Editor’s note: The following post does not discuss the permanent loss of a parent through death, though we do intend to devote a future post to this topic.
Though it wasn’t often part of direct story lines, single motherhood was very much at the heart of the hit 1990s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In fact, aside from The Bernie Mac Show, it’s one of the only high-profile, pop culture examples of black communal parenting. As the show’s iconic theme song explains, Will’s single mom sacrificially sends him to live with wealthy relatives in a better neighborhood because their own West Philadelphia community is a riskier space for young black men to navigate.
The show only touches on the complexities of this arrangement a handful of times. On episodes where Will’s mother visits, she is quick to remind him of his roots and that this highfalutin living situation is only temporary. At one point, after seriously dating and contemplating remarriage, she asks Will to return home (presumably because, a marriage would mean a live-in father figure for him). And it becomes clear over the course of the series that sharing custody of one’s child with extended family can be a real gamble.
But there are also times when having male role models or “social fathers” as a consistent presence is an indisputable win, no matter how complicated. And the above clip, where Will’s biological dad shows up and vanishes, is an example.