Lately I’ve been posed the same questions on more than three occasions: “What’s it like being a father?” It’s a very open ended question with a lot of potential answers and the answers that I give vary depending on who’s asking and how much time I have. It’s quick and easy to go the route of clichés about sleepless nights or quick sentimental sound bites about how kids grow up so fast. All of that is true, but seems insignificant and when I consider the real and unexpected value that fatherhood is providing.
Before the birth of my daughter I had quite a few preconceived ideas about fatherhood and about the kind of father I would be if I were to have children. The source of many men’s ideas about how they will or will not function in their roles as fathers is rooted in their relationship (or lack thereof) with their own. Looking back I’m sure it’s the same for me. My biological father died when I was three months old, and my relationship with the next two father figures, my stepfather and my uncle, were not characterized by great intimacy or closeness. So, as is the case for many young black males for a multitude of reasons, my notions of both fatherhood and overall masculinity were pieced together from a variety of sources including books, television and movies, music, peers, and who knows what else. Some information turned out to be good, others not so good. The Cosby Show had some decent lessons, but No Limit and Cash Money’s catalogue isn’t the best place for practical insight into manhood; and at the end of the day neither is reality.
Emerging from my teens and stumbling through my early twenties, by the time I reached 28 I began a process of introspection. Often with the aid of a potent sativa strain, I started to sift through all of the lessons, misdirection, and advice good and bad that I had picked up along the way; forging the beginnings of what I thought would be my identity as a man going forward. Realizing that while Clif Huxtable and Master P both have their redeeming characteristics inside the confines of the fictional worlds they create for our consumption, real life, real adulthood, real manhood, real black manhood, are far more nuanced than I had allowed myself to believe.
For these reasons, I was kind of shook up last year when I found out that my girlfriend and I were expecting. I was still relatively early in the process of sorting all this out and while I knew I had a good foundation and that I could be a good father despite some shortcomings, I also knew that there was so much that I still didn’t know. Aside from those clichés about lack of sleep and changing diapers, I didn’t know what to expect. In a sense, while my daughter was gestating those nine months, so was I, and at 7:05 PM on November 14 we both emerged into an unfamiliar, but strangely inviting word; my arms welcoming her and her eyes, trying to figure out who the hell I was, but eventually trusting me.
There is something about having a life entrusted to you that magnifies your sense of purpose, and with that knowledge comes a realization that hesitation is no longer an option. Excessive uncertainty and indecision is a luxury that is afforded by youth, but when your moves are being watched and counted on by someone else you have a responsibility not only to walk with direction and certainty, but to accept nothing less than what you know will lead you and your family to where you’re going. It’s an old habit and a tough one to break, but the first lesson of fatherhood is beginning to sink in: If it don’t fit, don’t force it. Not even a little bit.