Father's day is one of those occasions that puzzles a lot of us: What do you give your dad this year when he still hasn't used that after-shave you gave him in 2008?  There are only so many grill accessories, frightful ties and gag gifts you can pile on him.  So consider this: consider saying thank you.  Not only to your biodad, if you're lucky enough to have him with you, but to the black men who have stood in as fathers for children who had none nearby, or available, or interested.

So:

Thanks to the dads who found time to come to school awards ceremonies, who shared getting up in the middle of the night to check on a little one, who gave up bid whist with the boys to stand in line for hours on opening day of the latest G-rated movie.

Thanks to the men who might not have biological children of their own, but who have been excellent, loving and supporting stepfathers.

Thanks to the male teachers, pastors and coaches who took the time to look carefully not only at what children needed (guidance, standards, supervision) but what they wanted (attention, approval, affection), and provided it.

Because of you all, our children feel more secure, and cherished.  Black boys who got your attention have a good chance of growing up to appreciate and respect women because they've seen you do it--and they  take that more seriously than they do the "manly" images popular culture showers down on them. Because you've taken the time to tell black girls they are beautiful, and that they should understand their worth, more black girls are smiling back at their reflections when they look in the mirror, and more are thinking twice when a boyfriend urges them to give in and give it up.

So this is a thank you to black fathers and father-figures everywhere.

To the men who are helping to raise their children.  To the ones whose children are grown and gone and who still reach out to young ones, because the need is great and their hearts are generous.  To men who forego a personal pleasure so a child can have something extra, such as violin lessons or a seat on the bus for that class trip.  To the men who sit up late at night trying to put a beloved toy back together, or consoling a teen aged girl broken heart.  To the men who are not afraid to hug their children tight and say "I'm proud of you."

Because you don't hear it every day, hear it now: thank you.

Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).