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Monday, July 22, 2024


The Virgin Islands is a community that is madly in love with its mothers. This makes a lot of sense to me because I am a momma's boy from way back. During Mother's Day week, there are people selling gift baskets, there are radio personalities reciting poetry in tribute to their moms, there are Mother's Day brunches at restaurants and hotels. There just seem to be celebrations everywhere.
I think by now you know where I am going with this: And then came Father's Day. No tables filled with baskets. No poetry on the radio. No picnics at Magens Bay even though it was a beautiful day. From Bordeaux to Red Hook on St. Thomas, there was virtually no public display of anything acknowledging that it was Father's Day. Thank goodness for the Committee for the Betterment of Carenage, because if not for their weekend-long set of activities, there would have been virtually no mention of Father's Day in the Virgin Islands.
If it seems to you that I am a little jealous, you are right. There are a lot of great fathers in the Virgin Islands. But in the Virgin Islands there seems to be reluctance, a refusal almost, to acknowledge the many responsible fathers in the territory. Isn't Father's Day the one day of the year when men are supposed to get this tremendous outpouring of love? Men want to be taken out to brunch or breakfast on Father's Day. Men never get tired of getting more underwear, another black belt, more cologne and aftershave, or another tie. A gift basket with a screwdriver or a wrench or a flashlight seems like a good idea to me.
But I knew it was going to be a bad Father's Day week when I read the op-ed in the Daily News with the headline "Men are Preying on Our Children." I really think the author meant to say "some" men are preying on our children. But she was resolute. She indicted all of us.
While I might be wrong, it seems to me that the author of the piece doesn't respect the men of this community, because she never qualified her statements about it not being all men, but just some men. I have never preyed on a child in any way. I would venture to say that most men in the Virgin Islands have never preyed on a child in any way. But you know what? I don't think it's just this one lady who feels this way. I think the Virgin Islands community feels the same way. The men of this community are not respected. We have lost the respect of our community and, most importantly, of our children.
So how come, you ask, does this community have so little respect for its fathers, for its men? Well, it starts with the fact that over 40 percent of the households in the Virgin Islands have no father present. It starts with the fact that over 40 percent of the children in the Virgin Islands live in poverty (in Frederiksted, the number is almost 70 percent). And it starts with incredibly high teen birth rates and high school dropout rates. These negatives disappear when fathers are in the home or are a positive, constant presence in the lives of their children.
Men have lost the respect of the community not only because of our actions, but also because of our silence. We have got to stand up and shout in a loud, powerful and consistent voice that there are men in this community who protect their women, their children and their homes. We go to work every day. Many of us even go to church. We coach Little League teams and reach out to children without fathers. We get up for late-night feedings and buy and change Pampers. We fix things around the house, cut bush and work the grill at home and at picnics. We teach our children right from wrong and work hard to be good mates.
So it seem abundantly clear to me that if we expect our community to respect us, to care about us, to recognize that men are key to a stable, safe and nurturing community, then more men are going to have to step up and be men. More men are going to have to step up and lead. Men are going to have to hold each other accountable for the transgressions we commit. We have got to call each other on it when we're doing something stupid.
When Virgin Islands men stand together and re-take our rightful place in the community, we will gain the respect of the community and the respect of our children again. And maybe then, the Virgin Islands will care about Father's Day.

Editor's note: Richard L. Brown, a Charlotte Amalie High School business teacher, is the volunteer coordinator of the Fatherhood Collaborative of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. In June, he received CFVI's first Humanitarian of the Year award.
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