Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

Advertisements

Roland S. Martin on Fatherhoood

Roland Martin says fathers across America are failing their children by shirking their responsibilities.

 From CNN.com

“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.

Behold! The Only Thing Greater Than Yourself!

 

lil-c-1

 

Christian is my first born son.  I gave him the nickname Chumley.  That originated from the cartoon series Tennessee Tuxedo. Tennessee Tuxedo is a penguin and Chumley is a walrus who he affectionately calls his ‘little buddy.’  In each of the episodes Tennessee would get them into adventures exploring things inside the zoo where they lived, and Chumley would follow along blissfully.  That was me and Christian.  He was my little buddy. 

I remember when we took him to church for dedication.  My boy Evan “aka Copasetic Soul” was there because he asked to stand with me when Christian was prayed over.  Evan told me, “Man, when the pastor is finished, you have to hold your son to the sky like John Amos did Kunta Kinte on Roots and say, “Behold!  The only thing greater than yourself.”   Think I didn’t?  I sure did!  Evan just lost it caught up in that powerful moment.  I still get choked up thinking about it.  It was serious!

Christian has always been a mild mannered cat.  If you don’t know him, one would think he was kinda quiet and shy.  But when he gets comfortable enough around you he is a barrel of laughs joking up something terrible.  It took a while for me to figure this out because he would always be so quiet around me.  Now he knows he can be himself around his dad and our overall communication is outstanding.

What I really appreciate about Christian is that he is a very observant and sensitive young man.  He is a student of life like his dad.  Rarely does anything slip past him, even if he doesn’t say anything at the time.  Of all of my children, he has always been in tuned with me emotionally.  At the age of 15 he would ask me how I’m doing.  After giving him some generic response he would stop me and say, “No daddy.  I mean it.  How are you doing?  How are you feeling?”

Christian knows when something is on my mind or if I am going through something difficult.  I could see his level of maturity and for the last couple years I have been sharing what I call manhood conversations with him.  Christian allowed me to feel vulnerable around him and he lets me share even my pains and weaknesses with him.  At first I wasn’t sure if he could handle them.  But he always has and has never looked at me as less than his hero regardless of what I tell him.  Because we are so in tuned with one another, I help him by articulating his feelings by language what he could only identify though feeling before.  Its not unusual to hear him say, “I’ve always thought that, but never knew how to say it.” 

Some of my favorite moments with Christian were when we’d play basketball.  Not one on one, but when he would play on my team when my friends and I would get together.  I know he wanted to be down with me and my close circle of teammates.  We had played together in tournaments for years and the other guys watched him grow up.  So to see him come from being a little kid on the sidelines and playing with the other little kids to balling with the big boys, the men, I knew it meant a lot to him and it really meant a lot to me.  I would try to dominate at every phase of the game so he could see the fruits of hard work, even on the basketball court.  And it seemed like I always played well whenever he was around.  He wanted to impress me.  But I wanted to impress upon him that his dad was a true sportsman.  My theory was always, If I can beat them in what they like to do up at least up until a certain age they will always listen to me when it comes to other things in life.  I find this to be especially true with boys.

Christian is a very responsible young man.  He lives with his mom and little brother in Atlanta and is the man of his house even as I write this.  His maturity and thoughtfulness is shaping him up to be an outstanding young man.

Right now he’s really into the guitar and from the links he’s sent me he’s got some real game.  Nothing he accomplishes musically or otherwise would surprise me.  Christian has IT!  He’s got flavor, talent and charisma. 

The thing I know about Christian, is that we will always be close.  Sometimes we relate not merely as father and son, but like we are boys.  I am comfortable with that because he never tries to take advantage of it.  He knows I don’t play and that I am old school.  Equally true however, is that Christian has a lot to offer me.  And quite frankly there are times when I don’t mind asking the 17 year old what his opinion is of a thing.  Most of the time his thoughts are right on point!

 

lil-c-daiane-2

* Christian (bending) with his friend JaLil

Legacy and Love for Children

I admit it.  Sometimes I worry about what my legacy will be on the Earth after I leave it.  I wonder will I reach my potential.  Will I touch the lives I am supposed to touch.  Have I wasted too much time already?  Do I make the right decisions by in large?  Am I making the impact I am supposed to make?  I battle with these thoughts all the time.  It’s not as if I can’t enjoy the moment either.  (though I am sure I don’t live in the moment enough.)  It’s just that I am mindful that life as we know it here doesn’t go on forever. 

One thing I do know for sure though is that when I look at my children I have no questions about the outstanding people they are and that they already are making a difference.  Each of them like all people have unique gifts and talents.  But they also are thoughtful, caring and considerate people.  Though two of them are grown I found out that a parent’s job is never really over.  A great man said he learned that when his children became adults that is when the parenting really began.  Imagine that?     

There have been many ups and a few downs.  And I’ve enjoyed most of the stages and adventures that my young people have experienced.  I look forward to helping them in every way I can as long as I can.

As a gift to them, next week I will share some fatherly thoughts about each of them starting with the eldest. 

It’s just something I feel I need to do.

Good For The Soul, Great For The World ~ Fathers Stand Up!

This is a sensitive subject matter for me.  I am a father.  Heck, I am a grandfather.  I am also a mentor to young boys and girls.  Some of my interactions are of the casual hit and miss based on time and opportunity.  And some are more intimately detailed.  Regardless, I see all children as our most precious resource.  I know that today kids are smarter, quicker and more savvy than ever before.  They have more access to technology and the fast pace of the world seems to fit right in with their ability to absorb information and the flavor of their environment.

Sometimes when you talk to little children, they amaze us as they seem to have the spirits of adults.  This is no doubt of God’s potential placed in them as they seem to be ready for most any challenge.  Still I know children carry way too much responsibility and stress these days as they are often left to fend for themselves as single mothers struggle to hold things together. Or oftentimes young parents may be too much into themselves seeking to live their glorious days and nights at the expense of their young.   

I’d be the first to tell you.  There is no manual to this thing.  Parenting is a huge challenge.  Still I believe that we have to stop and take notice of the young people around us.  In their eyes there is a hope, an anticipation, a longing to first find the love from their base.  (the parents)  There is a need for physical and emotional security from the base especially as they branch out to intermingle with other children.  There is a demand for direction and structure, so that they understand respect and boundaries.  There is a need for vision, for someone to recognize their gifts, talents and abilities and to teach and encourage them to pursue those and not just follow the crowd. 

As precious as our mothers and sisters are, I believe there is a need for strong men to provide a lot of the structure needed to help our young people succeed.  Images are important.  And the state of a man in a child’s life tends to determine many a fate of our children.  If  a strong and committed man is present and active, kids tend to stabilize.  If he is absent or out of place, it complicates and destabilizes.  This is not some sexist statement minimizing the abilities or contributions of women and mothers.  To the contrary, I am saying that they can’t do it by themselves and they have done far too much as it is trying to hold down both sides of the bar. 

Men and specifically fathers need to step up and dedicate their lives towards investing into their children.  Period!  That means financially as well as with their presence.  By presence I mean time, but I also mean making the best of that time.   There has been occasion for instance where I spent time with my youngest daughter.  And because of the schedule I hold working three jobs including writing, that I would pick her up and take her someplace, but my mind would be in rest mode or all over the place scattered as I answered calls and took care of business or arranged appointments while we rode to some place we’d go to.  But my spirit made me recognize that I was cheating my daughter out of my full attention.  I need to hear how her day or her week was.  I needed to listen as she talked about her relationships at school and the new accessory for her DS game.  I got with the program quick!  She gets my full attention at all times now.  We talk, we laugh, and we hug many times over.  She knows she has a daddy that will lead, love, and respect her as she makes her way through adolescence and beyond. 

I’m old school.  I believe in respect when it comes to kids and adults.  I still say, “Yes ma’am,” and “No sir,” even if the person is younger than me.  So I don’t tolerate any disrespect at all from young people.  However, I also know that I need to make a connection with them.  I need to look into their eyes, and likewise respect their gifts, talents, and the seriousness with which their issues mean to them.  It’s a two way street.

When men start to step into our places and take responsibility for our children, and then also to a smaller degree the other children we come into contact with, we will be setting the course for a better tomorrow for our families, our communities and our nation. 

Men, fathers, take your places!  It’s good for the soul, and great for the world!

The Blossoming Butterfly, Part 2

proud-dad

Part II 

It was June of this year.  School was out and my sons were to arrive from Atlanta and live with me for the summer.  Of course they wanted to see their sister and she wanted to see them as well.  I hadn’t seen my daughter in almost a year.  When they arrived they stayed at her house first because I was very busy working and preparing to give my other daughter away in marriage.  The original time I was given to expect the boys was changed by a week with one days notice.  The older sis was happy to have her brothers.  Once things settled for me I had to pick them up from her home.  Of course I had no idea where she lived.  I got the address and arrived to pick them up.

It was also the first time I saw my grandson just over 4 months old.  I only had a texted photo of him from his great-aunt.  When I saw my daughter we were both polite and courteous, though I could feel her apprehension as I surveyed her new home.  I truly felt like an outsider.  Still I made some small talk and added some jokes to loosen things up.  I let her know that she could see her brothers whenever she wanted to, and if she needed a babysitter, I was game.  This was only my 54th request for babysitting – but what the heck right?  

After several months passed, finally I got an opportunity to keep my grandchildren for an evening.  Even overnight!  I was blessed to keep them on my granddaughter’s 3rd birthday.   My daughter was so glad to get a break.  She called to check on them that night.  She expressed how tired she was, how her boyfriend wasn’t helping out as much, and how much she was about to go crazy.  She sounded loose, at ease.  She talked about things about her personal life… things she would normally never tell me.

What is this happening?  Is she opening up?  

I assured her that I understood.  And that there are times when a girl needs a break. I said that life is tough, and if she doesn’t learn how to balance things out and take care of her spirit, she will burn out with the responsibilities and cares of the world.  I said, “Girl look, when you need to get out, if you can’t do it on your own call your dad? Shoot you’re 21 now.  I don’t have to take you to Applebee’s.  I can take you to Café’ Eau at the Chase Park Plaza!”  (One of my favorite watering holes) She laughed and said, “I don’t know what that is.. but it sounds good to me!  I’m ready to go!”  We laughed. She said she was so appreciative that I took her kids for her, and that she really needed to hear that I was there for her.  (Something I had said for years but for the first time she heard me.  She then said, “You know daddy, we have had our times you know.”  (talking about the estrangement between us)  Then she got quiet.  And I then said, “But you know what?  That is all in the past.  It’s all about what we do from here.  I look forward to being an important part of your life, as well I need you in mine.  “Yea daddy that’s cool.  I am glad you said that.” 

Since then things have been very positive.  She went from unemployment to gaining two jobs quickly.  We talk about more things now.  Not just the common stuff.  Adult stuff that she thinks and goes through.  She even talks some about her “not so cool” relationship which before was totally off limits.  Its like for the first time since she was kid, she looks at me like the daddy she needs.  Except now its as an adult not as a little kid.

The other day she sent me a text message. “Daddy, can you pick me up from work today?”  We worked out the times and from there I squeezed her in between work and a meeting I had to attend that evening.  We picked up the kids from the babysitters.  My granddaughter, who knows me well now in her surprise to see me yelled, “Hi PAW PAW!”  The older lady who keeps the children said to me, “Your daughter is really sweet.” 

I got them home and went about my business.  On the way to her house she went on and on about how appreciative she was about me picking her up.  Back in the day, hell I was “supposed to do that.”  But she was so genuine.  It was like she was a new person.  She even texted me later that night cause she knew I was in a hurry.  “Did you make it to your meeting on time?”  

A few days before she sent me another text.  Talking about how she was going to be getting her stuff together and for me to just watch.  She was going to be blossoming before my eyes.  Ha!  To quote Sarah Palin, “You bet she is.”  I can tell she is a new woman. It brings tears to my eyes just writing this.  Oh that she would know that I love her so and that nothing compares to her in her daddy’s eyes.  I think I’m starting to get my daughter back.  And I am thankful for that!   

mom-and-son

Charelle… I love you, Daddi (that’s how she spelled it when she wrote me notes as a kid)

*Above: Charelle after graduating high school with dad and her daughter Chariah

*Below: Charelle pictured with her son Cameron.  A grown ass woman!

 

The Blossoming Butterfly, Part 1

charelle-962

Parenting is a tough job.  To be a single parent is even tougher.  And if you are the parents of a child who had to experience a divorce between the first role models he/she ever had, it’s that much more challenging for the child growing up.   

Let me say up front, that there is probably nothing more devastating to a child directly or indirectly than to witness the breakup of their parents.  I regret that my children experienced that pain – and though I know for sure that my ex-wife and I were not meant to last forever, still I regret the affect it had on my children – especially my oldest daughter.  It has taken my first born most of her years to cope with and struggle in finding her identity and get a glimpse of her potential.  It also put a terrible strain on our relationship.

A major part of the reason for this (outside of the normal pains of divorce which would have been enough) is because she was given a lot of negative and at times false information about me from her mother.  She painted a picture of me that my daughter could not seem to shake regardless of what she saw with her own eyes.  Even as she witnessed me coming through to aid her mother and her brothers (my two sons) above and beyond child support, whether it was monetarily, morally etc. it wasn’t enough to take the villain tag off of my head.  Eventually she started keeping her distance in her mid teen years.  I understood that to be a growing up thing and I didn’t push her.  But after she got involved with her first love interest, soon after she pretty much decided she didn’t need me.  

As much as it hurt, I always made it clear to her that I was there for her no matter what.  And that I love her more than life itself.  Things got worse instead of better.  She got further and further away – resentful for some reason and I found I was always the one reaching out trying to prove myself with no positive feedback from her.  One day we had a big argument on the phone.  She went “adult” on me and said some horrible things.  It was the most disrespectful she had ever been.  I remember being so angry and hurt, that I called my mother screaming into the phone.  Mom actually ordered me to pull the car over till I calmed down, because she feared for my personal safety.  Speaking of safety, I remember thinking to myself that if she were not pregnant at the time, she would have gotten an old fashioned East St. Louis project beating for acting like she was grown and forgetting who the hell her daddy was!  I remember going ‘Godfather’ and telling my mother, “That’s it!  If we never talk again thats up to her!  I will never reach out again!  I am done…FINISHED!”  

Well my mom in all her wisdom explained that I couldn’t do that.  “You can’t disown your kids son.  You just can’t do it no matter what they say.”  She and those close around me said that my daughter will come back.  That she will come to herself after experiencing some hard times in life.  At that time I should be there ready.  Whew… I could never imagine that happening. 

Oh there were troubles alright. Sometimes there were fights with the boyfriend – me having to track him down for her car, house keys and cell phone.  Sometimes he was such a jerk I wanted to kill him.  Flat out!  But no matter what I did to help, I never got a thank you, kiss my ass or anything from her.  I would think, “Surely she saw what I just did right? I was Super Dad!  I just saved the day for all man-kind.”  NOPE!  She just got further and further away.  She had child one and two and neither of them would recognize me from T.I.  I pretty much gave up the fight and decided that I would love her unconditionally, and hope one day I could be a grandfather to my grandchildren.    

To be continued…

* Picture: My daughter age 9