Father’s Day

I’ll just say it, Father’s Day is a bit complicated for me.

I can’t take sole ownership of that feeling, millions of people have experienced the same emotion, I’m sure. It’s a day that I love, as a father, more than my birthday. I get to be Daddy to the sweetest, most thoughtful little girl in the world. My daughter Jade is so much more than I ever imagined and in a few months, I get to meet another little girl who I get to share bloodlines with.

It’s a day that I can reflect on and be appreciative of my dad who raised me. Truly, my dad is a great man who helps everyone.

It’s also a day that I dread. There’s a part of me that dreads Father’s Day because it reminds me of the longing I have for the father I never met.

Here’s my story.

Being adopted by a white family when I was an infant, I was keenly aware of my “blackness” quite early on in my life. My parents incredibly made me feel like “one of theirs” so naturally. They were great at helping me learn my heritage the best they could while introducing me to famous African-Americans in history and genuinely teaching me what love and sacrifice really mean.

It doesn’t mean that being adopted was easy.

I grew up thinking I was “another statistic”, another black kid whose father had wanted nothing to do with me. That was the narrative told to my parents and why wouldn’t that be the truth?

The reality is, my father, nicknamed Tadpole, never knew that my biological mother had been pregnant. When he died, in a car accident on a North Carolina country road in 1999, he passed with the knowledge that I existed but without ever being introduced to his son.

I found out about his death five years later. It took some processing, of course, considering I had spent years hating the man I thought abandoned me. Months after I learned of his death, I stumbled upon his obituary online. That was when reality hit me like a load of bricks. It was the true moment when everything I had ever thought about my father came crashing down. I think the most difficult part of reading his obituary was reading about his sons, but my name was nowhere to be found. My name was missing. Of course it was. I simultaneously learned I had brothers I had never met while feeling the loss of my father as if it had just happened.

Suddenly, he wasn’t the antagonist I had always believed. No longer was he the villain my mind had created. He was my father, I was his son and the sudden realization that we’d never get to experience that relationship together was too heavy to bear.

It’s safe to say that I went through a bit of an identity crisis following that moment. I eventually met my brothers. I met my father’s wife, my step-mom Ernestine, who has taught me as much about love and compassion as any woman could. In the moment, it was all so surreal. I watched videotapes my father had made – he was big into recording the moments that mattered most – and I developed memories of him as if I was right there with him.

I learned that he was a family man, deeply devoted to those he loved and everyone, and I mean everyone, loved Tadpole. When I visit North Carolina, where he lived and died, the common phrase his friends tell me is how much they miss him. For me, I missed him.

I mourned him, yet felt guilty about it. Who was I to claim emotions for a man I never met and didn’t know? I didn’t want to take the grief my brothers had felt and pretend I knew what they were experiencing. My grief was different. I hadn’t been there when our father died, which led to more grief and guilt. It was a vicious cycle.

I’d visit his gravesite and I’d sit in that moment with him. I’d talk to him, cry or angrily demand to know why he had to leave all of us. It really wasn’t fair. Wasn’t then and it still isn’t now.

As time has passed, the mourning never ends, but I’ve learned how to cope with it all better. Or at least, I believe I have. I’ve become a father myself and have understood the importance of never taking anything for granted. I find myself gazing into my daughter’s brown eyes, searching, not for glimpses of myself, but hoping maybe I can catch maybe even a twinkle of her grandfather in her deep, thoughtful and always curious eyes.

Father’s Day is a day I love. I’m honored to be a dad and honestly, I can’t believe I get to hear Jade call me daddy. I’ve also learned to cherish this complicated day. I can’t really cherish the memory of a man I never met, since I don’t have anything other than artificial memories of him. What I do get to do is honor two men – both who are my fathers, one who raised me and has provided numerous examples of how to be a good man and a great dad, and one who devoted his life to be there for his family. I couldn’t ask for a better gift on Father’s Day than to have not one, but two great men to look up to. It’s complicated, but outside of Tadpole still being with us today, I wouldn’t wish for anything else.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

#girldad

i’m a #girldad. i’m more than cool with it. not every guy gets to have a babygirl and i cherish every moment i get with her.

i even cherish those kicking and screaming moments. those moments when asking her whether she wants to eat crackers or puffs results in complete meltdowns. i guess i’m already supposed to read her mind. she’s probably wondering why she always has to make the decisions. i can just imagine her thinking “you’re the adult, you figure it out!”

i’m good with those moments because those good times are the best times. when she says “daddy!” and i still have to pinch myself because i’m the one she’s calling for, damn it’s crazy that i get to be her daddy forever.

i love cuddling with her and watching her shows, no matter how many times we watch moana or sesame street. i can watch cookie monster learn he better “stop and think it through” a million times if it makes her smile every time.

in 2018 though, there is a lot to make a #girldad uneasy. i’ve been reading and watching the accounts of the gymnasts and patients treated by the despicable larry nasser¬†and it’s hard to imagine the horror these young women are experiencing while reliving their torment. i just cannot imagine being a father to one of these girls and not wanting to tear off that guy’s head. heaven help me.

we have a president who has bragged about sexual assault and then brushed it off as “locker room talk” as if simply joking about grabbing women by their vagina without consent is funny and acceptable, as if forcing his cold duck lips on women is just material for a funny story later. what’s worse is that while senators and congressmen and actors and directors and other public faces have been ousted in shame, this man was elected to the highest office in the land with no recourse. what are we thinking?

as a #girldad, i want my daughter to know her voice is strong and powerful. when she speaks, i want people to turn and say, “whoa, who is that!?” i want her to be independent and tamed by no one. i want her to shatter ceilings. when she says no, brother, you better stop and think it through. it starts with me, when i ask her for a hug or a kiss and she says no and runs her little toddler strut the other way, it’s all good. because she said no and even at 18 months, no means no. no question.

when my little girl is searching for her first career job, is it too much to ask for her to get equal pay to do the same job as a man? i bet she’ll do it better than anyone else anyway. tell this #girldad why she isn’t worth equality.

listen, i know the world doesn’t operate in utopia, but utopia isn’t what i’m after. yes, i’m biased. i think my daughter is the best at everything and i see no reason to think differently. i just think we can all do better. as men, we can be better examples of what real men look like.

i’m not dreading those trips to american girl if that’s what she’s into. i’ll run to sign her up if she wants to learn karate, pretty sure she’ll be fierce and you won’t want to mess with her. when she gets her heart broken, i’ll force myself to keep quiet about whoever hurt her. i hope.

she’ll always be daddy’s little girl.

let’s just create a better future.