Trailblazing Olympian Gabby Douglas opens up about her father
The story is all too familiar and we know it. A highly successful Black child is raised without the father’s support, and then she is now forced to open up about why those images on the Olympic screens shown all over the world for two consecutive weeks only show a joyous mother, but not a supportive, equally joyous father.
Nonetheless, there are Black men who support their children and stand in the gap for them regardless of the relationship that created their children. Even when they are no longer in that relationship they still provide for their children and maintain a strong support structure for their children’s future.
In the case of the graceful and beautiful Gabby Douglas, the first African-American to win the Olympic gold medal in gymnastics, her father, Timothy Douglas, a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force currently stationed in Afghanistan as part of the Air National Guard 203 Red Horse Squadron, and her mother, Natalie Hawkins, have separated and are in the process of getting a divorce.
But that did not deter Gabby from building a relationship with her father who has been deployed since 2010. She did not see him for two years, but they kept in contact through Skype and he would encourage her to never give up on her dreams. Even though her father could not make it to the London Games he flew into San Jose, California, with some of his friends to watch his daughter prepare for the U.S. team.
Gabby said her father’s surprise visit shouting her name was a major boost in taking her rightful place on the team.
“I’m like, ‘Who’s calling my name?’ And then I look up. It was my dad and his friend and I haven’t seen him in a while. They were holding up the (American) flag. And I almost felt like bawling. I was like, Oh my gosh, Dad!’
“I was like OK, you’ve got to get it together. Seeing him made my night actually,” a line strongly suggesting a child who wants a full relationship with her father despite the marital troubles her parents are going through.
She said while training and living with her coach in Iowa, Gabby recalled how she’d have anxiety about her father far away at war.
“I just had bad days in the gym, thinking about my dad. I was just horrified. I prayed very night,” She told NBC before the Olympics.
In interviews, Gabby took her father to task.
“It was hard for us growing up. My dad had left us, so he wasn’t really in the picture anymore,” she told the New York Post. “So my mom had to front all these bills. My dad didn’t really pay the child support. He was short on money. It was definitely hard on my mom taking care of me and my siblings.”
Because gymnastics is so expensive, her mother had to apply for military scholarships to fund Gabby’s training.
In 2006, she received a $500 grant from Our Military Kids, a non-profit that helps fund activities of kids whose parents are serving overseas. That amount paid for Gabby to attend a gymnastic camp in Texas with prominent coaches like Bela and Marta Karolyi, all of which contributed to her success in London.
Her mother filed for bankruptcy in January of this year as Gabby’s future was getting ready to dramatically change.
No matter the circumstances, children should not be abandoned or ignored by either parent. I’m sure Gabby’s father has some regrets reading what his famous daughter is now saying in the media even though it is evident that his child loves her dad dearly.
The child that you ignore or walk away from could be the next mayor or president. The lesson here for Black men, and all men, who have become absent fathers is to revisit the state of the relationship they have with their children before it is too late.
Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.