My Seven Black Fathers by Will Jawando (Memoir)

Montgomery County Councilman Will Jawando’s memoir of growing up with an absent Black Nigerian father and a white mother is well-written, measured and thoughtful, with constant fresh insights along the way. I loved the overall theme of the book — rather than considering himself a boy raised without a father, he considers himself as having seven fathers — Black men who took the time to teach him how to be a man by mentoring him, serving as role models, and generally giving him the love, attention, and advice he needed. Eventually, this even led to a loving reconciliation with his biological father.

He honestly made me see mentoring in a new light — how mentoring can literally help someone by exposing them to aspects of life that many of us take for granted. How else can a fatherless boy learn to be a man (or a motherless girl learn to be a woman, or an immigrant learn how to be a citizen of a new country, etc.)? I’ve read a number of books recently about children growing up in some of the more gang ridden areas of the country, with very few fathers present. Why wouldn’t they grow up modeling on the adult men available to them — gang members?

Jawando speaks intelligently about issues — not in slogans — and while racism is a factor in the story, it is just one factor of his experience, not the lens through which the whole story is filtered. He did occasionally make unsubstantiated generalizations based on his interpretation of personal experiences, but not very often, and more often referenced studies showing the broader sociological impact of various things he personally saw or experienced on a personal scale.

It would be hard not to immediately think of Obama’s first book — Dreams from My Father — while reading this. There are many parallels between them (both had African fathers, white mothers from Kansas, and wives named Michel(l)e and in fact, Obama is one of Jawando’s “fathers” based on the time Jawando worked on his staff.

Interesting, inspiring, accessible, and with real depth — definitely worth reading.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 3rd, 2022.

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