As another Father’s Day Celebration comes around I reflect with deep appreciation upon the conscious parenting provided by my late father, the Reverend Orenzia Bernstine. My sister, Shirlee, and I recently commented that “Daddy was no joke.” Our collective observation has led me to consider the confusing state of contemporary parenting with that of my father, who clearly understood that children need parents.
My father was no joke because my father made clear distinctions in his role as father, his relationship as father, and responsibilities as father. He didn’t have to say it, nor did I ever get confused about it, I knew that Daddy was not my friend! I never referred to Daddy as my “Dog,” “homey”, or “my nigga.”
Please know that my father was a loving and caring man, who always had the well-being of his children and family at heart. Yet, when it came to role demarcations I knew that Daddy was Daddy, and he was somebody distinct from my childhood friends – Ray-Ray, Skipper, Doug, Genie, and Rusty. I want to reflect upon my relation with my father and caution this new wave of parents who claim their children as their friends, and even best friends.
For one, a friend is someone who we choose, or seek after. I didn’t choose my father, nor did I seek after him. Daddy was here when I got here, and he was Daddy when I got here – not my friend. Secondly, a friend is someone with whom we share power and responsibility. Friendship is egalitarian. As a child, I never shared any power with my father. Daddy’s word carried the day in our household. Thirdly, friends are consensual. Friends agree to be friends. Daddy and I never made an agreement that he would be my father – he just was my father! Fourthly, friends satisfy certain emotional and social needs of one another. Daddy never used me as an object to satisfy any of his emotional and social needs.
In the world of theology, sociology and psychology, a child being used to satisfy the needs of an adult is criminology. It’s called incest! When adults look to children to satisfy their emotional and social needs it is a form of spiritual, emotional and social incest, because the child is powerless to do otherwise. As I reflect, Daddy provided me with an irreplaceable source of emotional and social satisfaction.
As a child, my father was not my friend because he instinctively and consciously understood that what I needed most was for him to be my father. Daddy understood that for me to make it in the world I needed to know role distinctions, relationship demarcations, and responsibility deployment. Daddy could not be my friend and be true to his role as a father, maintain the relationship as father, nor deploy his responsibilities as father. Thus, on this Father’s Day I want to thank Daddy for not being my friend, but being my father. My father was, indeed, no joke.
Rev. Dr. Alvin C. Bernstine, Pastor, Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, Richmond, CA.