When Brandon Hay decided to call his new support group for black fathers the Black Daddies Club, he knew the name would evoke images of young mothers pushing carriages with no fathers in sight.
And that's exactly what he wanted.
"The name itself is helping to kill one big stigma, which is that black fathers are not around, and for me that is very important," said Mr. Hay, a 28-year-old father of three boys who this month began inviting black fathers to his club's forums on issues in Greater Toronto's black community.
Although Mr. Hay, a marketing and event-planning entrepreneur, is striving to counteract the stereotype of the absentee black father, he doesn't deny the prevalence of fatherlessness in black families or the difficulty in trying to get the black fathers who do stick around to participate in a group like the one he's just launched.
Case in point: At the two meetings the Black Daddies Club has held so far, one in Brampton, the other in Kensington Market, roughly half the participants have been women.
At the Kensington meeting last Sunday, Mr. Hay stood in front of about 20 curious faces at the Uprising Community Centre, a small but colourful space with a nondescript storefront on Baldwin Street, and encouraged the participants to tell him their needs, so future events could cater to them.
One by one, the men and women introduced themselves. Michael Forrest, a clean-cut Toronto father of two, told the group that he did not meet his own father until he was 40. He had to learn how to reach within and forgive. "How do we get men to start being leaders and get black men to take responsibility for their fathers not being fathers at all?" he asked, adding that he is a member of another local group, the Lions Circle, a brotherhood of men committed to working through such tough issues.
Claudette Thomas, a mother of five daughters, said black women have a vested interest in finding out what is holding the men back. "Many black women are progressing but the men are not and we have to look at why not," she told the group.
Mr. Hay was raised by his mother. When he was 10, she moved the family from Jamaica to Scarborough's Malvern community. He knows that she tried her best to be both mother and father to him, but he said there was something missing.
When he was 24, Mr. Hay learned he was going to be a father for the first time. Scared and intimidated by the looming responsibility of raising a little man, he searched for a way to ease his anxiety.
"I wished there was a support system I could lean on because I had so many questions," he said. "I needed people who could relate to me and not judge me."
That was five years ago. Now, he is finding some answers through the creation of his club.
"One of the main reasons for creating the Black Daddies Club was to be part of the solution," he said. "We can talk about it, but there has to be some kind of action and I think that, as a community, we all have to be a part of the solution."
The third Black Daddies Club meeting, which will tackle violence in the black community, takes place tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Malvern Community Recreation Centre in Scarborough.