As I begin this journey as a father, I sit and reflect on what it means to be a father.
I guess I could start by reflecting on all the lessons I’ve learned about how to be a father, from what I learned about knowing my own. My father has been dead now for over 15 years now, but I can literally say that every day I use something that I’ve learned from him, such as:
I learned to be honest with people.
My father was a hustler. He sold fake jewelry to tourists. He took small businesses to court for bullshit lawsuits that he knew he’d win for a quick few thousand bucks.
He told me he’d “be right back”, as he left me in the car to keep myself occupied anywhere up to an hour, with not even keys in the car to keep the radio on.
He picked me up three days late as he left me to stay with his cousins, while he had guns and knives pulled on him, as well as spending time in jail awaiting bail. All while playing it “cool” in front of me as he picked me up as if nothing happened.
I learned respect and how to be polite.
My father was old school south. And I mean children-are-to-be-seen-not-heard kinda old school south. I didn’t mind so much because when I was with him, I did have a lot of cousins and friends to hang out with, but when I walked into a room and interrupted the grown-ups talking and got that look… that boy-you’re-over-stepping-grown-folks-boundaries look, I knew immediately I needed to correct myself. Please, Thank you, Yes Sir, No Ma’am… these are all etched into my mind and are second nature to me now. Why? Well, lose some of that southern hospitality, and get a literal foot in your ass. Dare to say “no” to a grown-up… get the switch. Know your place as a child in my father’s home, and you’ll make it A-OK.
I learned how to be a family.
My mother and father never married. They were together for at least 4 years, because that was the age in which my mom and I left my father, but even after the split, I learned that he never really respected her enough to want her back. If they had been married, spousal abuse would’ve been the weekend family activity, as he was exceptionally good at it, and liked to show me how to do it well–often. I’m not sure if I ever saw my parents kiss or hug, I don’t know if they ever said “I love you” or even asked each other what they wanted for dinner… but I do remember they loved to wrestle on the floor, sometimes drawing blood.
Christmas was awesome though. Nothing like trying to keep a child happy in an abusive home… I mean I got some pretty big presents.
I learned how to be a man.
“Stop Crying, I’ll give you something to cry about,” is one of my all time favorite sayings. Seriously think about it, it’s genius. “Stop crying,” suggests that I’m already crying. Then the awesome follow up of “I’ll give you something to cry about,” suggests that he hadn’t already given me something to cry about in the first place.
“Rub some dirt on it,” “Stop being a sissy,” “you’re just like your god damned mammy…” these are common phrases I heard often. But obviously I needed to, right?…. I mean, as an 8-year old who was primarily raised by my single mother, I may have picked up too many personal traits from her and I think it made me sissified.
There was even this famous time where I got in a fight with a kid once for [me] being half-white, and in the band, and instead of sitting me down to talk about how I need to stand up for myself, he drove around to find that kid and forced me to show him the wrath of the beat-up saxophone man. Seriously… he drove around, found the kid, stopped the car, got out and held the kid from behind and screamed at me to hit him. I cried… to which he promised once again to give me something to cry about after I got my sissy ass back in the car.
I learned how to respect women.
Besides the whole “wife” beater aspect of my father, may I also say he was a pretty good womanizer. The best even. Here are some of my favorite lines of his:
Excuse me miss, Do you have a Mr. Lucky? Any chance that a gentlemen like myself can get to know you better?”
Oh, hi… sorry to bother you, but I was supposed to meet my blind date here and she told me she’d be wearing (this is where he’d described what the lady in front of him was wearing),” ” Oh no, not you? Well since we’re talking, do you have a Mr. Lucky?”….. (see how that one works??)
And my personal favorite… (When asked if I was his son he’d reply) “The only one anyone ever told me about…”
The strange thing is that this worked for him. Women fell for this. Women loved my father, and my father loved women. So much so he had a literal black book. Other guys would boast about how my dad was the “mack daddy” and would even go as far to call him a literal pimp. If that is true, I have no idea… but I do know that there were many women of his willing to watch me for the night, so he could go on “dates” with other women I’m sure. He’d call them all beautiful names like “bitch,” “hoe,” “slut,” and even managed to continuously be given gifts of money and jewelry as tokens of their love to him.
I learned grooming standards and about personal appearance.
This is one thing that I actually am not being facetious about. One reason the ladies loved my father was that he was a sharp dresser. The man was always in a suit… or some type of fancy linen shirt and shorts. For each of his suits, the man had 14 colors of shoes, or as us “people of color” like to joke… his collection of “Now n’ Later Gators.” He taught me how to iron, how to keep a fresh haircut. He taught me how to shine my shoes, and use a shoe horn. He taught me how to tie a tie, and wear cufflinks. He taught me that nobody likes a filthy car, or nose hair. He took me to get manicures, and made sure I wore clean clothes. He reminded me to stand up straight, and don’t slouch.
These are probably the only literal positive things I’ll pull from my father.
As you can tell, my father wasn’t a model citizen. He was my father, and from what I think I know, he loved me. But unlike other children in situations like the ones I found myself around, I knew as a child that my father was not the man in my life I wanted to emulate. I never thought of him as my hero. I never looked up to him.
On the contrary, I despised him often. I respected him, and I enjoyed our time together, but there was much more time apart that I was able to be mad about wondering where he was and when he was coming to get me. I vaguely remember telling him once that I didn’t want to be like him, and I can only hope that deep down inside of him, he hated himself so much more and wished the same.
So on this Father’s day, as I am a new father of my beautiful baby boy, I want to take this moment to thank my father. I thank him for inadvertently teaching me all the lessons he taught me by never changing his ways for me. I thank him for teaching me that breaking people’s trust by being dishonest will not only burn bridges, but will cast a shadow of deceit behind you as an unwanted reputation you can’t get rid of. I thank him for teaching me to never call a woman a bitch or raise my hands to my wife, the mother of my child, and to glorify her and respect her. I thank him for teaching me family values–that it’s important to be a presence in the home and not just a title that comes out of my son’s mouth when he want’s to know where I am. I thank him for pushing me to be respectful to my elders, as I will teach my son–just in a different type of way… hopefully. I thank him for teaching me to stand up straight and dress nice, because as I look around I see that I stand out naturally from my peers who as 30+ year old men still don’t know what an ironing board is. I thank him for being clueless as a father, and setting the right example… or rather… not… setting the right example.
There’s “meme’s” all over the place that say “Any guy can be a father, but it takes a man to be a dad,” and I don’t know who came up with the wording but to me the word Father is more powerful than dad. To me, anyone can be a dad… but it takes real guts to be someone to admire, someone to emulate, someone to set examples, and someone to make sure his child is safe from the evils of the world… a hero in a child’s eyes…
My dad, was none of these things, and as he may not have been the father I want to be for my child, he was my father. And I was his son.
The only one anyone ever told him about.
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Posted in Did He Really Just Say That?, Dissapointment, Parenthoodwith 6 comments.