Photo courtesy of Marcus Allen

On Father’s Day 2022, Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, confessed to the congregation that he does not like Father’s Day. For years, the holiday brought with it the stinging memory of a father who was not present and actively rejected relationship with his son. A husband and father of three, Allen feels the weight of this rejection daily, but he does not sink under it.

He recognizes that his personal drive to achieve is motivated by an internal need to impress his father and to prove himself worthy of a father’s love. That personal drive includes being the best father that he can be. 

Allen’s children—an adult daughter, teenage son, and teenage daughter—are not stereotypical preacher’s kids. This is intentional. Having heard stories of preacher’s children who, as adults, strayed from the faith or met a worse fate, Allen is determined to allow them to just be children first. Although he wants them to grow their own faith and remain close to God, he wants that to be their decision from a willing heart rather than a sense of obligation to their parents.

The model of fatherhood that Allen has set for himself is simple, yet not easy. “Fatherhood, for me, means loving my kids and being there for them as much as I can,” he said. These two requirements demand a lot from Allen, and he is continually growing. He recognizes that loving and supporting his children means “seeing who they are and trying to navigate that even if I may want them to do or be something else.” Allen dedicates himself to learning who his children are and supporting them to grow into their potential. This takes a lot of patience and empathy, two traits that he is always learning.

Allen acknowledges that his booming voice and military-style approach—a vestige of his Army days—are not always welcome at home. He is sensitive to his children’s responses to his tone and demeanor but will not back down from an emotional response. Ultimately, Allen says, “I don’t want them to fear me; I want them to respect me.” Building that respect means making sure that his children are always aware of his love, even when it comes in the form of discipline.

As a pastor, Allen has the opportunity to work with many men in the community who desire to be better and more present fathers. One phenomenon that he has noticed is that the stereotype that Black fathers are deadbeats is not true. In fact, he sees the opposite and a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control corroborates his observation. Despite the fact that the majority of Black children are born to mothers who are unmarried, the percentage of Black children who have a father who is not present in their lives is much smaller. The report shows that Black fathers take their children to activities and read to them more than white fathers. Initiatives such as Dads on Duty, a group of Louisiana fathers who spend time in high schools to curb violence

Allen works with many men who, for any number of reasons, are not custodial parents, but desire to be active fathers. These men face barriers including sour relationships with the children’s mothers, attempts by those mothers to sabotage the relationship, and the family court system that makes navigating child support and custody issues difficult and expensive for fathers.

To the women in a father’s life, Allen urges them to “let him be the man that he is, not who you want him to be.” He attributes his success as a father largely to his wife’s support and encouragement. In pushing men to realize their potential while resisting any desire to control them, Allen believes that women can be a tremendous asset to a father’s development and attributes much of his success to his wife, Terra.

When asked about resources in Madison to support fathers, Allen said that there is not much available. The Urban League of Greater Madison has a fatherhood initiative that Allen would recommend to fathers who need support. There are also free drop-in mental health services available at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Tuesdays and Thursdays for fathers who may need mental health support. 

Given the absence of supportive structures for parenting, Allen said that he would love to see an initiative in the city that supports fathers who are tied up in courts to address child support and custody issues. He finds that the exorbitant legal fees associated with pursuing custody often deter fathers from pursuing the opportunity to take their rightful place in the child’s life. A man who may be read as an absent father may just be unable to afford the costs to pursue legal avenues to co-parenting. Allen believes that resources to mitigate these barriers would go a long way in bringing fathers together with their children.

While Allen will never forget his father’s abandonment, he has allowed the negativity to spurn him into building a healthy family of his own. His children will never know rejection in this way. Without a blueprint for fatherhood in his life, Allen has leaned on his faith to guide him on this journey. And it has not failed him. For this reason, Allen offers advice for fathers that has sustained him: “Keep God first.”