When Marvyn Harrison realised no one was talking about what it means to be a black dad he launched a new podcast, Dope Black Dads – and it’s already a hit
On Father’s Day last year, Marvyn Harrison sent a WhatsApp message to a handful of friends to tell them he was thinking of them, and that he appreciated what they were doing as fathers. They all replied straight away. As Harrison was showered with thanks, he understood that he had tapped into something significant. “Thanks for trying to change the ‘missing black father’ narrative,” wrote one friend. “Sometimes dads get left off the radar, and black dads don’t get credit,” wrote another.
Harrison had given voice to a discontent that had been building since his son was born three years earlier, and that had come to a head a few months before with the birth of his daughter, Olivia. He felt no one was talking about what it means to be a black father today, and the lack of a positive conversation struck him as depressing.
“I just wanted to wish them a happy Father’s Day and say thank you for their positive influence in the lives of their children,” says Harrison, 35, an advertising executive. As the year progressed, his small WhatsApp group grew rapidly to include fathers beyond the UK, in New York and South Africa. “We became a community built around knowledge-sharing and support,” Harrison says.
Within a few months, the group needed a bigger platform. Harrison downloaded a podcasting app, invited a few friends along for a chat, and Dope Black Dadswas born.
Launched in October 2018 to coincide with Black History Month, the Dope Black Dads podcast now has more than 60 contributors from around the world, regularly discussing everything from co-parenting and blended families of mixed faith, to sex and race. “We wanted to give people a greater understanding of our narrative,” Harrison says. “I can’t convince someone who goes on a Tommy Robinson rally that I don’t need to go ‘home’. But I can start a conversation with those who are open-minded enough to listen about the sorts of things we are facing as we raise black children.”
For the fathers themselves, the benefits have been huge. “Some of the things we talk about, like the problems dads face when they’ve split up with their child’s mum, or knife crime, are not things we could necessarily verbalise in our relationships,” he says. “We want to inform and help black fathers to make sure they can play an active part in their kids’ lives and be supportive to their partners.”
The thing about being a black father, he says, is that it makes your role as a parent more complex. “The parenting part, day-to-day, is the same. But what you’re trying to teach your child is much more layered. You’re trying to show them that having a different skin tone or hair might mean they are judged differently. You’re adding that to all the other stuff, like ‘Eat your greens’ and ‘Be careful how you cross the road.’”
It often takes becoming a parent to fully appreciate your own. When you’re a black dad whose own absent father was a son of the Windrush generation, with its attendant problems, Harrison says, the experience is even more intense. “When my son Blake was born, I rang my mum from the delivery room in tears. I didn’t know becoming a dad could be so life-changing. When I saw that little person we’d made, right in front of us, I started caring about so many things I’d never thought about before. I realised I’d taken Mum, who raised four kids by herself, for granted.”
He also felt a flash of anger towards his father, who left when he was 18 months old and whom he has hardly seen since. “I’d never felt I lacked anything in terms of love or security. But when I had my son all those years later I did feel angry about my dad leaving,” he says. “And I decided I wasn’t going to use the fact that I never knew my dad as a get-out for being a bad father myself.”
He was also able to reflect on the circumstances his own father and grandfather had faced – the circumstances that moulded them as dads. “My grandfather, and so many men like him, had to start from the absolute bottom when he arrived from Jamaica as part of the Windrush generation,” he says. “He was so disillusioned. The more stories I hear – from my gran, aunts, uncles and friends – the more I realise how soul-destroying it must have been.”
The next generation, the children who grew up in Britain in the 70s, were also starting at a disadvantage, he says. “Lots of them, like my dad, had pretty terrible upbringings. Many didn’t come from two-parent families, and their fathers’ anger and resentment at feeling they didn’t belong in Britain often manifested itself as disruptive behaviour. Drinking, hanging around on the street and in betting shops, and then coming home and taking it out on their wife and kids.”
It wasn’t, he believes, that his father didn’t want to be a dad; it was the ripple effect of his own childhood. “So you can start to see why some of us – their children and grandchildren – might struggle as parents.”
These struggles became clear when Olivia was born and Harrison was confronted with a fresh set of concerns. “I thought about all the issues that might affect her: sexism, racial discrimination, and what it might be like growing up as a young black female. I want to skill her up to the hilt to make sure she can look after herself.”
Dope Black Dads is Harrison’s way of turning the experience of being a black father into a positive force; the podcast is genuine, candid and heartfelt, and he is justifiably proud of how it has grown. “Each time we do a podcast, someone else comes forward and says, ‘Yes, I can relate to that.’ It’s a great feeling,” he says.
Harrison is under no illusions that his children will experience a level playing field by the time they’ve grown up. “Racism isn’t going to have died in 20 years’ time. It’s going to take a lot longer to change prejudices and ideas.” But he hopes that his podcast will be a step in the right direction, and that it might stop black dads from feeling alone. As one Dope Black Dad puts it: “It’s about time we had a black dads’ movement, bruv.”
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Source: The Guardian