How can encouraging men to share the joy and challenges of caregiving help erase stereotypes and transform the nation’s culture of care?
The acclaimed Carter Woodson, who is often called the father of Black history, said: You must give your own story to the world.Those have been guiding words for me these past few years as I’ve shared my deeply personal journey as a Black father and family caregiver. My goal in doing so is to help break stereotypes, create a new narrative, and offer solutions to the caregiving crisis that is holding our country back.I’m proud to be a caregiver to my family, which includes my wife, her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, my 9-year-old son, and the 2-year-old son we have together. Caring for four children, including one with special needs and another who is an active, curious toddler, is not easy. Doing it during a pandemic that has made life much more difficult for both kids and adults has been especially challenging.
As I write this, I am tending to my wife who is sick with COVID and my four children who are quarantined at home because they’ve been exposed to the virus. It’s not easy, but I wouldn’t trade the time I spend caring for my family for anything, despite the demands that come with providing family care while juggling a job.I had no role model for this. My own father left when I was three years old, and I barely had male caregivers to learn from. Then and now, popular culture provided few examples of Black fathers caring for their families. So I hope that, by sharing my story and encouraging and supporting other men to do the same, I can help change that.
Man Enough to Care
In fact, I am far from alone in providing care. More men are engaged caregivers to their children now than in the past, and 40 percent of caregivers of adults in this country are men. A moving, inspiring, informative video series from Caring Across Generations shines a spotlight on some of them.
Retired NFL player Devon Still was just 25 when his young daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma.
Man Enough to Care featuresfour diverse male caregivers—comedian and writer Zach Anner, caregiving advocate Robert Espinoza of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, actor Nathan Kress, and former NFL player Devon Still—along with Caring Across Generations Director Ai-jen Poo—in open conversations about providing care and needing care from a male perspective. The participants are brave and honest, and we can all learn a lot from what they share.
Devon Still says in one of the videos that he has found caregiving challenging and isolating. He was 25 when his young daughter was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. “I grew up really fast. I had no idea what the health care system was like... it was a lot of learning,” he says, adding that “when your daughter is battling cancer, there’s not much you can do. Sometimes I would just break down and cry.” He talks about being a Black man and a professional football player learning to provide care and that, at times, he felt he was failing as a father.
Actor Nathan Kress agrees that providing care “can be very overwhelming.” Kress’ wife has sometimes-debilitating endometriosis that “causes horrific pain.” He says it can be “really rough” to care for her and their baby and that, like too many others, he does not have male friends he can share with and talk to about being a caregiver.
Poo notes that traditional notions of masculinity can make it hard for men to ask for help. “But courage is this amazing thing, it’s contagious,” she says, reminding viewers that sharing personal stories makes care work visible and valued, thereby building support for policies that support caregiving and advance health equity. “That’s how culture change happens,” she says.
The mini-series calls on millennial men, in particular, to step up, identify themselves as caregivers, and join conversations that begin to define a new, healthy masculinity rooted in a culture of care.
I hope I am doing that, too, when I share my caregiving experience.
Caregivers Driving Change
For me, challenging the stereotype of the absent Black father is about more than setting the record straight. It’s about disrupting narratives that are terribly racist and deeply damaging. It’s about erasing stereotypes that dehumanize Black men and our families. It’s about encouraging men to embrace the joy and gratification that comes with family caregiving. It’s about helping men—and all of us—see the grace that comes with helping others live with dignity. It’s about making it possible for families to thrive no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they make.
Caregiving is one of the greatest challenges facing our country, but the growing movement led by people of all genders and races who provide physical and emotional support gives me real hope. We’re taking this conversation to the media as we remind people how impossible it is to work without quality, affordable childcare, and to workplaces and the business community as we demand paid leave. And more and more, those of us who provide care are sharing our stories and leading the way.
So as we approach National Caregivers Day, I speak out with pride about the role Black men like me play in providing care to the people in our lives who need it most. Whether we are family or professional caregivers, we are making life better for children, seniors, people living with disabilities, and others who need us. We are the powerful role models the country needs.
Dwayne A. Curry is a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who strives to ensure that all families, no matter their background, have access to the resources they need to raise thriving children.