(The Root) — More than four years ago, in one of my first columns for The Root, I wrote about pop star Usher Raymond’s proud papa moments in a piece titled “What My Father Could Learn From Usher.”
At the time black fatherhood was dominating the airwaves with shows featuring Snoop Lion (née Dog), Deion Sanders and Rev. Run. Adding to the list of Cliff Huxtable heir apparents was Usher, who had just married Tameka Foster, the mother of his unborn son. The wedding wasn’t well-received by fans or Usher’s own mother, Johnetta. The “controversy” baffled me because all I could see was a man standing up for the woman he loved.
As a fatherless child, I was awed by Usher’s 2008 appearance on MTV’s TRL. Addressing the rumors swirling around his new marriage and threatening to suck it down into a tabloid abyss, Raymond grabbed a mic and looked all the haters out there in TV Land directly in the eye: “I’m a black, strong man in America standing up for my people as a man,” Usher said to the camera.
“To my wife, to my son, to my family, I’m making a stand that a lot of us should make. I could’ve been like any other man who would have a child and just, you know, live with that woman and continue to just, you know, play the game. I’m tryna do it the right way. This is the way you should do it. Pay attention, fellas.”
Four years ago I wrote that I’d wished my own father had received a message like that in 1980. A message about sticking around and sticking to your guns. A message about what men “should” be doing as opposed to what too many men were doing. It resonated with me and with readers.
Friends emailed about how I’d hit them in the gut with lines like the one in which I described how little girl Helena dreamed her father was something of an astronaut: “I imagined he was on the moon, and if I hoped for him enough, thought of him enough, prayed for him enough, he’d come back down.” Or the fact that despite feeling a bit lost without him, I still maintained that “I didn’t need saving, but I needed something.”
It’s one of the few pieces of mine that I re-read from time to time, reflecting on the sometimes sincere and symbiotic relationship one can have with the cultural zeitgeist. I actually cared about what a celebrity had to say — more than cared; I was invested in it. I didn’t know Usher then and I don’t now, but his attempt to do the right thing truly touched me.
All that is why I was particularly interested in Oprah Winfrey’s recent Oprah’s Next Chapter episode with Usher, who’s remained tight-lipped (outside of court proceedings, of course) about the breakdown of a marriage he was all too enthusiastic to shout about.