Just a couple weeks ago, out of nowhere, I turned to my wife and said, “guess what happens this September?” She replied, “What?” I said, “Guess what happens this September?” Since my line of questioning was non-sequitor, she looked at me again, this time with a slight bit of annoyance, “Ummm, ok. What?” “Nothing,” I said. “Nothing happens this September.” After a pregnant pause for the #DadJoke and her mild bewilderment, I began to explain. No school shopping. No riding the kids to make sure emergency cards are filled out. No taking vacation time to be off for the first week of school so I can be around and help ensure everyone has a solid start. Nothing.
Nothing is not completely accurate though. Something is happening. I’m reflecting on the mad dash that has been my life, that has been fatherhood, the last 18 years. I know, “mad dash” seems contradictory against 18 years, but time- as Einstein tells us- is relative. 18 years seems like yesterday and I still remember like it was yesterday, the first day of 4-year-old kindergarten for my daughter. For my sons. Even further back, I still remember what it was like to laze around on a Saturday afternoon with my babies napping on my chest. Recently, another dad whose children will start school this coming September asked me for advice. I told him to be as present as possible. Be as involved as possible. It all goes by so fast and one day you wake up and you’re talking to your daughter, who’s living on her own, about how she just got accepted into LMU.
Last year, I was approached to be involved in a promotion, working with Pampers to talk about fatherhood, but this year that partnership has an even greater relevance. You can check out what Pampers thinks about the importance of fatherhood below, then I have some thoughts I want to share on the matter.
This Father’s Day is significant, more so than many prior, because my life with my children is changing. They’re “adults” now. Their needs are different. With regard to fatherhood, my roles is changing. I’m moving from protector and caregiver to counsel when they need it. In my mind and heart, I’ll always be protector and caregiver, but those things are passive tasks, rather than active, as they once were. As a black man in America, with black children in America, I already have so much pride in my children and what they’ve accomplished and watching them grow has made me a better man. I guess, what I’m trying to say is thank you three for helping shape the man I am today.
Watching my daughter deal with her first boyfriend’s Russian parents who didn’t want their son dating a black girl made both of us more resilient. Talking her through the pain of that made me more compassionate and more forgiving. It’s hard to be mad at someone who holds those beliefs when they’re young because they were instilled in them by parents, adults, who’ve had time to educate themselves and unlearn their own ignorance. We grew stronger together through that. More than that, raising you has taught me so much about my own prejudices. It’s made me more compassionate and aware of the issues facing women in America. It’s made me take a look at my own privilege as a man and how I can not only be your champion, but a soldier on the field of battle with all women who are seeking equality, whether that is with income or shared responsibilities in the home. I’ve learned and grown so much because of you. Thank you, Princess.
Watching my son be suspended at school because he was defending himself from a boy at school who called him a nigger and took a swing at him helped me even more with my own sense of restraint in the face of injustice. The Dean even apologized for having to suspend my son due to zero tolerance policies. Every person in the area of the “fight” told that dean that the other child instigated this fight and even took the first swing. Not only that, but my son showed great restraint and after ducking the swing and mounting his attacker, he only pounded him with body shots and didn’t beat his face to a pulp. I can’t say I would’ve been as forgiving, but my son was. So, I took him to Benihana the next day to commend him for his restraint, and for sticking up for himself. I’ve dealt with similar situations as an adult, but watching my eldest son deal with this, was a powerful lesson in restraint for me. Thank you, Ajani, for helping me with that lesson. There are times when discretion is the better part of valor and a methodical, restraint-based approach wins the day.
Watching my youngest son choose the hard road in school when it came to pick which language he would study has been a lesson in perseverance and blazing one’s own path. When both his brother and sister told him to take Spanish, he chose Russian. Four years later, he speaks and writes Russian conversationally and is going to college as a Linguistics major. Watching this young, black man walk up to native Russian speakers and watching their response to him speaking their native tongue has been an absolute delight. Media doesn’t often show African Americans being multilingual, so people who speak anything other than English are quite often very surprised when we speak to them in their own language. Thank you, Tai, for showing me what it means to truly defy stereotypes with grace and a lack of ego. You’ve always been so humble about your ability to learn languages and easy going in your approach to connecting with other people and cultures.
I’m a better man for having watched three little human beings, grow into three adult human beings through trials and challenges. Through problems of their own making, and in spite of prejudices. Thank you baby to all my “babies” for making me a better man!