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

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Got To Do Better Than This!

And fools can’t hold us

Every chance we get – we’re hittin up the rollers

Coming up short on the green guys

And I might start slinging bean pies

Or the bootleg t-shirt of the month

With, “you can’t touch this” on the front   – Ice Cube

Street Begging Kids

This is a sensitive subject matter for me.  I waited to blog about it because I didn’t want anger to ruin my point.  After months I am finally at a place where I can discuss this reasonably.

You know, in this world we all have to get our hustle on some kind of way.  I don’t care what kind of job it is.  You can be a teacher, a preacher, a cook or a CEO.  In the basic sense it’s a hustle.  In this case the definition of a hustle is simply, ” making a way financially to obtain or sustain.”  I don’t mean it has to be anything illegal or immoral.  Back in the day, the word hustle indicated aggressiveness and drive.  That is my definition in this post in the basic sense, but in no way is this  the only meaning. 

 For instance, for some people a hustle may be standing on the corner soliciting donations.  Some have signs that say they want food or employment.  The game plan is that they want drivers to give them money as their cars pause at a traffic light.   I’ve challenged some this way.  There have been people that asked me for money on the street in order to “get something to eat.”  And I’ll say something like, “Sure man.  What do you want?  There is a Wendy’s right around the corner.  Let’s go.” 

There have been times that the person was grateful and indeed honestly wanted a meal.  It blessed me to be able to provide one.  Other times they just wanted the money instead of the food.  I’m intelligent enough to guess why, but I won’t go there.  I don’t judge cause Lord knows I understand I am just a circumstance or tragic event away from being on the street.

That being said: One thing that just gets under my skin and burns me up is when I see little kids on the corner begging for money for their “fill in the blank sports teams”. 

For those who don’t know already, I live in St. Louis and in this town there are busy intersections where often people stand waiting for a large group of cars to gather at a stop light so they can hit them up.  Some are for churches or ministries.  They approach the car and say something to the effect of, “Would you like to donate to the homeless ministry.”  A person holds out a bucket and if you give them something they give you a Tootsie Roll or something in return.  Some have printed information about their organization. 

If you were to travel to Kingshighway and Natural Bridge on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you may see cats from The Nation of Islam selling their Final Call newspapers or bean pies.  The above picture was taken on West Florissant and Dunn Rd., an intersection with a large daily flow of traffic stops. 

These little dudes were approaching cars asking people to give them money for their basketball teams.   Not pictured was an adult male standing at a safe distance as the little ones did his whoring.  The hope is that the citizens will see these cute little kids and have empathy to come out of their pockets.

Now there are two reasons why this is whack – Flat out despicable!

1) It’s dangerous!  There are too many cars doting for position in these crowded intersections.  The children are small and are in danger of getting injured or worse.

2) It’s begging when begging is not necessary. The example set by the adults who put these kids up to this is beyond reprehensible.  The children want to play basketball.  Great.  The finances are low and there is a need.  Understandable.  Instead of having them stand on the corner begging, put them to work.  It doesn’t take much to sell candy, or hold a fundraiser by having public car wash.  Find a place where you can get buckets, soap and towels and provide a service.  Teach them how to earn money and you may create an entrepreneur.  Show these young people with their God given abilities and potential that if they provide a service, he/she can earn money by providing that service.  Raising money with a producer’s mentality as opposed to a beggars can revolutionize a person’s outlook on life.

Look!   I can go to Los Angeles right now.  And some of my Mexican brothers will be on the corner selling flowers.  At the next block you can buy an NBA Finals Lakers T-shirt.  It may be authentic.  It may be a knockoff.  There are hundreds of streets and boulevards where this scenario is going on.  The buyer decides the value.  Everything is negotiable.  You can’t negotiate begging.  If anything people tend to resent beggars and people who stand on corners asking for something but offering nothing in return.  We don’t know where that money is going.  I hate to see the few black men in St. Louis sending these youth the wrong message.  I don’t give them a dime.  I refuse to support this shameful venture. 

Shake yourself you lazy and unimaginable adult!  Teach your youth to fish,  not to beg for fishes!