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Strange Fruit: Toxic Black Fatherhood On TV

olivyah bowens
Submitted by Olivyah Bowens

"Theo, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life!"
It's the big laugh line from a famous scene in "The Cosby Show" pilot, delivered by the show's patriarch just after his teenage son makes a heartfelt plea for acceptance, even if he doesn't follow the life path his dad wants for him.

For writer Kieran Scarlett, it's just another example of the worst kind of black TV dad: Rigid. Impatient. Always policing their sons' performance of masculinity.

Kieran finds more recent examples in "Black-Ish," and recently wrote about the phenomenon for Rewire News, in a piece called ‘Black-ish,’ Cliff Huxtable, and Me: The Problem of TV’s Cruel-to-Be-Kind Black Father.

Kieran joins us this week to talk about how pop culture portrayals affect — and reflect — real-world fatherhood.

But it's not just dads who struggle (and sometimes fail) to get parenting right all the time, as illustrated by an Instagram post by Olivyah Bowens. The photo shows 23-year-old Olivyah with her 2-year-old daughter, who's having a meltdown. The caption begins, "No one teaches you how to love a child you didn't plan to have."

The post clearly resonated with other parents; it quickly went viral and has over 14,000 likes. On today's show, we chat with Olivyah about being a young mom, and what caring for babies can teach us about how to be more grown up ourselves.

No one teaches you how to love a child you didn't plan to have. No one shows you how to traverse the emotional complexity of loving a child you weren't happy about being pregnant with. It's even more difficult at those times when they're having tantrums and pushing you to a point of emotional exhaustion. ... It's confusing. When the same people who told you that you pretty much ruined your life are smiling ear to ear at your baby shower a few months later. It's hard.. Looking at a beautiful baby and being bogged down by the thoughts of how you will take care of them and how much life will change. It's so easy.. To project the pain of your wounded inner child onto your baby. It is the lethal cycle of undealth with trauma. ... This stage of motherhood has forced me to look at my reflection in my daughter's eyes and realize that no I don't enjoy being a mother all the time, but this child has been the catalyst for major growth. She is the mirror that allows me to look into my past and see the fears still controlling me now. ... When we heal our deepest pains we are speaking to our ancestors across the space time illusion and holding a cross-generational conversation within our dna that heals old wounds and rectifies long lost problems. Motherhood hasn't just healed me it's healed the mother's that came before me. ... The reality is I don't want to be a mother everyday. I don't want to feel held back from chasing my dreams and goals. I don't want to be exhausted. But I KNOW this little girl has brought me face to face with things that would have otherwise been ignored in my bubble of childless freedom. ... Dear mama, who is going through an unplanned pregnancy, don't feel guilty, don't feel afraid, don't feel ashamed. That baby chose YOU to be it's mothers at the perfect time. Surrender to the journey of unpredictability and let this new being show you a whole new part of yourself you didn't know was there. 🦋#takebackpostprtum #thefourthtrimester #motherhoodunplugged #birthofamama #blackmomsblog #milenialmom

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Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.