What makes a great dad?

At age 6, Clarke Reed described why her father, Robert Reed Jr., was the best.

“He is the best dad because he takes good care of me and my brothers and my mother,” wrote Clarke, now 27. “He plays with me all the time and sings to me and reads books to me and he loves me very much.”

In 2003, her essay about her father beat out 57,000 entries across the state in the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative’s essay contest. The event, now an annual affair, awards the father, stepfather and grandfather of the year.

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Reed, 55, still exercises his bragging rights as a state father of the year.

“It’s been a joy raising my daughter,” he told me. “She’s a good girl, a daddy’s girl and a great singer. And she just got picked to be in a reality modeling show filmed in Chicago. I’m so proud of her.”

Reed and his wife, Andrea, have six children. Clarke is the only girl. Robert Reed, a graduate of Simeon Career Academy on the South Side and Jackson State University, is an unabashed “hoopster.”

“I named my sons after my favorite basketball players: Jordan, Grant, Kobe, Wade and Parker,” he said.

Andrea is a military vet who was deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Desert Storm.

In her winning essay, Clarke Reed described a relationship between her parents that is loving and supportive.

“When my mom comes home late from work my dad tucks me in the bed and reads me a book,” she wrote. “Because my mom serves in the army on Saturday and Sunday, my dad keeps me and my brothers and we have so much fun.”

There are many Black families like the Reeds. But the image we most often see of Black families is women weeping over murdered children.

Reed grew up in Roseland, a community on the South Side that was once a mecca but has since been desecrated by crime.

Tragedy struck last Father’s Day when shooters opened fire in the park at 99th and Princeton, where Reed and his friends were holding their annual Father’s Day barbecue.

“Some other people in the park weren’t with us,” Reed said. “Some people were after them, and five people got shot; two of them died.”

This year’s Father’s Day gathering will be held elsewhere.

“We want people to know that we still love that neighborhood, but we can’t put anybody at risk,” he said. “We’ve moved [the barbecue], and we are not disclosing the location because we want to keep it family-oriented.”

Robert Reed, a former teacher, has strong opinions about why neighborhoods like Roseland have difficulty stopping the violence that keeps families from enjoying a day in the park.

“I’ve been married now for 30 years,” said Reed, a real estate broker who now lives in the west suburbs. “I think fatherhood is missing. It seems like society is pushing single parenthood on Black women and trying to split our families. That is causing a divide in the family structure.”

Reed added that he believes that if more men were in households, crime would be lower.

“It wasn’t like that in the ‘80s,” he said. “The family was together. … There is proven success when a man is in a house.”

But how do you pass this wisdom on to a younger generation?

“We talk,” Reed said. “We need to have a summit for young black men. We need to be able to sit down and say we want to know why you guys are so violent. Where is this coming from?”

Reed said his Father’s Day message to young fathers is “fight to be in your kid’s life.”

“Do not take no for an answer because our kids are under siege in America,” he said. “Don’t go down without a fight.”

What makes a great dad?

A 6-year-old said it best.

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