Dr. Curtis L. Ivery’s New Book Honors Black Fatherhood

r. Curtis L. Ivery remembers his father by his routine.

Morning shaves, work times, lessons over dinner and stories before bed. These details become the "blueprint" of manhood, says Ivery-and do not exist for many Black boys.

"How do you miss something that you never had?" asks the Wayne County Community College District chancellor and author. "That's kind of scary, isn't it?" Here's where Ivery's new book, Black Fatherhood: Reclaiming Our Legacy, hopes to fill a void.

The book, co-authored with his son, Marcus, includes written contributions from thought leaders such as Michael Eric Dyson, Bill Cosby and Dr. Cornel West-all addressing the changing roles of Black fathers.

"It's never not part of a conversation," says Ivery. Here, he talks more about the importance of traditions and legacy.

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You mentioned this book has been a long time coming. How long?

Probably 10 years. And that's interesting because I've done at least 50 iterations of this book, and I guess it's been weighing heavily on my mind for so many years. My life has been working with younger people. That's been my journey. That's everything I've been about. Therefore, I understand the importance of a father in the lives of children.

I was pulled away, got involved in other things-but I would always come back to this book. I knew that it was important. And I know that one word can make a difference in a person's life. One hug, one smile, one touch can make a difference. I get that more and more every day. To think that a young man may not have had that because he did not have a father, it's an important topic.

Do you feel the conversation on black fatherhood has moved to the forefront?

It's really profound to have a young person speak about their father, whether they are 5 or 10 years old. Even teenagers and adults, we always talk about our fathers in a very special way.

I think it's a very important conversation in our community, in the Black community. We've come to understand the importance of fatherhood and the importance of the community, the importance of teaching, the importance of learning and character, and all of the things that make for the journey to manhood. … It's possible (without a father), and obviously there have been a lot of young men to do it without the father in the home. But we've certainly come to understand the importance of it all. And as I have been involved in education over the years, I've just come to have an appreciation for it.

Your book includes chapters like 'mealtime memories' and 'share stories.' were these important moments in your childhood?

My father played a very important part in my life. I understood what it was like to have a father who cared and loved me and who was a role model. And I always wondered what it would be like not to have a father.

As the years have gone by, I often reflect and go back retrospectively to what it was like. The things that have made me and helped me along the way, I think about. Even watching my father shave. Watching my father get up and go to work in the morning. I wanted to be so much like him. I wanted to dress like him. I even had a mustache like him for much of my life. I have my father's walk. And he taught me that every experience would ultimately be something positive.

I know that for young men without that, it's got to be a challenge. And I think the more we can talk about it, and the more that I can write and talk about it, it might make for a better place for a lot of young people.

Can your book teach lessons others may have missed due?

It's a responsibility. My father would always say to me that when I went to school, I had a special responsibility to behave in a certain way. He would remind me that I had his name. His name was something he was proud of. So I had to carry that legacy. And I would have that responsibility to pass that torch on to my son and hopefully my grandsons. And this is why the book has been so important to me, because I was able to involve my son in helping me think through the importance of fatherhood and the influence I've been able to have on his life.

One of your quotes is, 'if we don't define ourselves, others will.'

If you talk to anyone on my staff, anyone who knows me, they hear that quote from me almost daily. We have a responsibility to help people understand our commitment to humility, our commitment to civility and the dignity of people and the thirst for knowledge. That's how we ought to want to be defined. How we treat people.

How do you think we can change the legacy of black men?

I think it's going to start with each individual person accepting responsibility. Also, not being overly apologetic-because I think we've done a good job. There's a lot to be proud of. Can we do better? Of course we can. But I think we need to look back and think about the good things we've done, but also understand that the past informs the future. So even though we've been knocked down from time to time, it's important to get up and keep going. And to know that there's so many people counting on us. Our children are counting on us. Even if they are not my blood children, they all are our children. Someone set them at our table; therefore, we must feed them. So I try to conduct my life in a way that would allow me to be an example for others to consider.

If you grew up with an absent father, how will you know how to love your own children?

To have that young child look up to you and smile at you and for you to know and appreciate that "I have this responsibility"-that's love.

What did your dad tell you about his own fatherhood?

He would always say to me that I needed to not let anyone else define the relationship between the two of us. And that's something I've talked to my son about. He would also talk to me about trust. He would say, "Trust my motives. Trust that I meant to do the right thing. Trust that I mean to love you and I mean to do all these things. But sometimes I'm not going to get it right. Sometimes I'm going to make mistakes. But if you understand that I'm not going to be perfect, it means that you are going to take care of yourself. You are going to look for ways to learn the things I did not teach you." 

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