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I call you father

OW Contributor | 6/16/2010, 5 p.m.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Father's Day. Juneteenth, the day African Americans commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the United States of America, was also the day fathers were first recognized in this country.

On June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Washington, the daughter of William Smart, a Civil War veteran, decided she wanted to do something to honor her father who had raised six children.

Sonora Smart Dodd was inspired by a sermon she had heard in church on Mother's Day. She felt her father also deserved to be recognized, and her determination launched a national movement to celebrate all fathers.

A century later, we continue to honor fathers with their own day, the third Sunday in June, just like mothers have every second Sunday in May. But, unlike Mother's Day, Dodd's desire was met with laughter and ridicule. Despite that, she persevered against the jokes and resistance to her idea.

Although she succeeded in creating a special day for dads, it wasn't until 1972 that Father's Day was officially proclaimed a national holiday.

And like Dodd's struggle to establish Father's Day, the rough ground on which Black dads walk and toil to survive and keep their families intact often is saturated with deep pitfalls and camouflaged traps.

Jawanza Kunjufu, author of "State of Emergency" and "Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys," remembers his father as the man who was always there for him. "My father worked evenings at the post office but he called my sister and me, literally, every night at 8 o'clock," Dr. Kunjufu says. "My father attended my track meets, concerts and debates, even if it meant connecting breaks and lunch."

Kunjufu says his work and passion are driven by African American fathers who are not always available to their children and face significant challenges in today's society.

"Ninety percent of Asian children have their fathers," Dr. Kunjufu states. "Seventy-five percent of White children have fathers; 59 percent of Hispanic families have fathers at home. But only 32 percent of African American children have their fathers with them."

Entertainer and educator Bill Cosby, an outspoken critic of absentee fathers, addresses the issue of incarcerated fathers on his "State of Emergency" compact disc.

The track, "Dads Behind the Glass," reflects the voices of Black sons who fear they will follow in their absentee father's footsteps and end up in prison.

"I wish my daddy was home. I'm tired of sitting here all alone. Momma's not here; she's working two jobs all by herself so she can provide."

Cosby says many Black boys ask their missing fathers, "Do you care about the child you created, and because of you he feels he can't make it." With pulsating Hip-Hop indignation, Cosby's 'lonely son' demands of his jailed father, "Only male figure, how dare you leave me."

"Cosby would have us believe there is something wrong with the parents and with the children," responds Dr. William H. Grier, author of the classic "Black Rage" and former professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Meharry Medical College. "What he does not say is that there is something profoundly wrong with the environment in which they are embedded," Dr. Grier insists. "Parents do not parent in a vacuum. The society provides or denies them resources in a multitude of ways."