After the premiere episode of T.I. & clan’s The Family Hustle on Vh1, I wrote about being pleasantly surprised by the show. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from T.I. as a father after his trap-boasting lyrics and back-to-back arrests. But the man who showed up on TV seemed like a pretty good dad, if you overlook some of T.I.’s better-known mishaps with good judgment.
Let’s just get it out of the way: He went to jail twice in the last three years. Being present in your children’s lives is one of the top markers of what makes a great dad, and in that sense T.I. failed—twice.
“I have a small issue with VH1 airing a show about family and parenting starring a man who was charged with weapon and drug offenses,” Lucas High wrote in “TI Plays Mr. Mom” over on TV Geek Army. “Sure, it's great that you skipped rehearsal to attend your son's football game. But you know what he would probably appreciate even more than that? If you hadn't just missed the last 11 months of his life!”
But now Tip’s free, and bending over backwards with his children to make up for lost time. Has he always been the best father? No. His absences due to time served count him out as being the next Cliff Huxtable. Is he trying now, though? Credit must be given when it’s due: absolutely.
“[TI] seems to be totally plugged into the demands and requirements of fatherhood, concerned about the messages his children are absorbing, about the decisions they make, about the environment that surrounds them,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nick Chiles for Popular Critic. “He appears to be thinking about them all the time and, as an in-demand performer, often weighing the impact of his career decisions on his kids.”
Chiles adds, “I am heartened by his relationship with his children. … I think we would all benefit from seeing more of these kinds of snippets of black fatherhood in action.”
In the commercials for The Family Hustle’s debut, T.I.’s wife Tameka “Tiny” Harris noted The Harris’s, despite their large blended family, “it’s not the Brady Brunch." Nor are The Harris’s the Huxtables, and maybe that’s a good thing.
It’s been nearly twenty years since The Huxtables did things the “right way”—college, then marriage, then family—on primetime TV. As someone who grew up in an environment that uplifted that formula as ideal and has seen many Black couples follow suit, I know that it works. I also know that everyone can’t relate, especially a good cross-section of T.I.’s fan base that know the Huxtables, who are held up as ideal Black family (now alongside The Obamas) best from re-runs.
T.I. at 31 is younger, at least 15 years junior to the fictional Huxtables, and as a father, he speaks to a generation of men who may not have been raised with one—statisticallty, most Black men are not. And even if they were, neither group has any real desire to adopt colorful sweaters or Dad jeans as a staple of fatherhood. Frankly, T.I. with his white tees, intact swag and hip-hop sensibilities makes fatherhood and family time look modern, relevant and fun too.
Surely, there are those who will note that Tip’s children have has multiple mothers (three) and that of the six children he and his wife raise together, none of them have been produced in wedlock. There is a sector of the Black community in which this isn’t abnormal. For many Black families who are struggling with break ups and make-ups and drama and surprises and mistakes, T.I. & his clan might not be ideal, but they’re real. The Harris’s represent a happy ending, of sorts. One that is still possible even if your family didn’t follow the “right” storyline. --Demetria Lucas
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of "A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life" (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk