Looking slightly away from the camera with tears in his eyes, the middle-aged man said, “I had a lot of anger because he wasn’t there and I didn’t know why but I didn’t think he cared.” That was the main quote for an advertisement on the OWN channel to announce Oprah’s upcoming “lifeclass” episode titled “Oprah’s Lifeclass on Fatherless Sons.” This aired during the season premiere episode of “Iyanla Fix My Life,” which also focused on an allegedly absent father. I know both Oprah and Iyanla are trying to shed light on an issue that has plagued society for years, but I have a problem with how they portray it.
About a week or so ago I watched the last 30 minutes of Iyanla Vansant’s “Fix My Life” episode with DMX and his son Xavier. From what I could gather, Xavier wanted his father to apologize for taking him to the music studio as a child and apparently kissing and hugging women who were there and for speaking to him as if he was angry. DMX, who is not in a good mood and feels he is being humiliated on live television, snaps back asking his son to give him an example of what he told him as a boy that made him feel bad. Xavier couldn’t come up with an example. Every time DMX tries to continue talking, Iyanla interrupts telling DMX to listen to his son. DMX fires back stating that everyone continuously interrupts him whenever he tries to speak to his son. This back forth non-dialogue and rising tempers continue for most of the episode. Finally, DMX apologizes to his son and they hug. Xavier plays a song for him and DMX tearfully responds, “That’s my son. So proud.” Then Iyanla tells Xavier that he can ask for what he wants of his Dad now. Xavier explains he wants a relationship with his Dad, but his Dad must give up drugs. DMX states that he has never put any conditions over the love for his son and refuses to change for anyone. The episode ends with Iyanala congratulating Xavier for standing up to his father and disclaimer text stating that the father and son have yet to speak to each other since the filming of that episode.
I had difficulty watching this program as well as feeling sympathy for the son because I felt it was driving to the wrong point. The characters in this type of story are always written the same and I think this could be considered a factor that is continuing the problem.
Why is the father always written as the villain? We seem to like to tell a one-size-fits-all story to explain why “Dad” is not around, even though there are a variety of reasons – work, illness, abandonment, death – that cause the absence of a father. Most of these reasons were not premeditated, but just came about due to life’s circumstances. I don’t believe this should be used as an excuse to avoid responsibility, but I do think it warrants reevaluation when planning to gang-up on someone. Regarding DMX and his son’s situation, DMX was not only around at home when his son was younger but also paid for his son to attend a good quality school, live in a comfortable home, and live a content life. None of this is mentioned in the story. Instead, we are made to believe that this man did not treat his son appropriately and now must be humiliated in public.
My next question is regarding the son. Why are the offspring of these so-called absent fathers always portrayed as victims when they are adults? I am not too convinced by the notion that an absent parent causes overwhelming psychological trauma that remains throughout a persons life. I would understand if they were interviewing an 8 year-old boy about how he feels not having one of his parents, but for an adult, the reaction should be different. In this episode, Xavier was painted as a weak character in my opinion. I know many people, men and women, who grew up with a single parent and were still able to become independent adults…and never blamed their absent parent for anything.
Essentially, I feel this storyline needs to be re-evaluated and re-written. It supports a continuous cycle to produce an image of weak minority men. The absence of a parent requires the child to grow up faster, take more responsibility, and become independent sooner. At times, depending on the circumstances for the absence, the child might feel sad, angry, hopeless, but in the long run they learn how to live with it. Instead of telling stories about how all of these adults still feel unloved and angry, why can’t we see how they worked to never be like their absent parent? Or how they made every effort to be there for their own kids? Or how they decided to dedicate their lives to help other single parents and orphans? If we could build a supportive community that took responsibility for all of its children, the number of parents one has wouldn’t be such a major factor. Just a thought.