I was excited when Codie and Tommy asked me to be a part of the fatherhood content on BlackLove.com. I am a huge fan of their content and commitment to our community. Additionally, so much of my recent content work has been dedicated to illustrating the complexity of men and fathers, so this is right in line with my passion.
As a father of five, I know the joys, excitement, anxiety, love, and magic of being daddy. As I’m typing this, I have a knot in my stomach because in a few hours I will be leaving my 19-year-old in her first apartment as she starts her second year at Spelman College. Damn!!! But I am flying home to see my 14-month-old who is on this Chaka Zulu-like quest of independence in our house. My wife and I have been navigating raising kids in a blended family ecosystem, which makes me even more intentional about helping people hear as many parenting/fathering nuances as possible. I wish someone had shared real stories with me. Perhaps my mistakes would have been fewer and my strengths even stronger. That’s why it’s so important to engage brothers willing to provide a window to their personal fatherhood journeys. I know that men and women alike will be intrigued, inspired, and informed by the insights and emotion these brothers will share about their personal fatherhood walk.
First up, Michael Ealy, a man I’ve always had a lot of respect for. I’m happy to see him consistently walking in his gift with integrity. Here, Michael has shared a little bit of his very treasured personal side by answering a few of my fatherhood questions and giving us a glimpse into his journey as a husband and father.
Jeff Johnson: I heard you say once that Fatherhood is the best gift ever. WHY?
Michael Ealy: For me, fatherhood saved my life. While I wasn’t physically dying when I became a father, I was in serious pain. My father passed away five months before my son was born. In fact, my last real conversation with my father was me telling him that his first grandchild was a boy. When he passed, I should’ve sunken into an abyss of misery and grief. Instead I found purpose like never before. I knew then that I had to push through it all because I now had a son who didn’t ask to come into this world depending on me like I depended on my parents. Losing a parent is one of the most difficult times I’ve ever had to endure. Having a child gave me hope and let me know what is a real gift (from God.) It also gave me more perspective than any other life experience I had at that point.
JJ: What are the small things you do on the road to attend to the emotional needs of your kids?
ME: Fortunately, we have the technology to see our babies from the road now. I can’t imagine what it was like for anyone who travels for work or soldiers on tours prior to Skype or FaceTime. That being said, I find that making sure they see my face and hear my voice lets them know I may be gone from the house but I am still very much involved in their lives. When they get a little older I will leave them little handwritten notes around the house telling them what they mean to me.
JJ: What has being the father of a daughter required of you that being the father of a son didn’t?
ME: Tough question. My daughter is still very young. What I will say is that it became clear to me after about eight months that my son (her older brother) and I would be her first loves. I get emotional when I think of that. It’s a great deal of responsibility. I dated my fair share of women with “daddy issues.” I want to help. I didn’t anticipate the feeling being so strong. I am certain I don’t always get it right, but I carry the weight of this feeling in everything I do with my daughter. I try to teach my son to protect her at all costs.
My daughter requires a different kind of protection than my son. That feeling is hard to explain because it’s innate. However, it could be a combination of physical protection and more. I definitely feel like I have to protect her heart more than my boy. Double standard for sure. Boys get their hearts broken too, but as a man you think you know how to help with that based on your own heartbreak… right or wrong. I think part of the joy of having a son is teaching him what you know as a man, good or bad. Part of the joy of having a daughter is the challenge of trying to teach her what you know while trying to also understand the opposite sex and how different we are. Yes, for me marriage is a crash course in understanding women, but having a daughter raises the stakes because now you have to try and understand another woman who, unlike her mama, didn’t choose you.
JJ: How quickly after your son was born did you realize that being husband and tending to your wife’s needs (all of them) became a role that required more intention?
ME: Another tough question. I wish I could claim that it happened immediately, but it didn’t. I got some amazing advice from a dad friend of mine. When I told him Khatira and I were expecting he told me congratulations and know this, “You can’t be a good dad in the first year because the baby doesn’t need you like they need their mother. What you can be is a good husband.” That resonated with me. It was clear to me what he meant. I did my best, but I can’t lie, my wife had to remind me a few times!
JJ: We spend so much time teaching our children…what’s the coolest thing your kids have taught you?
ME: The coolest thing my kids have taught me is what matters. Sidney Poitier wrote Measure of a Man, a great autobiography about his life and how he desired to make his parents proud. After losing both of my parents and having two kids in the last six years, I live my life in a way in which I hope to make my children proud. Any jerk can be famous, but that doesn’t make you a decent human being. I hope that my life is my audition for the respect my children have for me in the end. My legacy will lie in their hands and their contributions to this world rather than career achievements and finances.
JJ: Do you remember where you were the first time Elijah said “daddy”? Where and what did it do to you?
ME: The first time he called me “boba” (daddy in Farsi), it set me back a bit. There was something unique about him calling me “boba” because I always imagined my kids calling me daddy. I never anticipated my children calling me a different name. It warmed my heart the same way it would have if he had chosen to call me “daddy” like he does now. I found beauty in the simplicity of that. None of his friends call their fathers “boba” so for me it feels like our thing and that…nothing better than having your own thing.
JJ: What is your philosophy on disciplining your kids? How different is it from how you were raised?
ME: Man, for years I thought for sure I was going to spank my kids all the time. I consider myself to be remotely enlightened from time to time and I can tell that spanking my kids (not beating them) comes from a different era. We live in a different time. EVERYTHING is different. My parents didn’t have time to watch me and my sister all day. They didn’t have all day access to us nor did we to them really. They had the rule of “be home before the street lights come on.” We don’t live in those times anymore. So far I haven’t needed to take it there, but I think being present (that could mean many things) helps tremendously. There are a million and one ways to discipline your kids, and we all must make a choice as to what works for us and our children. I no longer believe that spanking is the ONLY WAY, especially when I think about the historical origins from which the practice began.
JJ: What is the greatest lesson you learned from your father (good or bad) about being a father?
ME: Greatest lesson I learned from my father was not to do anything half-assed. He instilled in me a go get it with everything you got mentality that holds me down to this day. While I know a great deal of luck may be why I am where I am in life, I also know the kind of work ethic and discipline that went into getting here.
JJ: What is the single thing you are most afraid of being honest about with your kids?
ME: Being honest with my kids only scares me when I think about when and how to teach them about the history of Black people in this country. I struggle to read books about Jackie Robinson or Martin Luther King to my son even though people think it’s great to give a three-year-old a book about an icon like that. I always question whether or not I can do more damage by explaining history from a place of oppression and then overcoming said oppression. At what age can I give my kids a complex about race? Yes, they will see it and be exposed to it in life at some point but what’s wrong with giving them time to be kids (if you can) and bereft of any identity issues? Someone recently told me to explain to them the history of us being kings in Africa first. Start with the beauty and strength before the torture and strife. Constant struggle for me.
JJ: What scares you most about preparing your kids for a world still fueled by so much hate?
ME: Nothing really scares me about preparing my kids for the contemporary world fueled by so much hate. They can’t truly understand love without it. I just don’t want to do it until I think they are ready to handle it. I think leaving them unprepared and uneducated would be an absolute failure on my part.
JJ: How do you help your children navigate the exploration of their unique identity?
ME: My wife and I try to expose them to both cultures. I got mixed kids. The only way to know who you are is to know who you are. Is it more complicated? Depends. At times it can be more interesting and also more stressful. At the end of the day, they are beautiful and loved as such.
JJ: What book does Elijah want you to read to him more than any other? Do you have a favorite that you like to read to your kids?
ME: My son’s favorite book is a book about the life of Trombone Shorty! So far, that and The Gruffalo are my favorites.
JJ: What single character trait are you most committed to instilling in your children? Why?
ME: I think I want my kids to be independent and possess sound judgment more than anything else. I believe that good parenting doesn’t necessarily equate to having good kids. I believe that because my generation has to literally take their kids everywhere all the time, we are raising kids to be less independent and less ready for the real world (post-college if you’re lucky.) Good judgment could take them further in life than money because they will hopefully be able to avoid toxic people who could tear their lives apart. I hate those people.
JJ: How do you nurture the early gifts you see in your kids without planning their life for them?
ME: Tough question. I feel like the best way to nurture my kid’s gifts is exposure. Exposing them to different norms, cultures, philosophies, foods, lifestyles, and interests gives them a fertile playground to decide for themselves what makes them happy both short term and long term.
JJ: When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered by your children?
ME: I am asked and expected to share so much of my life with the public that I would hope my legacy with my kids is something between us and their mother. I mean that.