RAISING FENCES by Michael Datcher
Kirkus Star


A Black Man’s Love Story
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This honest, brisk, and ultimately very moving memoir offers a strong alternative to the stereotype of the “playa”: the irresponsible young black man who preys on women and nonchalantly fathers children out of wedlock.

“I’ve been obsessed with being a husband and father since I was seven years old,” writes Datcher, a poet and journalist, now presumably in his 30s. “Quiet as it’s kept, many young black men have the same obsession. Picket fence dreams. A played-out metaphor in the white community but one still secretly riding the bench in black neighborhoods nationwide.” Datcher grew up in poor areas in southern California, where most of his friends were fatherless, like him. “We rarely talked about our missing fathers. Instead, we poured our passion into our skateboards, our marbles, and our mothers. Yet the unspoken sparkled from our eyes whenever any neighborhood men showed us attention.” The son of a diligent, devoted mother who teaches him self-respect, Datcher becomes a rare success story, a good student and athlete who attends Berkeley and later UCLA before launching his career as a freelance journalist and community activist, and who is committed to the idea of eventually finding love, getting married, and having a family. Then a woman he’s only casually involved with gets pregnant, and for a time it seems that Datcher has blown his own most fervent dream: He’s going to have a child out of wedlock, just as his own (unknown) father did, just as he promised himself he’d never do. Will he rise to occasion and become responsible for his actions, or wallow in crushing self-pity? Throughout his self-portrait, Datcher is hard on himself for his mistakes and misjudgments. But he’s also suitably forgiving—both of himself for hurting people he cares about, and of others who do him wrong (such as his girlfriend, who turns out to have lied about his being her baby’s father). And when it ultimately looks as if he’s found the true love and commitment he’s striven for, he approaches it with humility and hard-earned maturity as well as joyous expectation.

A beautiful story of real-life redemption.

Pub Date: March 5th, 2001
ISBN: 1-57322-171-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2001