Becoming a Good Father

Learning how to be a father who won't leave.

| Fall 2014

  • "There could have been a whole room full of black boys and you wouldn't find one of them that wanted to be like his father."
    Photo by Flickr/keoni101

I learned shortly after my daughter’s mother and I separated that by continuing to be in my daughter’s life, I was committing a highly subversive act.

It felt as though my ex-girlfriend wasn’t prepared to deal with my continued presence, my picking our daughter up on weekends, my asking for her on holidays. It felt as though I wasn’t following the script, and she, as well as her family, couldn’t understand why I didn’t just leave. After all, as a black man wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?

My parents’ marriage disintegrated not long after I came into the world. I have absolutely no recollection of them being together, but my older brother and sister insist that this was indeed the case for several years. I rarely if ever saw my father. And when I did he was always very serious, even when he smiled. Occasionally, he would pick us up on a Saturday afternoon and take us out to eat. Then we would often go several weeks at a time without seeing him.

Shortly after I turned 7 years old, my father came over to our house one evening and called my two older siblings and me into the living room. Like always he was wearing a collared shirt and a tie, and like always he was very prideful. He told us that he would be moving back to his home state of Tennessee with his new wife to be the pastor of his own church. We didn’t believe him. We made him place his hand on the Holy Bible and say it again; after he obliged we knew it was true. He only stayed for a few minutes, and then he left. We smiled and waved goodbye to our father through the window, never fully realizing what was taking place.

After that night sometimes we would see him once a year. Other years we wouldn’t see him at all. In the beginning he would call, but then the calls began to come in a lot less frequently. I never called him. As a matter of fact, by the time I was a teenager, I became a lot more comfortable with his absence than I was with his presence. In the public schools that I attended not having a father was trendy. It made you normal.

In junior high, whenever I was hanging out with my friends in the hallway or in the gym and the subject of our fathers came up, we all chimed in with different reasons as to why we hated our dads. Why dude was a coward. At least one of us declared that he would beat his father to the ground for what he did to his mother—if he ever saw him again. There could have been a whole room full of black boys and you wouldn’t find one of them that wanted to be like his father. No one ever tried to understand his father. We all depended solely on our mothers, or in some cases our grandmothers, for our daily representation of what a man was supposed to be. And we were able to infer from these women’s stories that a “real man” was everything that our fathers were not.

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