DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Dr. Mark Anthony Neal is an African and African American Studies professor at Duke University. He's a dad of two, with a grandchild on the way.
His foundation to fatherhood started with his father.
"I don't think there was ever that occasion in my life, where my dad and I said to each other, I love you," reflected Neal.
Yet he knew his father still loved him. This love story was the inspiration behind a love letter he penned, "The Love Languages of Black Fatherhood," an ode to "The Five Love Languages,"' by Gary Chapman.
"One of the reasons why I wanted to write this piece is that we often don't think about fathers as loving figures. But fathers have their love languages, Black fathers have their own love languages," said Neal.
"I think those love languages don't capture the range of love languages that Black men engage. I think all those love languages can fit with Black men. But I think we have to add additional love languages to really understand Black fathers at this time," he continued.
Those additional love languages are shared through connections. Dr. Neal and his father, connected through food, baseball, and music.
"I think Black fathers understand that they need to connect with their children. And sometimes it's not going to be in the most obvious ways, right? So I'm an academic, right? I write books I love to read. My father couldn't read, right? So that wasn't going to be some way for him to connect and share with me. But as I love to read, it's something I've passed on to my daughters, who both love to read," shared Neal.
He shared his not-so-typical story of love in hopes it strengthens other Black fathers' expression of love.
"I think as Black men and Black fathers, we have to get to the point where we can be comfortable in our own skins, comfortable with our emotions, and let go of things that we hold on to for so long. You know, stress is one of the number one killers of Black men. And a lot of that stress comes from us holding in emotionally things that we need to express."
And what better day to express that love than Valentine's Day?
"I think it's absolutely a great opportunity for Black fathers to show expressions of love to their children, whether it be a hug, a kiss on the forehead, I have daughters, so whether it's I'm sending my daughter, some flowers, I think it's important for Valentine's Day to be a day with lack men, or at least very comfortable of expressing love in the many ways that they can."
Dr. Neal's dad passed away 15 years ago this month, but that relationship was the framework for his journey to fatherhood.
He is working on expanding this essay into a book that will be out next year.