I often think about how I’m on the receiving end of awkward dad comments.
“Love to see black men in their kids’ lives!”
“He’s so well behaved!”
“Awe that’s beautiful!”
“You go, Dad!”
It is nice and it is maddening, mostly maddening. I’m mad. I’m sure people think it is a polite gesture, a compliment even. It's not, it is demeaning and it lowers the standard for Black fathers. It sullies the work that I put in as a dad but especially as a Black dad. Highlighting the fact that I am a Black man in public with his child is a microaggression, depending on what you say it's flat out racist. I know yall not saying this to white dads. I work hard to provide for my son. I am talking about my presence. I am talking about the tenderness that both complements and contrasts the tenderness that Leah gives him. We hear about a mother’s love, there is also a father’s love and I make sure he receives it day in and day out. I have high standards for myself and I will not allow it to be diminished by half-ass compliments that are fueled by racist stereotypes.
I imagine witnessing these comments could make a Black mother feel disrespected. People give Black dads the star treatment for simply walking with their child in a store, meanwhile, Black mothers get little praise when they bust their ass doing the same work, if not more than some Black dads. Black mothers deserve genuine praise. Parenting isn't easy whether it is a two-parent household, single-parent household, or a co-parenting system.
It is interesting to me that not only white people come with these comments (No offense to my white friends and allies, this is not directed toward you). Matter of fact, they mostly comment on Dom’s behavior as if they are surprised that he isn't falling out inside of stores or kicking and screaming. The main culprits are my fellow Black folks, mostly the older ones. I’m sure they mean well, at least that's what I tell myself. Regardless, they shower Black dads with this abundance of support and love for the least amount of effort. Somebody help me understand it. I get it from other young dads too, they try to pull you aside to tell you how good it is to you with your child. Sir, do you truly feel we are that rare? This is not Animal Planet and you are not Steve Irwin, you will not observe me minding my business then invade my space to talk about things I am aware of. Just say hi and ask to go out for a socially distanced beer, hopefully, LSU is playing that Saturday.
I have this unyielding idea that I should not just be in Dom’s life but invested in it, dedicated to it, and immersed in it. If Dom is learning sign language, I'm learning it too, and I'm practicing with him. If I am learning how to handle my emotions, I'm teaching Dom too, and if my wife and I are building a strong foundation, we will teach Dom how to use the same tools so he can continue to build on that foundation long after we are gone. I am not comparing beliefs to any other parent’s, this is how I carry myself.
I am saying all this to say, don’t comment on my presence in Dom’s life.
Much of growing up consists of unlearning things I’ve picked up along the way to adulthood. My defense mechanisms, my ideas of friendships/relationships, and my perspective that once shaped my youth and aided me in surviving my upbringing are now obsolete and probably toxic. Even though some of these things were my sword and shield at the time, they were place holders because I could not process the situations, and I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to speak on my real feelings. I need to unpack a few things.
Truthfully, I am still learning some of my toxic traits, and I’m not unpacking all of them here, just know I'm a work in progress. One of my more toxic traits was utilizing absence as a means to punish or gain control, in other words, my fallback game was on point. If I felt like a situation was not going in my favor or I am becoming irritated, I would simply disconnect from it. I could sever ties from anything, friends, family, I’ve even cut off responsibilities (that only hurt me in the grand scheme, but nobody said it had to make sense). I could disappear without a word and I wouldn’t give any timetable on my return. Sometimes it was easier to disappear than to talk things through.
I’ve been unlearning everything I thought I knew about relationships, both platonic and romantic. I struggled to keep friends that are women because I never learned how to be a friend. I had to learn to view romance as a living thing. It should be nurtured for it to flourish. I struggled to maintain female and male friendships in general because I wouldn't allow myself to get close to them or vice versa, because I learned early on that you make friends, then you move to a different city or state. I grew up starting over every few years, so it was always easier for me to keep things shallow, so if I ever left, it wouldn't hurt me as much. That was a product of being a military brat. I missed out on a lot of situations that strengthen bonds and build loyalty. I learned the most when I had to go through real trials with the people I love the most.
I remember having this idea of success that was so simplistic that it was a fantasy. If you work hard, it'll work out. That’s it, that's the whole tweet. I quickly learned that sometimes… shit just doesn't work out! But what do you do when shit hits the fan? Nobody taught me that, I had very little resilience. Failure would break me down, and leave me in pieces. I had to unlearn that primitive idea of success and understand that there will be failed attempts, there will be some rerouting, and there will be some scrapped projects.
Unlearning is one of the most important things I learned as an adult. Sometimes I feel healed when I realize how much of the old me I have let go. Have you reflected on some of the things you have to unlearn? If you feel comfortable, let's talk about it.
Today is 8/24, Mamba Day. Yesterday was his birthday. It is still somewhat hard to believe that he isn't here. I still cry from time to time when I think about his untimely passing. I avoid IG and twitter videos showcasing the kind of man, the kind of father, and the kind of player he was. Don't even get me started on videos of him and Gigi. Kobe meant a lot to many people, especially basketball players, but I cant hoop to save my life. I'm merely a fan of the sport and Kobe. He was one of my favorite players. Through his actions on and off the court, I learned a lot of things from Kobe. Here are a few.
Work friends can be fun, they can be a shoulder to lean on, and they can be a great partner to ride with on the rollercoaster that is employment. But it’s something about leaving a job that makes people switch sides like Tommy from Power Rangers. Once friends are now enemies, some just turn into Casper the “friendly” Ghost.