There are many fortunate youngsters who have a father in their lives. One who is available and able to provide the support and guidance that is part of that role. There are other children whose fathers are either unavailable or unable to provide that support.
For years I worked in a community where the presence of a father in the family was not the norm.
For reasons of health, incarceration or economics, many children did not have the luxury of that guidance and attention. This role was sometimes filled by others. Pastors, coaches, teachers, mothers and grandparents have often stepped in to fill the role. But in other families, big brothers served that role with amazing love and maturity.
I have watched with admiration as big brothers escort little siblings to school. In the morning, you can see them checking the little ones' backpacks, adjusting their jackets and then going off to their own middle schools or high schools. I've watched them pick the younger ones up after school and walk them home, often holding a tiny hand regardless of who could see.
These little fathers have risked appearing uncool, as they pass through their neighborhood with younger ones in tow. Some do it with such a sense of responsibility and dignity that they rise above any peer judgment. They may even inspire more admiration than they realize.
In stores, I've watched them hold and take care of the little ones while their mothers took care of the shopping. At home, these big brothers may be combing hair and fixing breakfast while mom works an early shift. At some schools, older siblings serve as translators to help the parents in teacher meetings and other communications with the schools.
These young men must correct, encourage and even dry the tears of little ones. They may not always have done it with perfect patience, but they have done it.
When Father's Day comes around, when those younger siblings are grown enough to appreciate the gift, I hope they will thank that brother for being a little father. Since it might be a long time before those little siblings recognize the gift, I hope there are those in the community who will acknowledge in some way the contribution these young men have made in their families and in the larger community.
While these little fathers are taking care of their responsibilities, it may seem as if they don't have a choice. It may seem that it is just what they are supposed to do, but often what we are supposed to do is also something very special.
So to those little fathers, many of us see you and we know how important you are even if you don't, and so we wish you a happy Father's Day.
Susan DeMersseman has spent more than 30 years as a psychologist in the Oakland schools. She is a resident of Berkeley.