Sunday, March 12, 2006

Where All The Brothas At? No, This Is Not A Post About The Ratio Of Men To Women On The Dating Scene!

Growing up a member of a huge extended family, I can remember when I was a child, my family routinely having family gatherings where scores of folks got together for any reason they could find, or no reason at all. My Grandmother is mother to twelve children [eight girls and four boys], who produced for her sixty-nine grandchildren, who to date have produced forty-four great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild [I know, I know... we're as fertile as the Napa Valley Wine Country (LOL)]. My whole extended family still lives here in St. Louis, with the exception of one uncle and his four sons and one grandson, one aunt, her son and daughter and three grandchildren, my brother, and three cousins and their combined six children. With all this family in town as I grew up, stopping by my Grandmother's house on any given Saturday was like going to a family reunion. As a matter of fact, when our mothers, [my Grandma' s daughters] were still in their 20's and 30's and still "partying" to some extent, about 15 to 20 of my Grandmother's grandchildren would be spending the night at her house most weekends.

Because of this, I was very close to my cousins growing up and we were all like brothers and sisters. I loved growing up this way, and now that I am an adult, I notice that there is a big difference between the way I grew up and the way my son is growing up even though he was born into this same huge extended family. We still get together and have a ball like we did when I was a kid, but its different somehow. For many family members, [particularly male family members], participation in these events has become optional. The younger members of my family in many cases don't know who
they are related to here in St. Louis. I have been afraid for years, that it is just a matter of time, having a family as large and fertile as the one I'm from, until one of these younger relatives finds themselves attracted to a "stranger" who turns out to be a relative. Being the consumate lover of all things "family" as I am, I have given this perceived difference considerable thought. I have found an almost inperceptibly subtle change, that I think has made all the difference in the way my family, and perhaps the black family in society as a whole has evolved over the last few decades.

As many of you know, my father died when I was nine, and though I no longer had him available, I had no shortage of male role models who were willing to step in when I needed "a man in my life". My mother's four brothers, my uncles [pictured below with my Grandma] were always there when I needed them. I saw them almost every week when I was a child and every holiday, they were guaranteed to be around. Each of them holds a special place in my heart. My Uncle John, the oldest, used to take me and 7 or 8 of his other neices and nephews to the skating rink every Sunday when we were kids and skate with us. As I grew older, he has always been the one checking in on the love life a sista is leading and making sure the brothas are treating her right. My Uncle Sammy, [Uncle Duck as I call him], taught me to fight and stand up for myself. My Uncle Mack, [the military man] was my childhood favorite, and was the one that I decided I wanted to live with if anything ever happened to my mother even though I had seven aunts. Last but not least, my baby uncle, Arthur, taught me about football [back then, we were all about the Dallas Cowboys, Coach Landry, and Tony Dorsett] and having fun. He is only about 7 or 8 years older than me, but when I was a kid and he a young adult, I would ask him for money and he would respond, "If I had it, I'd make you take it!"

I have such strong memories of each of my uncles from my childhood, and when I started to think about the difference between then and now, it occurred to me that unlike when I was a child, my uncles may or may not be present for family functions or just hanging out anymore. One lives out of town now which makes it hard for him, two come to most things, and one is hit or miss. I know we all have lives of our own, but as I think about my family and the family events of friends I have attended, there seems to be fewer and fewer adult males at the events of black families. Talking to some of my younger cousins, I found that some of them don't even know the names of many of the men in my family which is something that would have been ludicrous when I was a child. I don't know why or when family events became optional and more so for adult male family members than for females [though some of the women in my family are seriously tripping on this tip too!].

How did it come to this? I know marriages and relationships sometimes require that you go to the other partner's family's function, but hasn't this always been the case? Why is it that black families have navigated these issues historically, but now seem to be pulling apart from each other instead of doing everything in our power to stregthen and preserve the one thing we as a people have always been able to count on...our families? In 41 years of life, though I have been involved in relationships, I have never missed Christmas Eve at my Grandmother's house nor Christmas dinner with my family. In 2005, I hosted the dinner at my house. Sometimes it meant I had to go to my significant other's family function before or after my own family function and/or eat two dinners, which I did, but never under any circumstance would I consider missing a tradition which has been a part of my family's program my entire life. When I look at my son, two thoughts come to mind as I consider the impact of this "new family dynamic" of optional participation on him:

  1. He is missing out on so much! He'll maybe never know the joys of knowing he is loved and special to more people than most people even know. He'll maybe never know that he has other adult options to turn to with his troubles in the [hopefully rare] occasion that he is not comfortable coming to me.
  2. Will he want to be an integral part of our extended family or a peripheral player once he is grown and I no longer dictate his attendance at family functions? He is sixteen years old now, and I insist that he attends family functions [so far with no complaints from him] as he has a lot of freedom to socialize with his friends most of the time. As he gets closer and closer to adulthood, I wonder what choices he will make for himself as it relates to interacting with his family. Have I instilled in him the same love for our family that I feel? Will his eagerness to win and keep the affections of some future female take him completely away from the traditions of his own family? If the scores of other adult males in my family are any indicator, I am worried that very soon, there will come a time when my son will no longer be a physical part of my family celebrations and events with any regularity.

The black family is one of the most beautiful creations under God's sun. It has the ability to withstand all manner of storms and come through standing stronger. From Africa where the first attempts to eliminate it were made with the advent of stealing black folk for the slave trade, across the oceans to America where the institution of slavery itself calculated its demise, the black family has prevailed. In my opinion, there are few things more precious or more worthy of preserving than the black family. So to all my brothas reading this post, whether you know it or not, your presence is key! Your presence is appreciated, desired, anticipated, and above all else NECESSARY! Your presence is intrinsically required if we, the black families of America, are to continue to provide the nurturing, nourishment, and strength that is essential to developing our children, providing support and care for our women, and preserving our culture.





LadyLee said...

This post made me think, Oldgirl, and recognize some trends in my own family.

I agree with you on this one, Sharon... My family is pretty small, but I remember, back in the '70's and '80's, the family gatherings were so important... These days, especially since my grandfather passed away, we rarely get together. And when we do? It's mostly the women of the family... It shouldn't be that way...

Dee said...

Great post!!!! Made me miss my family!!! It's not a big family but they are all in Chicago and I am here in Cali!!!!


Jaimie said...

I liked your pics Sharon.

I'm a teacher, and at my school, we had a read aloud day, just for dads and other male family members. The dads went into every classroom and read aloud to the students. It was great.

I appreciate them as well.

DJ Diva said...

very good post Shar...I have wondered this as well