Happy Father’s Day Dads!
On the MTA bus just a few days ago heading home at night, as I sat tired and subdued, slouching in my seat in the far corner of the bus a young sister arrives eating blueberries. She’s maybe 9 or 10. She sits opposite a young guy and a much younger kid. Another man older than I struggles to the back of the bus with his cart on the narrowest city bus trying to align it out of the path and still grab a seat. As he tries to manuver all things at once and sit his behind sways back and forth in the girl’s face. The process is a slow-motion movie that I am soon about to interrupt with prejudice. Just then he utters something, and then again, and then I realize he’s speaking to the little girl. It’s his daughter! To my nosey-self, “oh, that’s dad! Imagine how that would have went!” Awkwaaaarrrd.
Finally, he sits. Older dad turns and then pears down at his daughter “you know you should wash those before you eat them…and don’t eat the bruised ones.” He grabs a few and then relaxes back. I see his line of sight. We’re now both watch the two young guys. He says something to the young guy, but not quite audible to me. In a minute or two I realize he’s admiring the youngest one who is apparently making a screwface in protection of his brother or buddy. I later realize that the young guys are father and son. I am really tired. The two converse across the bus. They exchange friendly words. The older father asks questions about the boy’s age who is 8 and tells the younger father that his daughter is 9. They begin to trade discussions about neighborhoods and offer that they are not comfortable with some customs as they are not appropriate for their families. That’s when I notice the liberation colors of red, black and green in a number of garments the older dad wore and on a button too.
In between their discussion, they offer short instruction to their children who remain silent throughout the ride. The children both seem quiet and obedient, but extremely alert. During full stops of communication I would wait for them to engage their children. I remember the older man saying something about his daughter’s mom and her school which gave me the understanding that he was no longer involved with the child’s mom. Throughout his conversation with his daughter he seemed so caring and happy. But, I could tell his body was marked by struggle.
I know what that feels like on numerous levels as I progressed during the stages of my life. I love proving society wrong about our fatherhood. You should see us Black men rise to the occasion. Katrina Akande, a doctoral candidate at University of Kentucky who is studying Black fathers whose children don’t live with them, shared, “There are some fathers who not only take care of their children, but they take care of their girlfriends’ children, step-children, or their nieces and nephews as well.”
It wasn’t until my 30’s when I got the profound importance of my father’s impact on my rearing. My parents split when I was 7. I am till this day the only kid happy that his parents are no longer together. Regulating their arguments was a full-time job. “All right! Go take a walk!”
I don’t remember hearing the praise of fatherhood shown on him that I receive from others. I never showed my father my appreciation. Yet, I remember chatting with my older brother earlier this year about how impressed we were with his ability to fight to stay in our lives after my mother would push him away from our house in Crown Heights. Even young, I could see he sucked at being a relationship partner. But, just the same to me, I still knew I needed a father. Before I had heard the term “weekend dad” he had already destroyed the perception of what a weekend dad was. My father came around all the time. He came around after school and on weekends. For some strange reason, and I love her to death, but my mother didn’t want my only dad around. Later, I brought this up only for her to have no answer, which is a FIRST. Like, “how was I going to become a man, without an actual man to guide me?” You can’t monopolize parenting because you picked this guy to procreate with.
I remember my father coming around the house to fix things: sinks, toilets, ceilings, and other stuff after they had separated, until things became terminal. Then, my dad couldn’t even circle the block to see his children without being peppered with insults. I got that he sucked as a husband. But, I mean, so who was going to father us? I kind of got attached to this guy here. And I think he loves me and my older brother too.
As much as my mother pushed him away he proved resilient. He had created signals which alerted us that he was in the area. If my mother picked up the phone and someone hung up. That was Pops! This meant he was on the corner of Lefferts Blvd. or Nostrand Ave. If we were outside playing on the block, he would drive down Lincold Road in defiance of my mother’s demands and just advertise his presence with his signature white van that read “James & Sons”. For me, that’s the end of that punchball game or ‘tag you later’ guys! Pops is in the building! We would drop everything to go out with him afterschool. Most times it was too difficult for my mother to prevent us from going with my father on Fridays. Other times we’d lose this debate, because neither my brother nor I could ever have enough heart to go against our mother. No one sacrificed as much as she did.
When my brother and I would win the opportunity to go with my father no matter where pops went, this man was too proud to call us his sons. Grabbing us, rubbing our heads and sonning us, “these are my sons; did you meet my sons?” This would no doubt be where I developed my confidence and self-esteem. He reminded people over and over in the most annoying repetitive lines that we existed and were to be recognize just for being his kids. In my mind a pebble grew into a solid rock of confidence. Blame my Pops. I would literally be puzzled with this attention, “Who am I? And what have I accomplished?” He grew that in my mind. Even today, just last year at a Vincentian wake he was trying to alert everyone that I was in their presence and that I was in fact his son. People look at him like he’s nuts. Like, “Who’s that guy?” His resistance to absentee fatherhood amidst fatherhood-blocking was something I admired only in the last 5 or so years. During my childhood, it just provided anxiety and confusion.
When everyone knew I was disobedient he was the only person in the world that would not believe I could ever do anything wrong. And boy was I bad! But I was a saint around him. Most people know that dad’s don’t need to beat boys. My father’s discipline was iron and we had a strong affectionate bond when I was young. Kisses on foreheads and cheeks and hugs galore were routine. This is where I extend the same affection to my babies. He was more affectionate to me than anyone I knew.
My father would always drag us to his underground Vincentian spots where he would chill with his friends while my brother and I played pool or ping-pong. He would make us sit in the back of the van when older company came for a ride. This infuriated me. I would complain, “Why don’t you take us to Coney Island or Great Adventures like Mommy does?” He never had an answer that was sufficient at that time and don’t remember him ever spinning the attack on my mother. Then again, Pops wasn’t a great debater. In the 100% West Indian spots that he took my older brother and I to, we were often the only kids there. I realized much, much later in life that I often drag my kids to my events too. Then, I realized he did take us to family-oriented places, but they weren’t commercial parks, they were outdoor picnic areas and places where other children would be. Then he would force us to introduce ourselves to the kids and then we’d be off frolicking in some new neighborhood for hours until sundown. He rarely ever worried until we traveled to St. Vincent…wait, even when we traveled to St. Vincent we were independent journeymen. I never spoke like a West Indian, but I was always around West Indians. He took us to St. Vincent once and for his hard earned money, my mother complained that I had been bitten up by mosquitoes—the proof all along my two legs. These were monster-mosquitoes. I even got a big scar on my wrist running around that island like a madman. That trip was the absolute most fun I ever had as a kid--including the time little Lenny ran after me hurling bottles at my head for teasing him. Ahhh, good times!
I often dismiss what terrible fatherhood is. I can’t relate well to it. My parents had fathers they loved, they had children who love them and my kids love me. I remember men on the block, strangers, and coaches and my own deceased Stepfather would also be there to show love. I also think it’s because I see a lot of good fathers who are in the home with mom and those that are outside of the home. Sure, I hear about absentee-fathers. I tend to focus on the great stories of fatherhood and feel more upset that the fathers who take over after mom is no longer in the household are buried underneath the criticism of fatherhood.
My barometer for my fatherhood is my children and that is the only meter that’s official. When they say, “I love you dad” out of the blue, which is very often. It means they recognize the sacrifice, they are content, they feel safe, they feel loved, and they are happy that I’m around.
The most difficult thing I have problems with is surprisingly no longer child support for two moms, but being more sensitive to my middle child who is the most expressive of my three. It’s not as easy as I would hope. I worry about my son growing up in a world that’s very angry with black men, but tells us that we shouldn’t be angry. And he is so gentle and tough. And most of all, I hope that one day my first child will live closer to me so I will not be forced to travel hundreds of miles back and forth to see her. But I am so thankful that my relationship with their moms has become respectable and mature. That took time. If I happened to be in the area it’s not a problem to call or knock on the door and see my babies or take them. Their moms can feel comfortable in asking for more resources for our children and I’ll know that even if it doesn’t go directly to the children that day, week, or month, the proof is in the well-care of my children. I’ve learned that even supporting Mom supports my children. This takes time and thinking outside of the box. This is where my dad fell short. This was his shortcoming. He wasn’t consistent financially, although he always had a new work van. Of course, this contributed greatly to my mother being upset with him. But, society makes this the looming problem among black men.
Society pretends that money far outweighs loving your kids and being a staple in your children’s lives. They even pretend that a loving father can receive the same support as a mom from family or government when the kids don’t live with him. Only recently did they allow fathers to receive child care credit. It just dawned on the country that the dad who is paying child support and then paying when he buys the child something, takes them out is a two-pay. Yet he will receive no child care credit nor will he be able to claim the kids. The average mom in NYS who claims two kids will get $8k-$10k in one shot. No, it’s not fair when you’re a loving father.
So when fathers are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, defeated and angry, but comfortable to complain to me that they are struggling to make the sacrifice to still show love to their kids and be active, create a respectable relationship with mom who may not be understanding and pay support even when the court portion is no where near equitable? I say, “‘ENDURE fam”. Some might say “man-up”, but that suggests that it’s not manly to complain or somehow that a woman is not placed in high-pressure situations regularly. And it’s just plain mean when you don’t know anything else except a petty slang euphemism. Endure! It’s for your child(ren) family. Trim your lifestyle. Forget them Nikes, get some reject-sneakers. Check your ego. Push as hard as you would in sports, getting a woman in the club or for that boss that punks you everyday. It’s the greatest and most rewarding challenge you’ll ever have. You paid for that food in your children’s house. You paid for that tv, fam. Maybe you even paid for that new hairdo your child(ren)’s mom got bruh. Champ Status! Happy Father’s Day to you!
(pardon any grammatical & spelling errors.)
If you know young black teens in severe need contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Among the many hats I wear, I am a boxing instructor in NYC who loves to teach.