MANHOOD: American Fatherhood//Moments
They call me a lot of things. Whatever makes them feel more comfortable, I guess. Whatever it is that their eyes can conjure so their brains don’t have to sit in fear over what they don’t know. Nobody can really see the real me--realistically, I don’t believe most people would want to take a look-see, anyway. There is a large quantum of pain behind my planet-sized eyes, pain that electrifies the crimson oil torrenting through my veins. To ponder on that same blood running through the precious veins of my precious daughter is to simultaneously ponder on what I could have ever done for God to have allowed that blessing to manifest into something someone like me could even remotely understand.
Which is just a smart-alec, college-degree slickster talk for what we as fathers really feel, no matter how rotten or wholesome we are on the inside: “I could never deserve her”, we think. That might be why most of us African-American fathers leave. It’s sad that fellow brothers of my skin pigment contribute so thickly to the validity of the stereotype that black fathers are anything for their children if not absent. If you listen to hip-hop--not just hear it, but listen to what is being said--you’ll notice a contextual pattern of black rappers, including Kanye West, Tupac, and Lecrae, pondering on their absentee fathers and saluting their present mothers in an environment where single parents aren’t known the thrive. Rapper Big Sean, on his hit “Fire”, declares his gratefulness, alongside that of his mother, to his father, acknowledging that not many of his contemporaries can say they even had one growing up. But it’s not just black fathers out here deciding not to rep that real American fatherhood.
I don’t know if I really fit the conventional mold of red, white, and blue parenthood for my almost-2-year-old daughter, Diana Rose Williams. So what is this “American” fatherhood? It’s a difficult medium to navigate, that’s for sure. As a man, I want nothing more than to do right by my little girl in an individualistic country that will, at some point in her life, attempt to declare her independence and individuality for her. Now, she mimics my every word and my every move--she dances when I dance, laughs when I laugh, snorts when I snort, and says “Die yuh yo” when I tell her “I love you”. She’s practically my everything on this Earth. And yet, she could be more. Yes, even more. There’s no better time to show her that American fathers aren’t required to love their children less. After all, ability denotes responsibility.
Daughters, and sons at that, give a man purpose more than he could ever imagine possible. Responsibility more than he’d ever asked for; and exigencies of the utmost, immediate execution. When we were trying to bust one off, these aren’t the mental conditions our body acts accordingly to. So, when the consequences become as real as the sun shining, we either grow, or shrink. I’m not saying there isn’t redemption, and a road to it. But there is no middle ground between flight or fight, between up and down, in the moment. And life choices--that decision to knock up ol’ girl, that decision nut off to pornography “one last time”, that decision to hit the bar knowing your priorities are askew--are nothing but moments to get it right, or wrong. Honestly, I can’t tell you what “wrong” looks like in many cases, so I’m not terribly determined to tell you what’s right for your life. All I can tell you is what’s right for mine.
So let me break it down as to what this American Fatherhood stuff looks like in my life.
1) Loving my wife is the greatest love I can show my daughter.
Counter-intuitive, you say? Nah, homie--not in this situation. As mentioned above, my little princess is an admirer and a copy-cat. The toxicity I bring into this household will destroy her behaviors from the jump, because she sees me for the real me, and is smart enough to know that the adults that are raising her are the people she should structure her own behaviors from. I love to hug my wife, to kiss her, to hold her hand, and to make her laugh, and then notice little Diana noticing, wide-eyed, as if she’s collecting data from observing our actions. (I find it to be no coincidence that she cries often when mommy and daddy fight.) I can love Diana, cherish her, and honor her until the day I die. However, if I don’t love her mother openly and genuinely, and allow her to see that, she will never truly know what the love of a father, a husband, and from a family should ever be like. Not only will she accept and mimic this love for her parents, but she will know just what to expect from a good man in the future--her father needs to a be a good man first. All it takes are moments to show her that.
2) Putting down the pornography, until it’s gone for good.
This ties in closely to the first point. As a grown man, I can openly admit that I am in recovery. I have struggled with, won over, and lost to pornography since I was ten years old. For many men, it is an issue that exists in the deep ravine of secrecy. It had affected and infected my life to the point where I couldn’t live without it; the peeks and playfulness with it in grade school that resulted from an inadvertent exposure to it earlier eventually transformed into a reinforced pattern of addictive cravings I hid from everyone. As a kid it felt normal and fine, and us guys did the guy-thing: we talked about porn, shared websites with each other and saw it as a harmless aspect of reality. There could not have been a better lie on the face of this earth. I’ve been equipped with the tools to defeat this enemy from some of the best warriors in the city--mentors, counselors, leaders, husbands and wives--and yet, those cravings still attack me today. Which reminds me of something about this battle--it’s on me.
If you watch porn, or just dabble every few months, or are addicted, know that I’m not judging you, or the life you live. I would easily recommend talking to me or to someone genuinely invested in your welfare to get out of the cycle of giving so much time and energy to pornography, but I won’t shame or attack you. I will say, though, that in my life, it’s got to go. I’ve seen addictions from my father and his father, and those of my wife’s parents and grandparents, slowly trickle down unto us to either accept or reject on a daily basis, and I am all too aware that these things will, eventually, affect my daughter, according to how her mother and I handle them today. As a man--no, as a father--I will not let my daughter ever be exposed to porn on accident like I was, and I will vow daily to treat her with as much respect as the actresses in porn don’t seem to believe they deserve. I can’t teach her purity, if I’m not pure, in the moments where I have the opportunity to not give in to the craving of something so obnoxiously poisonous.
3) Listening to my daughter
My daughter can’t really say any words, but she talks so, so much. Ignoring her adorable mumbles and body language about how she feels is betrayal in its finest form in her little mind. When I have deadlines and tasks, and places to be and other people to speak with, I have to re-prioritize and remind myself that sometimes, the best thing I can do is sit down on the floor with her and just listen to her wordless rambles. She’s staring right into my eyes as she talks, making sure I’m listening and giving her the attention she necessitates. I’ll never learn to listen to her when she can use words, if I never take the moments now to listen while she can’t.
4) Going to church with my child
As a Christian, church means a great deal to me while I have the free will to attend service. Church, and my personal attendance, is not the endgame of my belief in Jesus Christ; it’s my personal relationship with him that trumps all else, but being surrounded by other people--hurting, broken, imperfect, real--who also know Jesus is one of the greatest places I can be. Raising Diana up around that environment, around teachers and children she can grow up to love and trust and also learn from, is important if I care enough to teach her what I believe in. Instead of trapping her into a religion of my own belief system or a institution based off of the church’s own list of do’s and don'ts, I can show her what I believe, why I believe, and why Christ’s love is the perfect love we all ought to honor, explore, and pour into others. On top of that, this shows her that I care about her enough to be with her anywhere, anytime.
Amidst the importance of routine and consistency, we don’t always make it to church every Sunday. Yes, life does happen, and I’m not invested in the belief that the Lord will splash us with bolts of lightning for missing church. Yet, in the moments when I have the opportunity to do so as a family, I have little reason to not engage. Regardless of what you believe or do not believe, consider how that affects your daughter. I’m not telling you what to believe or where to go to worship--but only that your daughter or son has to matter in all the areas of your life. Love them enough to include them.
5) Disciplining her, with the utmost love
My princess isn’t perfect. In fact, she can have a pretty rancid attitude sometimes. Drama-induced fits of deflecting rejection manifesting themselves into Hulk-transformations and non-withheld violent screams often result in a flick on the wrist or a pop on the butt. Of course she doesn't like it...but I know the ranges and levels of impact it takes to deliver a small sting so that she knows something isn’t okay. I’m thankful that it isn’t a common occurrence, that it often doesn’t need to get to that point, because I don’t like discipline my kid. I don’t like hurting her in any way, at any capacity. But at this point, I’m not afraid to, because I understand the reasons behind it, and ultimately, the message it sends. My current day job working for the Office of Children’s Services has exposed me to some of the most horrific physical dealings to children I would ever care to see or hear about. I’m heavy-laden and heartbroken each day I clock in and clock out of that place, often feeling like I’m not making much of a difference for the betterment of the children of this city, when their parents and guardians decide to not take the time to learn the difference between physical discipline and physical abuse.
I know I will never, ever strike my daughter. Hating the thought of abuse and the traumatization of a poor child, still, in no way scares me out of disciplining my own child when the time is right for it. Parents do things different, and what works for their children works for their children. And, like just mentioned, I’m thankful spankings aren’t common in my house. But it is important to love my child enough to keep them from doing wrong, causing harm, or engaging to dangerous cycles of behavioral repetition, especially in a time when most parents seem too scared to love their kids enough to discipline them. I don’t know what you will or would do in the moment. I, however, gotta keep my precious daughter in line, with love...and never with spite or anger.
These are some of the points that point to my own sense of American fatherhood. I may return to this subject in a future blog or podcast, but for now, I wanted to share with you men and women my thoughts as a young father. I’m blessed to be doing this with her mother. What are your thoughts? What are your interpretations on American/European/African/Korean/Canadian/Australian Fatherhood? Talk to me.