When I walked into Rodney Herbert’s modest and neat North Philadelphia living room, what caught my eye were all the photos of his children.
They’re on all four walls.
Herbert is the father of 11 and is clearly proud of his offspring.
His life as a parent, though, has been far from an idealized Leave It to Beaver existence. The 58-year-old former cook, who lives in the 2900 block of North Ringgold Street, has gone through hell and then some trying to raise his children, ages 11 to 36.
Herbert has battled alcohol and drug addiction. He has suffered from type-2 diabetes and kidney disease. There were long periods of joblessness. The Department of Health and Human Services removed six of his children when he and his wife couldn’t properly care for them. One was adopted and another remains in foster care. Through it all, though, Herbert has stayed committed to his family as best he can.
“I will never leave my kids like my father left me," Herbert said.
On Friday, he will be among the 12 dads honored at a Father’s Day dinner at the Hilton on Penn’s Landing sponsored by the Father’s Day Rally Committee. It’s an annual effort to promote parenting and also to push back against negative media images about African American fathers.
The honorees don’t have to be perfect. One recipient is currently incarcerated, but still manages to parent. The person who nominated Herbert thought he deserved the recognition because of his commitment to his kids.
“We don’t get the credit that we should get,” said Bilal Quayyum, one of the founders of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “I think that there’s still a negative image about black fathers.”
The Father’s Day Rally Committee began in 1989 after a group of men gathered to discuss the city’s crime problem as well as the portrayal of African Americans in local news media. Someone suggested organizing a picnic as a way to promote fatherhood. About 40 men showed up and a Philly tradition was born.
This year’s gathering will take place on Sunday in Fairmount Park, on Belmont Mansion and Chamounix Drives, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. In addition to the picnic and the awards dinner, there’s the annual group photo shoot on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art during which black fathers come out to be counted. It’s more than just a photo. It also sends a powerful message.
Since 72 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock, the stereotype of the absentee black father is widely assumed.
It’s not, however, always an accurate representation, since even though a man may not marry the mother, it doesn’t mean he abandons his child. Joel Austin, the founder of the Philly-based Daddy University, points out that many single fathers may not live with their children but often “hover,” meaning they live nearby.
Also, a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that even though black parents are less likely to be married, African American fathers often have greater hands-on involvement with their children than their counterparts.
Still, the notion of a black father being hands-on, the way my own father was, remains something of a countercultural concept for a whole lot of folks.
I think that’s what’s behind the appeal of a hilarious new viral video showing an African American father engaging in a lengthy back-and-forth with his 19-month-old son.
Mind you, the baby is too young to actually talk or even understand what’s being said. But the dad, who goes by the name D.J. Pryor, has an entire conversation with him as little Kingston babbles back in response. Since being posted to Facebook on June 4, the father-son pair has been featured on NBC’s Today and numerous other media outlets.
“It’s different to see a father connecting with his child,” Pryor, an actor and comedian, told me Wednesday. “We’re used to seeing the moms. Everything in the media and on TV doesn’t really showcase the dads.”