I am who I am today thanks in large part to the strong models of manhood I saw in my father, grandfathers, myriad of uncles, and countless male mentors. What’s more, I’ve been able to channel the impact and legacy of these men to navigate the weighty but rewarding terrain of fatherhood.
Growing up, I heard many stories from my parents and grandparents about the racist, unequal, unjust Jim Crow system that enveloped their lives. My father Ernest N. Morial, affectionately known as Dutch, survived this brutal system and went on to break many racial barriers, including serving as the first Black mayor of New Orleans.
In 1978, around the time of his election, he told Ebony magazine, “I grew up when blacks were considered second-class citizens. I know what it’s like to sit behind the screen on a public bus. Never mind if my skin is near-white, I knew I was black and I stayed behind the screen.”
While many in and out of the Big Easy may remember my father as a leader and public servant, my enduring memory of him is a responsible, proud, caring man with a deep commitment to his family and community.
As a father myself, I’ve learned that fatherhood requires a certain sensibility, an ability to stay young. In the age of technology and social progress, I stand to learn from my children as much as they learn from their mother and I. A lot has changed since their childhood and mine — fashion, music, and social mores — but some things are eternal. And that is a legacy of excellence, service, and kindness.
Fatherhood is embodied by a person, yes, but it’s also an attitude and a frame of mind. Take time today to express gratitude to the fathers and guiding male figures in your life.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.