The truth about my fatherhood journey is that I've always been, and continue to be, a very close influence in my daughter's life. I'm a guy who has fought and struggled through a lot of conflict in my life. As a result, I've learned how to do quite a few things very well. Quite a few critically important skills if I do say so myself. One of those things unfortunately hasn't been building strong romantic relationships. My inability at times to understand my feelings and how they impact me, my struggle to overcome deeply embedded feelings of inadequacy from my childhood (which were expertly reinforced as I grew up unfortunately) have caused me to make bad decisions - I'm talking about lack of intimacy, infidelity, as examples of coping mechanisms - that has hampered my ability to build successful romantic relationships. This is something that has continuously haunted me and that I desperately work on moving forward, but honestly, I have to say this is my reality in relationships - not good. Still, as I said, I have learned how to do several things very well. Writing, speaking, guiding and facilitating people, solving problems, organizing, sports, creativity, leadership, a number of things. But, the skill that tops that list is the energy and effort I put into being a father. There was no nurturing for me growing up, so I made it the priority to insure I gave whatever children I produced as much nurturing as I could. I started thinking when I was in my late teens about how I would balance nurturing and discipline. I had a vision. I had a plan on how I would correct the wrongs that have plagued me in my life. And, I took this approach with complete love and respect for each of my parents. They did what they could with what they had to work with. So, I wanted to take the best of my mother, caring and loyalty, and the best of my father, consistency and discipline, and mold all of those important qualities into the father that I wanted to be.
So, when my ex-wife and I had my daughter Shukura in 1987, I was ready. I participated completely in preparing her room, shopping for her bonnet, and crib. Painting her room. Going to childbirth classes. I even co-planned my ex-wife's baby shower. It was a coed shower with cultural games. It was a great occasion and I think we helped in a small way to provide people an expanded perspective of parenting as not just something directed at the mother, but something that the father and the entire family should be a part of; the African way. When Shukura was born, I was there the entire time, in spite of having an extremely oppressive job that actually called me at the hospital while my ex-wife was in labor to see when I would be coming back to work. After 36 hours of labor, she came into this realm through a C-section. As soon as I saw her I walked over to get a closer look to the shock of the hospital staff who assumed I would be overwhelmed by the blood. Little did they know my traumatic past had exposed me to much bloodshed. By the time we got Shukura to our little two bedroom house in Sacramento, I felt I was prepared. I had read two or three books on bonding with your baby. I remember the books encouraging me to lie Shukura on my bare chest. I did that daily. I fed her, I woke up every other night at 2am, per our rotating schedule, to feed her. I put her in the crank up swing and soon, I developed strong techniques in knowing how to get her to sleep, how to effectively burp her, change her, dress her, and even identify the different types of crying she did for whatever assistance she was essentially asking for. I remember the very first time we saw her laugh when I rubbed her bare feet on the stubble on my chin.
Even when her mother and I decided to split up, we sat down and agreed that Shukura would be our priority. We agreed to put our personal issues behind her physical, mental, and psychological well being and each of us continue to keep to that agreement to this very day. We agreed to a two week/two week agreement and for the next thirteen years, every other Sunday, we exchanged our daughter. Not once during that period did she call upon me for her two weeks and not once did I call upon her for mine. I learned how to cook for my daughter, do her hair, shop with her for bras, and support her. I volunteered at every level of school she attended. Went to her events on a regular basis. Challenged her teachers when their teaching methods were racist/sexist, and unacceptable. Hosted sleepovers. I schooled her on the version of history I wanted her to have - that we are Africans in America. Prisoners of war and that our heroes are the people who stand up to challenge this system, not the people who support it. By the time she was 16, she had traveled to five countries on two continents and the Caribbean, including Ghana and Senegal in Africa, and she continues to add to this list on her own. As she grew she developed some ideas and positions of her own and I encouraged her to do that. I gave her as much information as I could and respected her decisions because I knew they were based on her developed analysis and not emotion or conjuncture. All during this time her mother and I worked together to raise her. We gave her birthday party's jointly. We collectively taught her that Christmas, as celebrated, is an imperialist holiday and there was no great white man who would bring her presents. If she got presents, it was because someone sacrificed for her and she should always show appreciation for that. I remember the regular Friday night study sessions I had with her at the I Hop by our house, working with her on her academic skills. We even gave her a large Rights of Passage birthday party complete with a local radio station D.J. celebrity. As it relates to nurturing, one of the biggest problems for me growing up is I had a number of adults who engaged in heinous and violent acts against me and there was no one to protect me. I'm talking about starting from when I was seven years old. I was to be damned if that was going to ever happen to my daughter. She would always know that she had someone, her father, to protect her. So, whether you understand or agree with it or not, when that man attempted to intimidate her when she was in high school while she was walking our dog in the neighborhood, I did physically confront that man in her presence. She persuaded me to stop attacking him, but she profusely expressed her appreciation at having someone stand up for her. My mission was to insure she knew at all times that her value and place is important and that I would die before I let anyone violate her physical space. This security was something that would have meant wonders for me in my childhood where personal security was completely nonexistent.
When she moved into the dorms at Tuskegee University, I was right there, with her mother. We visited her there, sometimes at the same time, during her five years attending that school. I even successfully figured out how to pay my share of her tuition each time it was due, in spite of the difficulty in doing so. The only time I didn't come through was In 2009, when she graduated. I was going through an extreme financial trauma due to my transition in employment from the sick and oppressive financial world into the union organizing world that I work within today. As a result, I had no financial way to attend her graduation ceremony in Alabama. I remember the tearful phone call I made to her the week of the ceremony telling her I had failed to raise money to come see her walk across the stage. I will never forget her response. She told me that a lot of the fathers attending the graduation had done nothing to support their children growing up, but would be there to share in the glory of their children's success. She said that me on the other hand, had always been there for her and that my inability to attend her graduation was nothing for me to be upset about because she wouldn't be graduating if not for me so whether I was there physically or not, I was always there with her.
Today, my daughter is a school teacher in Sacramento. She's trying to decide if that's what she wants to continue doing. She may decide to move out of state and attend grad school in Tennessee. If she does, I'll be right there supporting her 100% as I was there in Tennessee with her in April scoping the place out. In Apirl, we spent her 27th birthday at an arcade in Memphis. That was an appropriate choice for her on the day she turned 27, 10 days after I turned 52. It was appropriate because I started taking her to arcades when I was 26 and she was one and we have been going to them since that time. It's our thing together along with amusement parks and really any type of park.
I have no way of knowing if anyone will even bother to read this post to this point, but if you are, please know that my reason for writing this is to highlight that there are plenty of African fathers who, in spite of the odds against us and the obstacles we have to overcome, are determined to play positive roles in our children's lives. Nothing I've written here is intended to appear as a brag. I've made too many mistakes in relationships to do that. I do hope to underscore my belief that 500+ years of colonialist, neo-colonialist, and slave institution experiences for our people has played a major role in attempting to wreck havoc on our family structures, but we continue to fight back. The way we fight back is to organize for our liberation and take small steps by rebuilding our humanity. I have tried to do that by taking the sincere effort my father made, in spite of his shortcomings, and building on that. I'm very honest with my daughter about my shortcomings. I do that so that she can have her eyes wide open. She can find a guy in her life who can do for her children (if she decides to have them) that I did for her and then more, especially in the way he interacts with her. That's my wish for her and she knows that. So, I'm far from perfect, but I'll put my effort at fatherhood up against any other man's including all those opportunists who love to knock the African father. I got a call today from my ex-wife, wishing me a happy father's day. We have been divorced for 20 years. Yeah, I'm not perfect, but how many dudes will be able to say that today?