Black Fatherhood is Infinite
Every fatherhood experience is distinct and Black fatherhood is no different. That's something photographer Julien James, a dad of a 3-year-old son from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, hopes to capture in this photo series, showcasing the wide and varied experiences of Black fatherhood. "Like all fathers—and specifically the ones in this project—my fatherhood journey is unique to me," says Julien James, which is the name he uses professionally, his first and middle name. "Black men and fathers do experience some similarities, but we aren't bound to the same experience because we are Black… Black is not monolithic; it's infinite—and so are our experiences, thoughts, and perspectives."
One thing all Black dads do have in common though is being tasked with teaching their kids to be conscious of their race in society. "We are constantly aware that in America, the justice system continuously fails us, authority figures continuously harm us, and the color of our skin endangers us," says Julien James. "All we want is a safer, more equitable world for our children."
The racial unrest and injustice in society does not however keep Black fathers from endless joy with their children. For Juien James, raising his son, Maison, has taught him a lot about himself and brought him a newfound happiness. "Maison has this light to him, this joy that's contagious; it's almost as if he knows exactly who he is already. I'm just blessed to witness it," he says. "And a little more selfishly is how much he's taught me about myself, about life, about giving, and about love."
And like other fathers, Julien James says he depends on others to help him grow and develop as a parent, something he feels is important for dads to talk about. "Parenting is an ever-changing job; no kid is the same, and each stage of life is different. I think this forces us to rely on our partners or communities," says Julien James. "It should be a two-way street. My partner has taught me a lot directly and indirectly, and I liked to think I have done the same."
With each father in the series, you will see a glimpse into the beauty of Black fatherhood and how fathers experience happiness, trials, growth, and everything in between throughout different ages and stages of parenting. Between the images and words about fatherhood these dads give, it's clear Black fatherhood differs for all, but always brings about the same joy and light.
In a society that criticizes Black lives, Julien James wants to use this piece to "change the standard of what Black fatherhood looks like across the world and allow Black fathers to control our narrative." Black is beautiful, Black fatherhood is beautiful, and the joy fathers experience with their children is infinitely beautiful.
When do you feel happiest as a father?
As a father, I feel the happiest when my son is sleeping on me. It's been like that since he was a newborn; nothing else seems to matter in those moments. Also, watching my son's personality blossom – seeing figuring things out on his own, his interests, and his dislikes, and watching him discover the world around him and creating his opinions. These two moments of joy are a little bit of lightening that I am trying to bottle up.
How has your idea of what it means to be a Black man changed over the span of your life, especially now that you're a father?
I would say it's morphed from a feeling of powerlessness. As a Black teenager and young man, I always felt that I was at the mercy of the powers that be—racism, prejudice, classism, etc. I always moved with caution. But as I've gotten older and transitioned into fatherhood, that feeling of hopelessness has transformed into unshakable confidence, self-assurance, pride and identity.
How do you want to be remembered as a father and as a Black man?
As a father I want to be remembered as being supportive no matter what. I tell my son that " Papa Loves You ALL WAYS, ALWAYS"— and I mean that. As a Black man, I want my legacy to be – "He Cared." That I cared about my partner, my son, my family, myself, about the work I do, my community, my friends, and humanity.
As a father, what is the most important thing your daughter has taught you so far?
I've learned from my daughter how to be gentle. I realized how important it is to mind her feelings and remember to be gentle with her.
What's a memory you hope your kids will always remember?
I want my kids to remember the love and care that I have and will always have for them. I want my daughter to remember all the times her daddy kissed a boo boo to make it feel better and all the times I let her paint my nails and put make up on me when playing.
What do you hope your daughter understands about her Blackness?
Simply that Black is Beautiful!
What do you love most about your daughter?
We have a saying in my family, " We're Drivers. We get knocked down but we ALWAYS get back up". I love that every time Erika gets knocked down, she gets back up determined as ever.
What have you learned from being a caregiver?
To love unconditionally, as I love the adults my kids have grown up to be.
How has your role as a father changed as your children have grown up?
I think I began Fatherhood as a protector and a teacher. Later, I transitioned into a role model as I tried to display the traits I wanted my kids to emulate as adults. Unexpectedly, I became an advisor as they now contact me to get my thoughts on life decisions they are pondering.
What do you hope your daughter will 'inherit' from you? I.e. "she got her charisma from me!"
I hope my daughter inherits my hard work ethic, ambition, a love for music, love for sports, sense of humor, and patience.
How have the men in your family influenced you as a father?
The men in my life have influenced me to be a better father by showing me to always be there for your kids and to be an open ear to them at all times – showing me what a strong healthy support system looks like.
How do you view your role as a father?
I view my role as a father as a provider, protector, but most importantly by being a leader.
Can you describe the moment you truly felt like a father?
I first truly felt like a father on the first day that I went back to work after my son was born. On that day, I could think of nothing but my son during my working hours.
How has your outlook on life and society changed since becoming a dad?
Becoming a dad in the year 2020, changed my outlook on society substantially. As a black man, father to a black son, in America, I began to feel the need to vocalize my displeasure with the inequalities within our current societal norms and how I could help improve them for my son and his generation.
How has your partner made you a better father?
My wife has helped make me into a better father by teaching me that I could always do more for our son. Through my observations of her interactions with Peyton, I have learned to be a better nurturer; which ultimately makes me a better man and more importantly, a better dad.
Visual Editor: Jillian Sellers
Photographer: Julien James
Art Director: Julia Bohan Upadhyay
Designer: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong