President Barack Obama sharing a moment with daughters Maila and Sasha
By Kaylee Davis
Dr. Michael Connor, a psychologist and a father, has researched the subject of Black fathers extensively. In fact, he and longtime mentor and colleague Dr. Joseph White published Black Fathers: An Invisible Presence in America in 2006. Their mission was to shed light on another side of the story of black fathers, the notoriously-ignored positive side.
Dr. Connor works to disprove Black innate inferiority that much of psychology tries to prove. “It would be irresponsible for me to reinforce the negative stereotypes [of black fathers],” he says, “The story of men who were historically there has not been told.” The stories of the Black fathers with multiple baby-mamas, of Black fathers who have been violent, etc. have been given so much attention, yet Dr. Connor was able to find an “avenue” for the strong, supportive Black father in his book.
Dr. Connor laments that Black fathers do not get much credit for their presence in their children’s lives. For the most part, he expresses that a number of Black fathers have been and are currently “present, involved, and engaged,” which he believes is the most significant duty of a father.
Fathers play a crucial role in children’s development, and Dr. Connor worries when this role is overlooked. He communicates, “We often err in that we will assume too often that the men are not needed.” Fathers provide children with “rough and tumble” play that is necessary for their development and cognitive skills. Dr. Connor reiterates, “Mothers cannot be fathers…and fathers cannot be mothers.” Each role is distinctly important, and this is often disregarded by the Black community.
Dr. Connor also recognizes the role of the non-biological father in the Black community, calling it “critical”. He has had a number of male father figures in addition to his own father in his life, and now he takes it upon himself to serve as a “social father” to children in the community. “More of us need to do it,” Dr. Connor suggests. He feels that we, as a people, have lost that sense of community and need to recapture it. The importance of non-biological Black fathers should not be missed.
This Father’s Day, Dr. Connor asks African Americans to celebrate the resiliency of our Black Fathers. He shares, “People who were not strong did not make it through slavery!” So, the Black community should rejoice and celebrate our fathers. Dr. Connor also advises, “If you have not reached out to your child, reach out and apologize.”
Dr. Connor is originally from a small town in rural Ohio. He earned his B.A. from Cal Western University in San Diego and his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii. He spent much of his career in Long Beach, working in private practice and teaching at California State University Long Beach. Dr. Connor now resides in northern California. He has a wife, two children, and two grandchildren.