by Boyce Watkins
Gabby Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, has been every bit as inspirational as her daughter. Candidly describing the challenges of being a single mom, Natalie talked about all the sacrifices she’s made in order to see her daughter succeed.
But often in these conversations, one voice that gets muted is that of the dad. Some people seem to think that black babies are delivered to their mother’s by storks, or they automatically assume that the father doesn’t care about his kids because he never had the chance to live with them.
In the case of Gabby Douglas, you can throw those stereotypes out the window. Gabby’s dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Douglas, was front and center to see his daughter perform recently and only missed some of the performances because he was off serving his country in Afghanistan.
While across the world, Mr. Douglas would dig up YouTube videos in order to see his daughter in action. He recently flew to California with his friends just in time to catch Gabby at the Olympic Trials. He arrived with a large American flag with the words, “Go Gabby Douglas, Love, Dad.”
Gabby described her reaction to USA Today.
“I’m like, ‘Who’s calling my name?’ And then I look up. It was my dad and his friend, and I haven’t seen him in a while,” Gabby said. “They were holding up the flag. And I almost felt like bawling. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, Dad!’ “
Mr. Douglas talks about how excited he was when he saw his daughter make the Olympic team.
“There’s an exuberance. There’s a feeling that you can’t describe,” he said. “Sometimes, when she had a rough time, I’d tell her to hang in there. ‘You know what it takes to be a winner, you know what your goals are. You just keep on your goals.’ Some things that I tell her I have to remind myself. Those are all things we can all abide by.”
Gabby talked about how there were times when she worried about her father being in a warzone. She would try to email and Skype him when she could. He hasn’t been able to be in her presence since late 2010, but he’s glad to be with her now. Gabby’s dad also has fond memories of when she first started to compete in gymnastics.
“We knew (gymnastics) was in her heart because one day she came home from the gym and she had a 102-degree temperature,” her father said. “She went to bed, slept it off and woke up and got back in the gym the next day. That’s when we knew she had a winner’s attitude, a winner’s spirit.”
The Gabby Douglas story, like millions of other stories of triumph in our community, came to fruition because some man, somewhere, gave some child the gift of life. While we love to grab onto an endless supply of stereotypes teaching us that Black men are worthless and don’t love their children, there are quite a few fathers like this one who understand that a real man always takes care of his children.
Defacing these stereotypes is part of the reason I took part in the Janks Morton film “Hoodwinked,” featuring myself, along with Drs. Marc Lamont Hill, Steve Perry, Jawanza Kunjufu and Ivory Toldson. The same way that NBC “conveniently” missed the story about Gabby’s dad (as they aired an ad with a monkey doing gymnastics right after Gabby’s win), we as a country miss the stories of countless Black men who sacrifice like hell for their children. These stories must be told as well.
(Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.)