Featured photo: James Phillips and his family. (courtesy photo)

In 1965, just five months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, white American scholar Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a report titled, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” which in subsequent years became known as the Moynihan Report. In a case for racial justice, Moynihan wrote that the rise in Black single-mother families was due to “ghetto culture” and that without access to jobs, Black fathers would become alienated from their roles as husbands and fathers. And while some of the points made in the report rang true, the work overall was seen as racist and as the basis for the creation of the stereotype of the absent Black father.

Cut to almost six decades later and the predictions of Moynihan’s report appear to be waning.

According to 2023 Census data analyzed by the National Fatherhood Initiative, “the proportion of children growing up without a resident dad is at the lowest since 1989 and 1993.” And the primary reason, the organization states for the drop, that more Black dads are at home raising their kids. According to the data, in 2023, 48 percent of Black children lived without a resident dad; that’s the lowest proportion since 1973, 15 percent lower than the peak in 1995.

And data shows that Black fathers who live with their children were most likely to have bathed, dressed, changed or helped potty-train their children compared to white or Hispanic fathers, according to CDC data from 2013.

“It’s the ultimate job,” says James Phillips, a father of two sons in Winston-Salem.

Ahead of Father’s Day this year, we spoke to three Black dads in the Triad who are raising sons. We talked about their relationships with their own fathers, what they’re teaching their sons and what fatherhood means to them.

Brandon Wrencher, 38

Brandon Wrencher and his sons, Morris and Phillip. (courtesy photo)

Brandon Wrencher’s father, Conrad, was always well dressed. He was groomed, smelled nice; he was a gentleman, Wrencher says. He was also a hard worker, a family man, a muscular bodybuilder conscious of his health. Wrencher is also quick to point out that he saw his father be emotionally expressive growing up.

“I remember seeing my father cry many times,” Wrencher explains.

When he was about 7 or 8 years old, Wrencher remembers coming home from school and hearing whimpering in the house. He turned the corner and saw his father weeping in the kitchen. A family member had died, and Wrencher remembers his father explaining to him why he was crying.

“I learned that crying, being emotionally sensitive or expressive was actually something strong people did including and maybe especially my dad,” Wrencher says.

Being emotionally vulnerable is something that Wrencher says he got from his dad, mostly by seeing it, rather than expressly learning it from his father. And that’s because of the long-lasting stereotype of the strong, Black man.

“Showing emotion is a sign of weakness,” Wrencher says about the stereotype. “It’s the kryptonite of the stereotype of the strong, Black man. Being weak is too expensive. Like, I can’t afford that because I don’t have enough; I need to hold on to what I have.”

But as a father to two boys of his own — Phillip and Morris — Wrencher is intentional about both showing and telling his sons that it’s okay to be expressive.

“This comes up all the time with both of my boys,” Wrencher says. “I can already see the ways they are being socialized to be strong, Black boys.”

What this looks like in practice is talking through emotions with his sons. The other day Wrencher says his son Phillip, 11, came downstairs upset and crying. Wrencher asked him what was wrong, to which his son explained that he “just felt sad.”

“I said, ‘It is okay to be sad and to express that,’” Wrencher says.

Other times, the conversation can be trickier. Both of his sons are neurodivergent, Wrencher explains. That means that sometimes, when they get into uncomfortable situations, people can at times misunderstand his sons’ nonverbal communication.

“Often, I have to explain, ‘You are beautiful the way you are, but this is the world that we live in, and sometimes people can take your natural reactions the wrong way,’” Wrencher recalls.

In one of the most difficult times in his life, he remembers coaching himself through hardship.

When his wife Erica was in labor with Phillip, he says that the pregnancy was a “high-risk delivery” and caused a lot of fear.

“Everything in me wanted to be strong in that moment, to advocate and fight, yell, defend and protect,” Wrencher says. “But in fact, what happened was I broke down. I was afraid; I was afraid for their lives. Really what I wanted to do was hold Erica, and I wanted to be held.”

The Wrencher family (courtesy photo)

For Wrencher, part of fathering himself has been to look towards religion and scripture. Wrencher has long been a community activist in Greensboro and has used faith, action and organizing techniques to raise his sons.

When the family moved back to the city a few years ago and settled in a home in the Martin Luther King Jr. area, Wrencher says that they took cookies door-to-door. Because of historical disinvestment in the neighborhood Wrencher explains that there aren’t as many legacy families in the area; people don’t know each other as well as they could. Wrencher recalls that one time when he, Erica and his sons approached an older Black woman’s house, she talked to them through her gated front door, initially responding with suspicion. When she saw Wrencher’s sons playing in her yard, she immediately invited them inside.

“What created the warmth, the trust for people to welcome us both literally and metaphorically were the boys,” Wrencher says. 

In that way, Wrencher doesn’t think about his relationship with his kids as a one-way street of parent and child. He sees the ways in which his sons give so much back into his life and into their family dynamic.

“We don’t have to be the only ones that shape what it means to be family,” Wrencher says of him and Erica. “Our boys do as well. The opportunity to recline into the wonder of what they bring to our family is so soothing, it’s such a sense of comfort; I learn so much from them.”

And ultimately, that’s how Wrencher defines being a dad, a parent.

“One of the most rewarding things about being a parent are the ways that I get to not know,” he says. “I get to be learning, I get to apologize, I get to make mistakes and do things better, I get to experience them by not just being their father, but us having a relationship.”

James Phillips, 48

James Phillips with his sons Kai and Leo. (courtesy photo)

James Phillips spent many summers of his youth with his father, James, fishing, hunting, farming. His parents separated when Phillips was around 7 years old, but “it wasn’t like he wasn’t around,” he says.

“I followed him around and learned as much as I could from him,” Phillips explains.

Still, in hindsight, Phillips explains that his grandfather, Bud Hauser, was probably a bigger influence on his life. He was also very handy, like his father, and the two worked construction jobs together.

“I learned a tremendous amount from him,” Phillips says.

When his grandfather had a stroke, Phillips says that it “changed a lot of things.” 

“I started reflecting on my past and how this person was guiding me,” he says. 

Years later, he sees a lot of similarities to his grandfather.

When it came time to have his own kids, Phillips says he waited. He wanted to be more stable financially, mentally, than his own parents were before taking the leap.

“I wanted to be able to have a little bit of maturity to raise those kids,” he says.

Phillips doesn’t blame his parents; people had children much younger in past generations. But for him, waiting meant that the way he parented looked a little different than how he was raised.

“When I was growing up and we were disciplined, we got spankings,” he says. “Now, it’s more like talking it out and giving a little bit of lenience and following up with guidance.”

Phillips has two sons, Kai and Leo, with his wife Mari, who is Japanese. Raising mixed-race sons has meant teaching them about the diversity of people from a young age.

The Phillips family (courtesy photo)

“For anybody for any race, you have to learn to be open and accepting people,” Phillips says. “To take the time out and really look at people and truly look at them, not glance at them.”

It’s something that Phillips thinks about in terms of keeping his sons safe, too. With ongoing police violence and racism in the world, Phillips says that harm isn’t something that he can control but that he can show by example.

“We can’t control somebody else’s bigotry,” he says. “But what we can do is set an example. Show something that will give somebody a second chance at an opinion of who you are; be able to say nice things. Hold doors for people, for anybody. Those things go a long way.”

Phillips’ commitment to diverse points of view is also expressed in his advice for new parents.

“Surround yourself with other fathers,” he says. It doesn’t matter what race or age they are.

“They’re going to see certain things you’re not going to see,” he continues. “Have conversations with them. This is passed on from one person to the next. Ask questions. They have the same goals as you: Being able to take care of their young.”

Another part of being a parent that has evolved for Phillips over time is the act of being present. When his kids were younger, Phillips says that he worked for an electrical contractor and was out of town often.

“I missed a lot of stuff,” he says. “I vowed to myself that I needed to change. It was the same that my father did to me; I wasn’t being very supportive of my sons.”

Eventually, he became his own electrical contractor and now gets to work from home. His family also owns and operates a restaurant in Winston-Salem, which has brought them closer together. For him, it has meant being able to be in his sons’ lives more.

“I tend to be very active with my kids in terms of whatever they choose to do,” he says. “If they’re into sports, I was there. If they were into robotics, I was there. My son is into cooking, I’m there.”

That has been his favorite part about being a parent.

“Watching them achieve,” he says. “Watching them do things that I wasn’t able to do; watching them excel at things that I wasn’t able to do.”

Clement Mallory, 54

Clement Mallory with his youngest son, Humble. (courtesy photo)

Clement Mallory grew up not knowing his father.

“I basically never saw a photo of him,” he says. “I never met him, never heard his voice.”

As a child, he says that impacted him and sometimes got him in trouble.

“I was frustrated over that fact of not knowing who my father was, and always wanting that and never having that experience,” he says.

He saw nuclear family units on television on shows like “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons.” But for many in his community, fathers were absent and those who ended up filling the roles were teachers, crossing guards or eventually, Mallory says, “COs,” or corrections officers.

“There were many young men who didn’t get raised by fathers either,” he says. “They got raised by the prison system.”

Because of that lack, Mallory says he turned to religion to fill the void.

“I think I really just relied on my heavenly father being my father if I didn’t have anyone else,” he says. “That’s why I got real spiritual; that’s my father because I don’t got no biological father.”

The sentiment is evidenced in a poem that Mallory wrote a few years ago titled, “My Father.”

The poem, which Mallory wrote for Unity in Greensboro, brings up imagery of his father, how he imagines he would be.

“Some fathers are real fathers like my father who demonstrates his love to me in many ways,” the poem starts. “Like my father is the type of father who gives me good words of sunshine on my worse of rainy days.”

Mallory says that he wrote it for fathers in general and that the piece is about universal love.

“Even though I never met my dad, I made it relatable for humans,” he says. “When I say my father, I’m talking about our heavenly father, but I made it human so a son can give this poem to their father.”

For Mallory, who spent time in a lot of group homes, he also looked to counselors and his Uncle Jeff, as male role models in his life.

These days, Mallory is himself a father to three sons: Absalom, 25; Tsiyon, 23; and Humble, 3.

Clement Mallory with his sons Absalom and Tsiyon. (courtesy photo)

The way he has parented has changed in the last few decades as he’s gotten older and been able to spend more time with his youngest because of his work flexibility.

“It’s different now,” he says. “Back then, I was working a regular job. That plays a big role in a child’s life. For a male, it does play a big role. I wasn’t there; I was working at Harris Teeter, Food Lion. Now I’m an entrepreneur; I spend more time at home.”

He also gets the opportunity to parent through his job. As the executive director of Kids Poetry Basketball, an organization that teaches literacy to kids through sports, Mallory says he’s become a kind of father figure for many of the kids in the program.

“That’s why we say it takes a village to raise a child,” Mallory says. He knows that from registration forms and conversations with some of the kids that a few of them are like him: growing up without a father.

But through his organization, Mallory says he’s able to teach kids many of the lessons his own father would have taught him if he were around.

“Being able to bring happiness and joy,” he says. “Being able to teach someone else about life, about the most high and love and joy and also the realness about life, too. That’s our responsibility to teach each other.”

As a father to his own children, Mallory says that the most important thing for him is to maintain a relationship with his kids and to provide. He talks about understanding his wife’s emotions and creating a strong bond for their child. As advice to other fathers out there, he says that respecting your partner is one of the most important things you can do as a father.

Clement Mallory with his wife Jasmine and son Humble. (courtesy photo)

“Never, ever, ever hit a woman,” he says. “When she says ‘no,’ those things need to be taught to our young men.”

It’s something that he thinks needs to be raised, especially with the news around P. Diddy around domestic and sexual violence.

“The good stuff about providing and being nice, those things need to be spoken, but those harsh realities need to be spoken, too,” he says.

Apart from those warnings, Mallory says that being a father is actually very simple.

“Try your very best to smile,” he says. “Try to be happy, try to crack jokes and bring forth a happy atmosphere.”

Read our story about single mothers in the Triad here.

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