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4 First-Time Dads On Experiencing Fatherhood During A Pandemic

These fathers are baring it all.

Human Interest

Although some parts of the country have begun different phases of reopening, most of us have been in quarantine for almost three months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While most folks were doing their best to stay home and avoid going outside, especially to doctor's offices and hospitals, one group did not have that luxury: first-time parents.

So many couples spend months planning for what their introduction into parenthood will look like, from packing a hospital bag, to choosing their baby's outfit for leaving the hospital, soon-to-be mothers and fathers can outline these details months in advance in order to be prepared for labor, childbirth, and the first couple months thereafter. For parents starting that journey in the first few months of 2020, COVID-19 completely changed that and they've entered this new stage of their lives in a completely unorthodox way.

In honor of June being a month where we celebrate black men and fathers, I spoke with four first-time dads to hear about their experiences entering this new stage of their lives during a pandemic. With everything from the unique hospital experience to feelings around raising a black son in America, these fathers bare it all.

Cheikh Gueye, Brooklyn, NY

"We consider ourselves to have had [our son] Lamine in the dead heat of the pandemic. It's when a lot of hospitals had converted many of their floors to COVID-19 floors. So of course, for me, my main concern was whether or not I would even be allowed in the building. So that was traumatizing, just hoping that you could be there. Fortunately, for us, we had a midwife who works out of the hospital so she was able to guide us through the process. But just the smaller things like having to have on your mask the entire time and not being able to see facial expressions. It was hard."

How has it been having to quarantine and not have family around?

"That was an experience we weren't really thinking we would have. My family is centered around being around each other and spending that time together. We were unfortunately robbed of that time. Even just people coming by, because they're anxious and just standing outside was something we had to adjust to. My one sibling was just able to see him and this is his second month. The only person who did see him was my mother, and she was the only person up until [our son was] two months. People schedule a lot of Zoom calls right now so we will just pop up with the baby and you can see the light in the room change and people are happy just to have something so special during these crazy times."

What has been the hardest part of this experience?

"With myself being so centered as a family person, not being able to share this special time [has been hard]. As a first-time father, not being able to spend the time with my family has been super rough for me. Especially in a heightened-sensitivity time where Black men are being murdered continuously. The prospect of having to raise a young black man in this climate. Some days, it's a gift and some days it's a curse because you feel like the country is moving towards change, but you're still nervous because you're still a black man growing up in the United States."

What is one word you would use to describe becoming a father during this time?

"I would say 'difficult'. I didn't think it would be this difficult, because you have all of these preconceived notions on what it would be."

Joshua Bennett, West Chester, PA

How was your hospital experience in the middle of a pandemic?

"It was nerve-racking going into the hospital. I wasn't even sure if I was going to be allowed in the hospital. Once there, we could not leave the hospital room and it was very uncomfortable and also hard to stay cooped up in the room. A big difference from what was expected was that there were no visitors allowed after our son was born. We also had to order food from the hospital cafeteria and it was brought to us by the doctors and nurses. I will say this brought me and my wife closer because I was able to comfort her and do things for her. She had a C-Section and it gave me a newfound respect for her."

Were there any expectations you had about the early parts of fatherhood that were impacted?

"Not really. There were adjustments that needed to be made with late nights, feedings, and figuring out what he needs. Not being able to go outside has been impacted as well. My mother has not been able to visit and see him because she is a healthcare worker in NYC and was exposed to the virus. My wife's father also isn't able to visit to see the baby because he is still working. It is hard because you want them to see the child but they haven't been able to."

Once outside fully opens back up, what's the first thing you want to do with you son?

"Travel. I want to be able to travel with him and see the world. Me and my wife like to travel, and travel often, so we want that for him."

Shaq Young, Columbia, SC 

How was it entering fatherhood and then the pandemic hitting soon after?

"My wife was actually about to return to work right before quarantine. I had gone back to work February 9 and on March 13, everything shut down. Actually, lockdown was somewhat of a blessing because I get to spend more time with the baby while home."

How has it been navigating working from home and having a newborn?

"The challenging part is juggling working the same schedule since my wife and I are both teachers. I'm a PE teacher so I try to go last with my work stuff so that my wife can get her work done while I look after [our daughter] Karter. I've been doing videos of physical education with kids and pre-recording the videos help with the schedule. Also, having open hours for the kids to reach out if they need me helps."

What has been the hardest part so far?

"Not having the freedom to go out and get a breather, or having a break. Just having a newborn baby has been a struggle since it's a new experience for us. Also, no one has visited since March 13, but before then we had visitors twice a week almost. We had a picnic in the park for Mother's Day but it was still different."

What is one word you would use to describe becoming a father during this time?

"'Roller coaster'. People enjoy riding because it's fun. And throughout the roller coaster, there are ups and downs but when you get off, it's a fun ride. [I say that] partially due to quarantine and partially due to just being new parents and having a newborn."

Marcus Rice, Atlanta, GA

How was your hospital experience in the middle of a pandemic?

"The hospital experience was rather unique. We had to go in through a separate entrance and there were additional steps taken before being admitted. Everyone had to be screened, if you showed any symptoms you couldn't go in. The hospital was actually calm, there were not a lot of people. Everyone stayed inside of their rooms. No visitors were allowed but I did have the option to leave and get food."

How was the transition back home from the hospital?

"We are both full-time students so we didn't really need to leave the house. We've used grocery and food delivery services for meals. We've been super cautious having people around the baby, even more so now than ever, so no visitors."

Once outside fully opens back up, what's the first thing you want to do with your daughter?

"Go to the pool, or to the park. If we weren't in quarantine, we would have wanted to be out. And enjoy being outside. Maybe even do a photoshoot for her, and start creating memories."

What is one word you would use to describe becoming a father during this time?

"'Blessing'."

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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