woman for doing, we’re revealing a pretty low bar of expectations.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk