Today I was nominated again as an awesome father by one of my black brethren.
I began compiling some of the proudest, happiest, and intimate moments with my son. And as I wrote my response, I sunk into sadness. I drifted towards anger. I slipped into indifference. And I became shackled into paralysis. I observe myself as a good father….when I compare myself to those in prison and those who are absentees. I feel that I am somewhere in the middle on the performance continuum of fatherhood. Those who are closest to me will say that I am a terrific father and all that snazzy jazz, but I never really internalize it. Their judgments faintly impress my consciousness. “An awesome father”. “An outstanding father”. “A great father”. Because…yadda, blah-blah, bam. I never actually “feel” this way about my role though; even if it looks that way on social media. “From the way it looks, John, you are a [insert positive adjective] father”. And on cue, I surrender my gratitude, and that becomes the conclusion. A shallow interaction. A false transaction of empowerment because I refuse to receive the accolades. It feels unearned. It feels unnecessary. I interpret as “socially appropriateness”, even if it is authentic. << and even when that is made known, it’s the “well, let me tell you this…I’m not…I’m this…and I mean”…..(eyes roll). Fatherhood endures to be a very sensitive arena of discussion that I often avoid; sometimes to prevent the whole “let me convince you why I think you’re a great father even though I just said I’m not here to convince you” discussion.
It’s been an enduring progression of recovery from my dissonance with my distant father. I don’t hate him. In fact, I likely talk to him once or twice a year; dialogues that usually conclude with “I love yous”. I revisit this space of conflict on seldom occasions as part of my self-therapy, yet throughout the year, I actively socialize and develop my son. Challenging him. Disciplining him. Rewarding him. Teaching him. Supplying him with tools, resources, and opportunities for his advancement. I don’t perform these acts with paternally-charged elation, but out of necessity in attaining a desired result. And I imagine many black fathers function in a similar pocket. I hold high expectations for my son as any logically-driven father. But, then I see some fathers who drown social media with the minutest of father-son moments. I see fathers who are emotionally expressive. And then there is me – performing less of the aforementioned. I don’t dispose a wealth of sentimental “love yous” or “proud of yous”. A lot of the time, I am void of expressed emotion. When I drop him off at school, he says “bye daddy”, and I reply “aight man” in a tone that semblances a flat soda; this has been routine since I purchased my car last year, which is when I started dropping him off to school. And when we play video games, there’s few laughs and smiles. You can hardly tell the difference between him playing a computer as apathetic as I tend to be.
But do these few examples infer that am I am barren with emotion? No. There have been many moments where I’ll tear up amid his accomplishments and developments. I’ll smile secretly. Chuckle quietly. Cry in solitude. I’ll constantly nag about what he’s doing wrong or what he should be doing. Yet, when he’s exceeded my expectations (and we’re not talking limbo standards here), I let it be known so that he understands that it takes a lot to impress me. So that he strives for the excellence that I strive for in myself. He’s fascinated with technology. Loves anime. Loves gaming. He’s currently enrolled in a gifted education program. An aspiring artist. Endowed with empathy. Quite well mannered. Creative and curious. Soft-spoken. Modest. And his respect for others is substantial.
^^ looks normal, right?
Perhaps it’s part of my gender socialization. The hyper-masculinity (“men don’t show emotion often”). Perhaps, it’s my perfectionism. Perhaps, it’s my militant mindset. Perhaps, it’s my personal experiences with war, poverty, molestation, and an absentee father that authorize my attitudes and behaviors. I am a wounded warrior and a survivor of circumstances; much of which took me years to accept. Maybe, it’s ‘e’, all of the above. But, a quick review of all of our pictures together and separately would persuade your vote for me as a remarkable father, even as I never signed up to campaign for such a judgement. I pay homage to my cultural and genetic contributions towards my resilience, spirituality, and self-determination, which has propelled me here today. It’s not the compliments or the social approval. It wasn’t the church. It wasn’t a monetary incentive. I recognized long ago that I was running away from this conflict. I’ve held a few deep talks with my son regarding my condition and my intentions just so he has insight on who I am at my core. I’m stern with my son, because life has been very stern with me despite its extravagant blessings.
The guilt stems from being somewhat of a deadbeat father. Although I have paid child support in the past, my physical absence enslaved me to a self-created emotional indebtedness. My anger is likely rooted in being deprived of a working model/definition of fatherhood….in real life. My indifference likely rests in the notion that black fatherhood holds a position in my American experience that parallels to the Dalits of the Indian caste system. It seems so dispensable that black culture and black women are convinced that even they can do it. Being raised by mother….perhaps….I believed it to be true (shrugs). My sadness….is cradled in the reality that even if I perceived myself as an extraordinary father….it would feel like a lie. My progress with this challenging role is scathingly tolerable. I’ve been worse off. There’s still work to do.