“I’ll kill all y’all.”
Imagine looking at the man whose DNA you carry standing in your home, telling you those chilling words, as he wields a shotgun. The frightening image is a scary thought. But according to former Major League Baseball star Darryl Strawberry, it was an actual scene, one that begins his book, “Straw: Finding My Way.” I vividly remember the towering home runs hit by the former star, who played for four big league teams, including the New York Mets and Yankees — and of course, the many times he was in the news for failing drug tests, beating wives, getting cancer twice, going to prison. He was a man fighting enormous demons.
Yet as I read the book, there is one consistent theme that runs throughout and that sheds a spotlight on a figure that continues to plague neighborhoods all across the country: the missing-in-action father. Strawberry makes a point repeatedly in “Straw” that he does not blame his dad for the trials and tribulations in his life; he says all decisions he made willingly. But he does speak to the issue of having a father who, by Strawberry’s account, while technically in the house, was a raging drunk who spent his paycheck doing what he wanted, showing no love and affection towards his children, viciously beating Strawberry and his brother, all while telling them that they would be nothing in life.
“I grew up in an inner city, South Central Los Angeles. When you grow up in the inner cities, most young men don’t have a father figure around. Most mothers are raising the kids,” he told me in an interview. He later said, “I loved playing baseball; I loved playing basketball; excelling and achieving my goals was my own personal goals, but inside, I just never loved myself. I can remember the times when I excelled in baseball and I [would] do extremely well and the cheers and the glitter and everything that came along with it, but you know what, Roland? When I went home at night, here was I again, me myself, [asking] ‘Who am I?’
The cynical in our world undoubtedly will say, “Who cares about a drugged-out, washed-up ballplayer?” But the mental damage that Strawberry says wreaked havoc on him as a child cannot be discounted, and it’s something that millions of young children, especially boys, are growing up with every day. This isn’t a tale of the stereotypical black athlete who grows up with the black father not in the home, leading to the cycle of violence and lack of family unity we see all around the country. Strawberry’s dad was there.
But, according to the former ballplayer, he was a horrible father. And right now, there are also young white boys in suburban and rural America who have dads in the home, physically, yet they have mentally and emotionally checked out. And the same for Hispanics and Asians. It has gotten to the point that a mother is considered essential in a family, but a father is optional, expendable, and increasingly irrelevant.
I remember watching an OnStar commercial. And as the company touted the features, it showed a father driving his child around, and when the kid starts to cry, the dad freaks out and has to quickly call the mom to calm the baby down. I’m watching that and saying, “Man, it’s your child, too! So calm it!” Then there is the commercial — I don’t even remember what they were pitching — of two or three kids in the kitchen making a mess after spilling the cereal. The hapless and hopeless dad looks at them and says, “Where is your mom?” Every time that commercial comes on I scream at the TV, “Where is your mom? Where are your parenting skills, you ingrate!”
See, I take seriously the importance of fathers — men — in the lives of children. My wife and I don’t have children of our own, but we are raising four of my nieces because they were struggling at home. They need to see a husband and a wife caring for them, but also instilling the right values in their lives. I am convinced that our city streets have turned into killing fields because dads have abdicated their responsibility in the raising of their children.
Yes, mom is vital. But there is something different about dad speaking, lecturing, cajoling, disciplining, embracing, loving and caring. Our schools are filled with children losing their minds, and teachers unable to control them. When that happens, it’s typically mom, grandma or an aunt coming to the school to deal with the problem. Ask a teacher or principal today and they will say they rarely see dads.
My mom has gotten ticked at times because I often talk more about my father than her on TV or radio. It’s not that I don’t love or appreciate her. But I do it because it is rare to hear men, especially black men, speaking affirmatively about their fathers. I know what it means to have a dad raising and caring for you, and not seeing his child in a drive-by style, or just sending a check. Dads must be present and accounted for, playing a vital role in their children’s life.
That’s why I appreciated it when President Obama spoke about the issue of fatherhood on the campaign trail. We all know the story of his father leaving when he was 2 years old. And yes, he was able to be successful. But for every Obama, there are numerous boys who aren’t able to hold it together.
I’ve called on pastors nationwide to stop the stream of momma, grandmother, aunts and female cousins coming to the altar for baby dedications with no man in sight. That pastor should say, “Until I personally meet with the father, I will not dedicate this child.” Somebody has to hold that man accountable for his actions. It’s time that men hold their “boys” accountable.
Actor Hill Harper had a friend who once said that he hadn’t seen his child in some time, but he found time to play basketball with Harper. Hill said, “Unless you call your child now, we can’t play ball.” See, Hill had to force him to accept his responsibilities. The failure of manhood in America — fatherhood — has reached epidemic proportions. And unless our religious and cultural institutions say enough is enough, we are going to see another generation of children growing up with dad absent and unaccounted for. It’s time for men to man up, so children can grow up with an equal amount of love and affection from both parents.