Friday, June 19, 2009

What Does Father's Day Mean To You?!? (Revisited)

[Editor's Note: Yeah, I ran this one last year. Guess what? I'm runnin' it again.]

Yesterday I was unpacking my new lawn mower and getting ready to cut my grass for the first time since firing the lawn service I'd been paying $35/week to completely ruin my grass. Despite being an engineer and relatively handy, something about having to assemble and potentially repair a piece of mechanical equipment generally bugs me out. But all goes well. I fill the mower with gas, let go of the choke, and it cranks right up. So I'm mowing and mowing away for a solid 5 minutes, and suddenly the brand-new lawnmower just sputters and shuts off.

And my internal voice says "Aww crap!"

I pace around the yard, puzzled, for a few minutes. I don't know the first thing about the mechanics of a lawnmower. Sure, I used to cut the grass every other week (rotating duties with my brothers) growing up, but when the mower occasionally stopped working, I was never the one to fix it. So, I'm stumped.

I contemplate calling my brother, or walking over to bug one of my neighbors, until common sense finally kicks in.

Read the manual, dummy.

Item #5 in the Troubleshooting Guide is check the spark plug, and sure enough, I check it and it's not in it's housing. I reconnect it, the mower cranks right back up, and I finish the lawn.

I know some of you are wondering what in the world this has to do with Father's Day.


The lawnmower was obviously a simple fix. But what happens when life's problems don't come with solutions so easily found in a list of bullet points? Then what?

There's no owner's guide on how to deal with adversity and keep things in perspective. No book to tell you how to remain humble and grounded in a world that seldom rewards either. How to stick to the commitments you make. How to treat women as your equal. How respect is earned, not given. No manual on how to keep your emotions in check and not let them overpower logic, resulting in bad, life-altering decisions. That there are no shortcuts in life, just hard, and smart work. No tome written to teach a boy how to become a young man in the most crucial aspects (integrity, responsibility, selflessness) of adulthood.

That's where Dads come in.

My father was like most others of his generation: a disciplinarian and provider first, all other things second. He brought home the bacon, and made sure we understood just how hard he had to work for it. He kept his three sons in school and on the straight and narrow. He respected his wife as his loving equal, and they provided a safe and nurturing home for us.

The funny thing is, few of the lessons I mentioned above were actually explained as such. Although I'm a firm believer in "teachable moments", and use them with my own kids (ie: my basketball team, mentee, and my own sons once they get old enough) I think my brothers and I learned a lot from our Dad through Negro Osmosis. Namely by just watching what he did, and following his lead.

Growing up in a very working-class neighborhood full of two parent black households, I really didn't understand the depth of this whole "epidemic in black fatherhood" until I was in college. And since most of my friends today are more or less at the same point in life as me, I can't even truly say I completely comprehend the longterm effects of boys (and girls for that matter) who grow up without the constant presence and guidance of the man responsible for bringing them here. I can certainly empathize, which is why I put so much time and effort into mentoring and tutoring, but I cannot fully relate. I just can't.

And words cannot explain just how thankful I am to God and both of my parents for this.

As I got older, I began wanting more from the relationship I had with my Dad. I knew him my entire life as a Father, but never so much as just a Man. Unlocking that door was naturally part of figuring out my 20-something self as well. I didn't really understand his fears, what made him tick, what made him well... him. Since his job of rearing us was mostly complete, we began spending time together as just buddies. Watching ACC basketball. Showing him how to use Napster. Shooting the breeze about my impending marriage. Fly fishing. It was never quite Theo and Cliff, but it was getting there.

When my Dad passed unexpectedly a few years ago, it was devastating. There were so many conversations yet to be had. So many questions that would forever go unanswered. Kids who wouldn't have a Grandaddy. But over time, my appreciation for what he and my Mom (who is thankfully still with us) did in staying married over 30 years and raising me and my brothers with purpose has grown exponentially. Now, with two growing boys of my own, I see more and more of my Dad everyday. They've got the same-shaped head. They're opinionated. They're funny. They even look like my Pops when they cry. It's a gift that keeps on giving.

I guess that's why all the incessant Daddy-bashing that goes on in the Black community always ticks me off a bit. Sure, you can toss out that tired 70% of all kids being born out of wedlock stat, but does that really tell you everything? Of course not. Just because those Dads aren't married doesn't mean they aren't engaged, loving, nurturing, and providing for their kids. And while the fact that %51 of all black households are headed by Black women is indeed distressing, it does also mean that the nearly other half of them actually do have a Dad present. Again, it's not perfect, but do you see the glass as half full or half empty? It's all about perspective.

I won't pretend that Black men don't have our issues. We do. But the legions of black men I see with their kids when I go to the park, or coach basketball, or visit my mentee's school, or go to church aren't all deadbeats. I don't have any empirical evidence, but I'd say an overwhelming majority of all Black men are good fathers. It's just the sorry assed Negroes that give the rest of us a bad name. You can disagree with this point if you'd like, but it's what I truly believe.

There's really no point to all this rambling, other than to say, if you've got a Father, be appreciative. Screw a comment, pick up the phone right now and tell the Old Man you love him, just on GP, like I wish I could.

If yours is still alive but you don't have a relationship, assuming you're emotionally capable, seek to build one. If you never knew your Dad, honor the men (Uncles, Grandpas, Big Brothers, Mentors, Coaches) in your life this Sunday with something more than a bottle of Old Spice and The Big Piece Of Chicken.

Tell these men you love them, and why.

Question: Without getting too personal, did/do you have a good relationship with your Dad? Sobering statistics aside, what do you think about the state of Black fatherhood in America? Do you think numbers tell the whole story?

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