When I first learned I was going to have a son, pride was quickly overwhelmed by fear. Deep down inside, I believed I was flawed for being a fatherless son, and I immediately knew I had to do everything in my power not to pass down those shortcomings. But is it possible to right another man’s wrong?
While in 1st grade, I had a friend by the name of Jon. I remember going to his house for scheduled play dates and being excited to spend the day with the only kid I knew who had a Super Nintendo. But outside of the toys and fun, what was most notable about being over at Jon’s house, was when his Dad would come home from work. He was a big and tall police officer who would enter that house with loud boot steps and would immediately lay his badge and gun on the kitchen table. Jon and his baby brother would run and jump into his arms, and I would tag along behind them hoping to get a hi-five, and maybe a glimpse of what it feels like to have a Dad.
Thinking back to those days as a child, I don’t recall ever being upset at my father for not being in my life. But sadly, I remember having this deep longing to be proud of him, just like Jon was of his Dad. And now at the age of 33, I realize I have brought that baggage into my role as a father. When I first learned I was going to have a son, there was an immense feeling of pride that was quickly overwhelmed by fear. Deep down inside, I believed I was flawed for being a fatherless son, and I immediately knew I had to do everything in my power not to pass down those shortcomings.
There is an overcompensation that happens, due to my inner necessity to give my children everything I didn’t have.
Especially when it comes to my son. He’s only six years old, and I’ve already taken him places in this world even I had never seen before. I’ve held his hand while walking on the campus of my alma mater, with high hopes that he carries on a legacy that I started. And I’ve brought him inside the Obama White House, praying that he sees the limitless possibilities for himself. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be enough lessons on manhood that I can instill into him, even at his young age. I take every opportunity I get to show him the man that I wanted to see in my own father, and quite frankly, the man I want to see in myself. That man is one who is consistent with his love and presence, and who understands the importance of integrity and responsibility.
My father made a choice to not being in my life during my childhood, and to this day I am unsure what his reasons were, or what took precedence over me. I was an aspiring hip-hop artist when I met my wife, and as cliché as it sounds, I was really talented with a pretty good chance of being able to make a living from my art. But when my wife became pregnant with my first child, I chose family over a dream that required so much from me but, at that time, gave little in return. I knew that if I wanted to give my new family a healthy start, I had to find a career path that tapped into my other passions, while also giving me the opportunity to provide and become the man I aspired to be – a good father and someone my children could look up to.
I’m sure there are other fathers who are reading this, that have had a similar experience but have yet to unpack any of it. Being able to confront these truths about myself wasn’t easy, and it required vulnerability and self-honesty. I liken the absence of my father to losing a loved-one, except I had never let myself grieve that loss. Even when I finally met him at the age of 16, it was like meeting a mall Santa Claus – in my mind he still wasn’t even a real person. This allowed me to dodge feeling any real emotions. So I went back to the previous version of my life, where I never knew him, and everything was copacetic.
Some seven years later, I went to my paternal great-grandfather’s funeral. And in a room full of my very religious aunts and grandparents praying over me and apologizing for my father, it was like the bursting of the levees. So much pain and hurt exploded from me, and I cried it all out. I never recognized how much it affected me, and what was buried inside.
As a father, I have had to face that pain head on, and understand how it influences who I am in this space. I had so many fears and insecurities–the fear of failure and thinking that I carried the “deadbeat” gene. But it was my loving wife who constantly instilled in me the confidence that I was a good and whole man – deserving of love, happiness and success.
Now, having two beautiful children, I realize that when I parent without those fears and insecurities, I am giving them the greatest opportunity to grow without boundaries. I can protect them from the pain of defeat and push them overboard to reach greater heights. Of course, I want my children to be better than me, but I cannot let that goal deter them from truly knowing love. So it is only fair that I do not interject my experiences as a measure for who they can and should be.
When I understand that there is no curse that needs to be broken, and no debt that I need to repay, fatherhood becomes an extraordinarily beautiful gift.
My father’s decisions are not mine and, although they had a big part in creating who I am today, they will not determine who I choose to be for my wife and children.
So when I come home from a long day of work, and my son runs to jump in my arms while his baby sister looks up at me with a smile – I think of my six-year-old self. I imagine he is proud of the Dad I have become.