A dad wearing a tutu. A dad with a bow in his hair. Sean Williams’ new picture book for preschoolers aims to challenge any negative perception about how involved Black fathers are with their children, a quest he initially undertook after what he says was a misguided compliment from a stranger in his neighborhood.
“Girl Dad” (HarperCollins, $18.99), which launched in March, features a Black father with his daughter — Williams, 39, of Farmingville, says the illustrated characters purposely look like him and his 6-year-old daughter Cameron. Some of the verse includes, “He’s not afraid to be en pointe or to paint your fingernails, he volunteers to do your makeup, your braids, and your ponytails.”
A DAD AND HIS DAUGHTER(S)
Dads and daughters can read the book together, Williams says. He adds Cameron and his older daughter, Davynn, 17, helped him with ideas for the book. Williams also has a son, Ethan, 5.
Both daughters say they love how the 40-page, hardcover book turned out. “I think it was pretty good,” Cameron says. “I like the part where the dad wears a bow.”
Davynn says she’s very proud of her father, who dedicated his book to her and Cameron. “One of my favorite parts is when the dad is wearing a tutu,” she says. “I know my dad goes to extremes with us — if we want to do something, he’s always down to do it with us.”
BEHIND THE INSPIRATION
This is Williams’ first book, but it’s not the single father’s first attempt at changing the way some people might view Black men. “I’m a young Black father. I live in a predominantly white neighborhood,” Williams explains. He says he had the experience of being out with his baby when a white woman praised him for sticking around and being active. “I think she thought it was a compliment,” Williams says, but it left him feeling disturbed.
Williams says he asked friends who were also Black fathers whether they’d had similar interactions with strangers, and they had. “That stereotype is so damaging to the community,” Williams says. “It led me to my purpose and my cause.”
The level of involvement of all fathers in their children’s lives has increased over the past few decades, says Don Sinkfield, a mental health counselor, vice president of The New Hope Mental Health Counseling Services in Valley Stream, and a Black father of an 11-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.
“I think, statistically, you would still find that there is some deficit when it comes to the presence of Black fathers. However … not just anecdotally, but statistically, I know there is a great improvement in the presence and level of involvement of Black fathers,” Sinkfield says. “There’s a movement in society that has taken place in the last 30 years that is moving the needle in the right direction in terms of what men should be doing and the potential and power of men who are more self-aware, aware of their feelings and the feelings of others. The new thing is for men, including fathers, to be more thoughtful about how they’re responding and what they’re doing and how they’re involved with their children. All fathers, across the board.”
Williams founded the “The Dad Gang” in 2017 as an Instagram platform to celebrate images of Black dads interacting with their children. That grew to spearheading events that gave dads an opportunity to bond. A “Strollin’ with The Homies” Father’s Day walk through Prospect Park in Brooklyn in 2018 drew 100 dads pushing their kids in strollers. That has evolved into a more serious “March of Dads” walk that, this year, is being planned for Manhattan in June, he says.
The entrepreneur also leads an initiative called Random Acts of Dadness that has given away hundreds of strollers. And he was tapped for a conversation with other Black dads hosted by Oprah Winfrey after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minnesota in 2020.
Luana Horry, senior editor with HarperCollins Children’s Books, calls the “Girl Dad” book a “trailblazer” that will hopefully lead to more diversity in children’s picture books. “I work in mostly picture books, and most of the time you get bears and bunnies, or if not, it’s white children and their parents,” Horry says. “Hopefully, we will see more coming out in the coming years.”