Growing up my father would always use the phrase, “That’s not how I’m wired.” In many situations, that found him like a fish out of water. He would say to me that I was wired differently than he was—which I have come to believe to be true. I am the third of eight children born to Eugene and Lena Burrell in Washington, DC. My mother is creative, outgoing, loves people and deftly managed our household of 10. Resources – financial and otherwise – were limited; being pragmatic, firm, and realistic ruled the day. My father is a stoic man of faith – introverted and strong. He spends a lot of time deep in thought and is very careful with the words he speaks. He is brilliant. He reads avidly and is wholly disinterested in others’ opinion of him. My father was measured in all his ways, including in the display of emotion. This measured approach was beneficial for the world in which he grew up – inner-city Washington, DC – in the 1950s and 1960s.
I am both my father and my mother’s child. I am cerebral like my father and creative like my mother. As much as I get my energy from being around people, I also get recharged when I am alone. I read a lot. I am a lover of science. I am a lover of art. I am both/and. On some level I have always shirked what can be called typical forms of masculinity, the kind that only recognizes anger and limited happiness as acceptable forms of emotion, the kind that believes in only resolving disputes with fists, the kind that avoids displaying vulnerability. I found this rigid adherence to unspoken gender norms to be untenable for me. Now admittedly, I don’t quite fit the “I’m a lover, not a fighter” mold, but I try to be the same person with my friends who are men as I am with my friends who are women. I was (and have to remind myself that I still am) a poet and hopeless romantic, and those qualities make me vastly different from the example I had when I was growing up. Knowing this, I had to take stock of what fatherhood looked like for me when I became a father myself.
I am now the proud father of a nearly six-year-old daughter named Samara and a nearly two-year-old son named Solomon. Because my father and I are inherently “wired differently,” I had to both decide and design how this difference would look in my fathering form. The situation called for me to iterate on my experience with my father in order to create my own version of fatherhood.
During my first four years as the father to Samara, I was focused on making sure she received the affection she needed from me, as well as the support, humor, love, patience. I strived to model the character she needed to witness. It is also important for me to model—through my interactions with her mother—the way in which a healthy relationship looks. I remember holding her after she was born with tears in my eyes feeling incredibly grateful that God chose me to be her father. I took (and still take) that charge seriously, as