Fathers and Sons

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I first saw this photograph when rikyrah used it on Jack and Jill Politics and it disoriented me and I didn’t understand why until today.   I could appreciate the beauty of this photograph without being able to connect with the emotions the photo evokes.  The look on this little boy’s face is angelic and blissful.   The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don’t remember my father holding me, embracing me, touching me, or loving me.

My parents divorced over 30 years ago.  To put it succinctly, they were estranged.  My parents were typical high school sweethearts and after graduation, they found themselves expecting a little bundle of unexpected joy.  Married to the sound of a shotgun, their union quickly disintegrated.  The breakup occurred one day after Daddy came home from work and Momma had no food prepared.  It became physical and Daddy told his pregnant bride that she was stupid and that he had fallen out of love with her in the span of their three week-old marriage.  He put her out of the apartment and told her never to come back.

Momma wandered the streets in tears for two days before she swallowed her pride and called her parents.

I have only two memories of my father during my childhood because I only saw him twice.   When I was four, Daddy asked Momma to take him back.  He took us to the state fair and it was the only time that I remember feeling whole, complete, total.   We had a great time and the single photograph of me at the fair was lost in a fire over twenty years ago, but I remember it because I feel the same as the boy in this photo.

My father is the most intelligent man I know and his physical presence makes an impression.   His commanding voice and magnetic gaze are intimidating.   Momma withstood it all, thanked him for a wonderful evening and asked for a divorce.

The last time I saw Daddy was in the grocery store.  I was all dressed up for Easter in a suit that Momma made.  I strutted my stuff.  I couldn’t have been more than five.  It was the last time my parents spoke until I was 19 and I briefly went to live with him.

My grandfather picked me up daily from school until I was old enough to hoof it on my own.   I saw him everyday.  He was there for me providing a gentle and quiet example.  He wasn’t demonstrative though and I don’t recall hugs and kisses being his thing.  I know he loved me and after his death I wore his clothes and used his Old Spice so that I wouldn’t forget his smell.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up with love.  I grew up with unconditional love.  The Father blessed me with a wonderful Momma and grandparents who nurtured and cared for me.   But being surrounded by the children of the white middle class, I felt damaged and incomplete.   Some of that is a function of race and class and some is because of Daddy’s estrangement.  It occurs to me as I write this how much I needed my father’s love and how the absence of his love played into my self esteem and insecurities as a grown ass man.  I am so blessed to have Daddy in my life now.

Barack Obama never got the chance to reconnect with his Daddy the way that I did.  He understands what I’m feeling and he decided that his children would never know what this feels like.  This photo speaks to me because it shows a Black man unafraid to embrace himself and Black men in all of their complexity and love them. Despite the skepticism I am always expressing about Senator Obama, and will invariably express again, I will push it aside and vote for him.

To my brothas who have sons:

embrace them,

hold them,

make them feel safe in your arms and comfortable in your presence,

and love them unconditionally.

 

I love you, Daddy

27 thoughts on “Fathers and Sons

  1. Skep,

    Thanks for the post. My father ditched my mother when she was 15 years old and pregnant with me. I’ve never met him, but always promised that I would never be like him. When my sons are my age, I hope they can reflect upon their growing up years and say that they had good, loving parents.

    As I’ve mentioned before, the Obama family lives a few blocks away from us. Before they were famous, we would see them around the neighborhood quite a bit. We always had our eye on them because Michelle and Barack seemed like such a loving couple and they were obviously doting, loving parents. They are a beautiful example of what all families, and especially black families, can be.

  2. SB, that was deeeep. Thank you. I had an epiphany a few years ago when I realized the only physical contact I remembered from my old man when I was growing up was kicks and punches. We tend to internalize our rage and take it out on people we are close to. I will not let that cycle continue.

  3. rikyrah

    SB,

    You brought me to tears. Tears. I want to thank you for sharing something so deep, because I hope that just one man reads this and decides to connect with his children. I know you were talking about fathers and sons, but daughters need a father’s love too.

    I’m babysitting tonight, and I just look at her and smile. She’s close to saying her first word and it looks like it’s going to be Papa. I have no problem with that. Her father adores her, and considering that my niece grew up with her father (like you, she had a doting and adoring Grandfather wrapped around her little finger), that was very important to her when she chose a husband.

    Thank you once again for putting yourself out there like this.

  4. Before I even read your blog posting, SB, that photo touched me. I know that feeling that I imagine Barack is experiencing, that feeling of completeness that holding a child gives you. It doesn’t have to be your own child, as I don’t have any of my own but have felt it with the students I have taught. It doesn’t have to even be a child related to you, although I experience that feeling when holding my young nephews. It’s just that incredible stirring deep inside you which awakens when a young one reaches out to YOU, grasps onto YOU with those small arms, and puts their complete and utter faith in YOU, knowing that with you there is safety they might not even truly understand. Maybe it’s the simplicity of it all, or perhaps the honesty or unfettered innocence. I’m not really sure. But it does sadden me beyond measure to know that far too often those young beings reach some point where that safety and innocence ends, through no fault of their own, and at far too young an age. Perhaps we can even remember when that point was reached in our own lives.

    I suppose that’s why this photo feels so good to me, that it reminds me of that younger more innocent time which I think we ALL need to be reminded of. We need to stop being so cynical and divided, and realize that at the core we ALL have basic needs and desires. (Okay, I’m realizing this is TOTALLY going off on a tangent ;)) Bottom line is that I guess I’m feeling a bit of a kumbaya moment. It’s as if this photo is some breath of fresh air amidst the utter lunacy and disgust I’m feeling from this political season (and yes, I’m talking about the GOP mostly…lies, lies, lies). Some fresh air I think we’re all in dire need of.

    So thank you, SB, for not only posting this picture (thanks rikyah for starting the ball rolling) and bringing a huge smile to my face because of its impact, but thank you also for sharing with us so openly and honestly something which you could have kept as a private portion of your life. I’m sure your readers feel honored to have been invited in…I do.

  5. Your story makes me realize how blessed I am to have grown up with a strong father figure in the home. That picture signifies exactly how I felt about my father when I was a little boy. My father was my hero. There is no question that a child needs their father in their lives

  6. Laura

    That was the thing that I got from other picture of Obama holding the bow. (I saw the one in which Obama’s face was partially covered by the boy.) Everyone in the photo had a smile except Obama). I felt that for all the people in the picture the saw a young boy being held by the future president. But the expression on Obama’s facial expression did not show that. His expression something deeply personal. In the above photo, it seems that Obama feels very awkward.

    There is something to be said about a child who does not have a same sex parent around. I am a woman and I grew up without my mother and a mothers touch. (My mom ran off because my father was very abusive man. He was abusive to all of his children in various degrees) There is a hole that can never be filled. You walk around incomplete. And you only recognize it when you deal with other woman who grew up with their mother and/or had strong maternal influences in their lives.

    It so funny because I have three daughters and no sons. And the fear I walk with me is not being there for my daughters. I did not have a fear of dying until I had my daughters. I think about trying to stay physically safe all the time. I try to be a good mother, but i know I did not have any good parenting models (my father) nor strong maternal parenting skills (absentee mother). Rather than mothering come natural to me. I have to think about mothering and being a good parent to my daughters.

    In the two photographs I read a sense of deep reflection that has less to do with his campaign and more to do with his personal history.

  7. Cliff

    “I felt that for all the people in the picture the saw a young boy being held by the future president. But the expression on Obama’s facial expression did not show that. His expression something deeply personal. In the above photo, it seems that Obama feels very awkward.”

    Laura, maybe he was feeling a deep sense of Awe.

    He was probably thinking, “AHHH, it feels good holding this little King.”🙂

    I was blessed to have my Mom and my Dad in my life. I loved the fact that I had them in my life, which helped to cause me to stay in school, and emphasize the fact of how if you as a black male do not educate yourself, that you will become a part of those who have to struggle twice as hard to sustain yourself, within society.

    I always “trip out,” when I watch how these young black men, who didn’t have their fathers in their lives, always want to blame the father, but don’t try to hear their side of the story, and try to intentionally blind themselves to what type of system we live in.

    Like when I saw a dude on that BET series, “Baldwin Hills,” and he was like, in my own recollection of his words, “I don’t see why my Dad left me, because I would do anything I could to stay a part of my daughter’s life. I really don’t know if I could forgive him.”

    It’s amazing how no one ever tries to discuss the hardships of society that causes separation within families.

    Like, some Brothas may think that the Child Support system is thinking like this;

    Child Support: You have to pay me to see your child, Biiiiyactch, give me my chips, I own you boy.

    Most Brothas do not have the financial means to deal with Child Support, Superior Court, and Family Law.

    A 3-HEADED BEAST.

    Then the Child’s Mom also becomes an obstacle course, as well.

    Baby Momma: (Rockin’ her head from side to side, and saying in so many words) “Ni__a, if you ain’t gonna be with me, you aint’ gonna see sh_t.”

    Now, we have balance set up, HMMMMM…

    Trying to force myself and getting ignorant and going to Jail,

    OR

    Getting the system involved, now I have a dilemma. I don’t have the money, but I have the necessary patience to wait to build it up, so I could be a part of my child’s life. Now I have to pay Massa’ over half my income, just so I could do what I’m supposed to do.

    Okay, enough about my life story, there is a lot of Brothas, going through the same thing, and even worse.

    Then the Black Community always tries to play dumb, like they don’t know what’s happening.

    “I DON’T KNOW HOW IGNORANT SISTAH’S CAN BE.”

    “I DON’T KNOW HOW THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM SEPERATES FAMILIES.”

    “I DON’T KNOW HOW SUPERIOR COURT CAN INDEBT BROTHAS, 10,20,30,40,50 G’S, AND SNATCH DRIVERS LICENSES, BANK ACCOUNTS, HOUSES, CARS, HOUSES AND PASSPORTS.”

    “I DIDN’T, KNOW, I SWEAR!!”

    “I DON’T KNOW HOW MOST BLACK MEN, FOR THE MOST PART ARE UNEMPLOYED, AND DO NOT HAVE THE FINACIAL MEANS TO GO TO SUPERIOR COURT WITH FAMILY LAW ATTONEYS TO EXECUTE PROPER JUDGMENTS.”

    Ohhhhh, you really didn’t know, well do some research.

    I think we’ve already see a time where we have to stop playing like we’re dumb, and don’t know the full ramifications of what type of system we’re dealing with.

    “CHANGE WE NEED”
    🙂

  8. Thanks for making me cry.

    I lost my father last spring, and I’m still reeling.

    Barack is a very affectionate man. He loves touching people, children and adults. But it’s clear that his embrace is full of warmth and love because in every photo of him with a child in his arms, the child is always full of bliss.

    Beautiful post.

  9. Chesapeake

    SB, this is an important entry with a picture that illustrates a thousand words and several emotions. I hope that everyone who reads this piece will participate in making it electonically viral.

    As someone whose dad is there every step (I work for and report to him, now), who has two boys, and a wife who never met her father, I learn more and more how critical it is for men to be faithful in personal, corporate, and spiritual relationships – that we be faithful to the people in our lives and that we demonstrate love for them by, for one, not leaving them.

    Accordingly, this is why I have a deep appreciation for you giving credit to the Father who blessed you (and all children, with or without daddies) in many ways. After all, He offers and keeps the ultimate covenant of faithfulness to all His children (Heb. 13:5-6).

  10. laprofesora81

    This has to be the most beautiful picture I have seen to date. The fact that I think it’s beautiful has nothing to do with Barack Obama being in the picture but rather a black man holding and hugging a little black boy. Too many times in our culture I have seen black fathers practice tough love on their black sons in hopes of them one day becoming a “man”. I’m all for disciplining children, steering them in the right direction, and guiding them away from negativity. However, what this tough love lacks is emotion, an embrace that says, “I love you”. It lacks a pat on the back that says, “Good job son” or a warm smile or “Tell me about your day…how was school today?” Has the black father not realized the effect that this will have on his black son in the future? Where the hell is the love? We as a people have already seen what the lack of black fathers has done to the black man.

    I have already witnessed first hand what happens to little black boys when this so called “tough love” or what I call “emotional stunting” is administered. My 14 year old cousin’s father is ignorant….and I’m being really kind by using that word. I have never in my life seen his father be affectionate towards him in any way. I have never recalled a time when his father took him out and had father son time or cared about what his feelings were towards current events or anything that was happening around them. What his father created was a young man with built up animosity who is afraid of his father and afraid to be himself around him. When my cousin comes to my home he’s all smiles jokes and giggles. He talks non-stop. And when it’s just him and my mom hanging out he opens up even more. They have these “I miss Grandma” sessions in the car where they talk about how wonderful a person my Grandmother is and they both bust out crying. When he goes home he goes straight to his room, closes his bedroom door and plays video games. His weekends consist of riding around with his father fixing old cars because supposedly those are things that he needs to learn how to do as a man….whatever!!!

    There is an old episode of Girlfriend’s when William’s dad comes to visit. William’s father is the prime example of an “emotional stunter”. In the episode William’s father never has anything kind to say to him and criticizes everything he has ever done. At the end of the episode William finally breaks and at the brink of tears tells his father that he always made him feel like he was never good enough. Every A paper he ever brought home his father never said good job or when he won awards his father dismissed it. His mother on the other hand was an emotional nurturer and gave William what his father lacked. The only thing William’s father could muster up to say was that William was a mama’s boy.

    This is the last thing I’m going to say and then I’m finished. My uncle has 3 sons and 1 daughter. Two of his sons have spent the majority of their lives incarcerated for selling drugs or taking the rap for other people. Last year while returning from visiting my oldest uncle at the rest home my uncle broke down crying in the car saying that he failed his sons and he was the reason they were always in trouble. I was completely shocked by actually witnessing my uncle crying but equally shocked that he blamed himself. Despite my uncle’s shortcomings his children never lacked for anything. What I always admired about my Uncle was how openly affectionate he was with everyone especially his sons and how unafraid he was to show his emotions. And let me tell you my Uncle is no punk! There have been plenty of times where I have seen him tell his sons how much he loved them and he would grab them in a tight embrace and kiss them on the cheek. His sons are thug life for real for real. But I would sit there in awe as they would full out hug their dad back. My uncle’s sons never had to wonder if their father loved them because he not only showed it but he voiced it as well.

    Black fathers really need to stop and think about what they are doing to their sons. This lack of emotion eventually plays out in every aspect of their lives and continues with each generation. It is definitely the demise of many black man/black woman relationships.

  11. Growing up without a father, and being one of the lucky five out of 75 “homeboys” I grew up with, and who made it out of the hood, it scares me to think about how difficult it must be for a child to grow up and get out these days . . .

    That’s why the need for all of us to come together in unity to uplift today’s youth, and to alter the course of our people and future, is painfully obvious . . .

    I believe that first it’s critical we reconnect our children and teens with the pride and power of RBG . . .

    They need to know the blood and sweat of our ancestors, and how much we had to survive . . .

    They need to know of the leaders who lived and died to make us a better people . . .

    They need to know we were kings and queens, great hunters, warriors and pyramid builders in another land, The Mother Land . . .

    Where we come from and what we’ve had to overcome . . .

    And once our children are proud of who and what they are, they become stronger in self-identity, self-esteem and self-confidence . . .

    But, even in this powerful pride, today’s youth need to be uplifted in “purpose” with productive and positive activities to help them fly high above the negative effects of society, media and environments that are shooting them down every day.

    That’s why UniTee Design funds and develops youth enrichment programs that engage children and teens based on their passions and interests (typically music, sports, video games or making money) to build more focused critical thinkers and well-rounded academic achievers.

    By providing our youth realistic options and opportunities, rather than unrealistic, unattainable goals, we can help them to soar in pride, power and purpose.

    Let’s continue to encourage others to actively participate in uplifting the quality of life and learning for our children.

    And, together, we will show the world how beautiful, smart and special they really are.

    R. Lee Gordon
    President / Co-Director
    UniTee Design, Inc. / The Better Detroit Youth Movement
    http://www.uniteedesign.com / http://www.betterdetroityouth.org
    rgordon@uniteedesign.com / rgordon@betterdetroityouth.org
    Toll Free: 888.OUR.RBG.TEES / Phone: 313.516.8384 / Fax: 313.342.6324

  12. JH

    I sometimes read your blog but I have never posted a comment. I have watched what I perceive to be an emotional roller coaster for you since I have never had any skepticism about Obama but in a way you have guided me through thoughts of those who might. I have always felt that Barack’s chances of winning were increased because of what you have called his ‘accomodation’. In my opinion he gets it, the importance of this race, what he brings to the table, who he is (both as a person and what he represents to other people visually) but in order to be in a position to make the difference he has to get there. He has to show leadership and to be a leader he has to be a good leader to all not just to some at this level especially. You will never get any person white or black that will agree with you on all the issues that bother you about Obama. But to me he gets it and he understands what even something so simple as the effect of his image in the white house and that of his family could do for the perceptions of people in this country and children’s minds and all that. And I’ll take that. And here in this picture some of it is captured – fatherhood.

  13. Mstate

    Skep-
    The picture of Barack and the little boy brought tears to my eyes as did your story of fathers and sons. I forwarded it on to 2 friends of mine, one of whom is an Episcopal priest in NJ. She, in turn, posted the picture on her blog along with a link to your blog and essay:

    My own father was a distant, cold man. Even though he died almost 40 years ago, I know how his behavior affected my brother and me, and what we had to do to overcome being like him. (We are both in our 60’s.) As I’ve learned my father’s family history, I think I know why he was the way he was.
    Thank you for the beautiful essay, and the previous one on why you are pro-choice. Thank you, Rikyrah for finding the the wonderful picture. (I also love the expression of joy on the face of the other man in the picture, who is taking Barak’s photo.)

  14. Mstate

    P.S.
    I’m not certain how to make another person’s blog address show up in my postings. I listed one in my previous posting but it did not appear when the post came up, so I’ll try it this way.
    My friend is the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton and her blog is called Telling Secrets. If you Google that, you can get the blog address.

  15. Your post was very touching. I wish all brothers that were raised without fathers could simply release and express the truth of the longing and loneliness that comes with fatherlessness.

    I cried when I first saw that pic of Barack; because in spite of the hell fight that is this political race; he still manages to connect with his humility and humanity.

  16. rikyrah,

    Thanks for posting that for Mstate. And thank you for you for your beautiful compliment. I didn’t plan on writing or saying any of that. It just came out in one cathartic rush. I am overwhelmed by the response.

  17. David@Montreal

    Thank-you, Thank-you, Thank-you
    not only for the incredible pic and your powerfully human personal witness, but for the rich exchange of caring comments you’ve made possible.

    So much suffering in the world, it’s a great gift to be reminded of the grace we humans are capable of when we are to care.

    Thank-you again

  18. Sharing your story is the first step to moving ahead. Someone mentioned that women need their fathers too. I would agree with that. My father was not a part of my life. I have limited details on the reasons why. I saw Black men as a cold and unfeeling selfish group. I had few images or experiences to persuade me otherwise. Many would have called me a man hater. It wasn’t until I reconnected with my the wonderful man who is now my husband I began to understand more about black men. Stories like yours need to be told.

    I’m sure there are many more stories that need to be told. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  19. Cali Scribe

    Thanks for this — it got linked to over at Daily Kos.

    Our situations are totally different — I’m a white, middle aged, middle class married lady, yet I can relate to a lot of your sense of damage and incompleteness because I lost my father when I was only 11 (he died of a massive heart attack). I even sometimes feel resentful of my oldest sister because she’s the only one of the three girls who got to have Dad take her down the aisle — don’t get me wrong, I had my godfather do the honors for me and I was very proud that he did so especially since he had four boys and thus had no daughters for whom he could perform that duty, but I can be a spoiled brat sometimes too. And I was far closer to my dad in the brief time I had him than I ever was to my mother — so I think a lot of my relationships with men have been affected by that sense of missing something. I know that I have an extreme fear of abandonment from that loss — I get really ticked off at my husband when he’s late coming home from errands and such, and tend to overly worry when he goes out late at night to pick up something at the grocery store or when he has a craving for a fast-food milkshake. Just something I have to deal with…

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