This weekend was my 6th official Father’s Day as a father and this last year of fatherhood has been particularly interesting. That’s because I’ve noticed significant leaps in my son’s social development particularly in the areas of expressing explicit interest in a broader range of items and activities, he’s never shown interest in (or had much knowledge of) before.
It started with asking for flaming hot Cheetos (which neither his mom nor I eat). Then, it’s wanting to hear songs or watch shows we don’t usually play for him or his sister (they were age appropriate, of course). Now, he wants to play every sport he can (in spite of my failed previous efforts when he was much smaller).
Fortunately, his mom and I have healthy communication with both kids so after a little innocent prodding we found out that a lot of these interests were inspired by many of his male peers. That is with these peers being influenced by older peer mentor figures (i.e camp counselor) and so on and so forth.
Basically, CJ is entering what some might call being “one of the guys” and I love it.
He comes home and wants to show me a handshake, we throw the ball around in the backyard, practice his dribbling and passing, we even do push ups together in the morning. I’m so grateful for having front row seats to witness my son explore his identity as a young boy and where that exploration leads him to define himself as an adult. As well as, what his own reflections will be once he reaches adulthood.
See, when I look at my parenting, there are many ideas and identities of being “a man” or of “manhood” that I incorporate into being the best dad I can be. It is in these things that the weight of the men who influenced my upbringing, can be felt.
Now, my situation was a little different from my son’s.
My father left when I was a toddler and would proceed to spend the rest of my life not in the picture. He was alive, not incarcerated and of able mind and body. He was simply disinterested and absent. My mother remarried while I was young and my stepfather was very disinterested and absent as well. He eventually left too. So in my formative years, a father, in a traditional sense, wasn’t really there.
However, I was very fortunate to have had great men, positive men, play an active role in molding me. For time’s sake I want to narrow the focus on the two “foundational” figures of my late uncle and my older brother.
My uncle and I were both named after my paternal grandfather (my father’s father), when my uncle moved to the east coast from Chicago, he made it part of his personal mission to step in and help occupy the space left by my father. As a man of 6’ 2” plus, I remember meeting him as a little boy and thinking he was a giant. He had a deep booming voice with a sincere smile. A professional and intellectual who oozed confidence, class and sophistication. My older brother was, well…..my older brother. A history junkie and lover of all things “fun fact”. He was the family comedian, encyclopedia, sports analyst and because of financial struggles in the household, a breadwinner.
I’ve had tons of friends, classmates, teammates, coaches, educators and more. Each inspired me to something, taught me something or were a catalyst to challenge parts of myself. But those two men truly impacted and shaped my interactions with the world and guided me in building my personal base in doing so.
I now fast forward to being a father of a black boy and I am aware of how much of my son’s behavior is influenced by me being me and being in his life. I am also aware that as he gets older his behavior is influenced by the behaviors of the other boys and the men around him, being them and being around him.
So as I reflect of my 6th Father’s Day, I implore all of us (fathers or not) to reflect on the relationship we have with the young men in our obits. I implore us to think, seriously, not just about what they hear FROM us but what they see OF us. And if we find things we can improve, let’s humbly and shamelessly address and improve.
Who knows? You could be the face that comes to the mind of some man on his 6th Father’s Day.