I was perusing Facebook and Twitter when I read postings from two prominent Black media outlets touting that superstar entertainment mogul, Tyler Perry, had nearly become a “baby daddy.” The stories cited Perry’s cover story for the August 2011 issue of Ebony Magazine, where he candidly discusses his anxieties upon learning that he nearly became a father. Perry says this:
Back in December, when we thought we were having a kid, I got a little overwhelmed. Now I got overwhelmed when I first got a dog because I knew I was responsible for this living creature. So think how I reacted to the thought of having a child.
I was far more intrigued to hear about the “she” in Perry’s life that completed the “we” in his statements than his revelations about possible fatherhood. And until reading the aforementioned internet headlines, I’d never given much thought to the use of the baby daddy/baby mama terms. However, the headlines’ word choice made me feel some kind of way. Why not say Tyler Perry nearly became a father, instead of the heavily-connotative “baby daddy”?
This moment took me back to a few weeks ago when I mentioned to my girlfriend that I was having dinner with our mutual friend Michael, his ex-girlfriend Sherry, and their daughter, Alexis.
“Wait, so you’re meeting up with him, the baby, and his girlfriend?”
“They’re not dating anymore.”
“Oh, so she’s his baby mama.”
”She’s his daughter’s mother.”
I paused, wondering if I was unnecessarily asserting a passive manifesto that the use of a popular colloquialism needed re-evaluation. Maybe it wasn’t that deep, but I didn’t want to say “Yes.” Sherry isn’t befitting of the prevailing baby mama stereotype: a nagging, obnoxious ex who blows the child support check at Forever 21 before paying for daycare. Michael and Sherry had a relationship. Michael and Sherry had a baby. The relationship didn’t work out, but they are both in Alexis’ life as co-parents. I would hardly call Michael a baby daddy in the stereotypical sense. He is far from being the deadbeat absentee, every bit the proverbial rolling stone. He’s a responsible father who, along with Sherry, provides Alexis with emotional and financial needs while keeping the peace with Sherry for their daughter’s sake.
Baby Daddy, much?
I wondered if Perry–a man who has struggled with the effects of abuse at the hands of his own father—would fulfill the baby daddy stereotype himself. Baby Daddy connotes not only a financial absenteeism, but an emotional one as well. Mind you, telling or not, the Ebony article boasts of Perry’s $350 million net worth. Is it fair to peg him as a “I’ll just send you a check. I’ll love you through my currency alone” kind of dad?
I wonder if we need to reassess our lexicon for parenthood. Is there a space for responsible Black mothers and fathers (married or single) to be respectfully addressed as such? Does marriage define “real” parenthood? Do we lose the mother/father label if there is no ring and no relationship? Or has the baby daddy/baby mama dialect permeated our culture so much that it’s turned the corner from a derogatory dismissal to a term of endearment? What is it that makes me feel some kind of way?
Published in Clutch Magazine on July 15, 2011.