For my father’s generation, fatherhood meant little more than providing for and protecting their family. My generation of fathers, however, continue to evolve what it means to be a good father and has expanded to include meaningful childcare, tangible chores, and mommying – all the traditional responsibilities and tendencies of mothers were charged with except giving birth and breastfeeding. Yes. Ask any sensible single-parent father and any father in the modern role.
The template I adapted for fatherhood came from the principles of my Christian faith and the examples of attractive fathering I encountered along my limited living experience. I was prepared to co-parent, but not alone as a single parent, as I had to, most of my parenting life. Loss of my partner sped up my maturity into the modern role. A crash course in the new role by this traditional father was a pending train-wreck, but, I asked for and received much support from many.
There is no denying the torrid role-reversal taking place in two-parent households with many wives, common law included, earning more and working longer hours than their male counterparts – essentially leading. The transition hasn’t been smooth, adding complexity, conflict, and power struggles to partnerships, redefining fatherhood and ultimately, manhood. If families are going to be successful in steering this challenge, fathers must exhibit flexibility, sensitivity, understanding, and patience through the rapidly evolving process. It’s not our forte as we have been designed to lead. But, we have been given the example, and she is the Proverbs 31 woman. That is an entirely different subject, too long for this blog.
To be effective, modern fathers have to transcend dropping seed, paying bills, a cheerleader at sports events, and a drive-by presence, and take on a multi-dimensional, multi-tasking appearance. Dad is still the boring disciplinarian, know-it-all first coach, the muscle when things go bump, and the comedian with dry humor to lighten any atmosphere. But today, our role has taken on job enrichment and expansion, without a pay increase. Dressing up as Mrs. Nesbitt or doing cheerleading routine is it an uncommon practice nor is going bald in support of a son’s cancer illness. It’s standard practice.
There is no defining fatherhood without considering manhood. By spiritual belief, I couldn’t casually date. I was open about my faith and passed it on to my children in spite of their new skepticism of Christianity’s role in slavery and white supremacy. Still, they knew that its core values are of love, forgiveness, charity, and social justice. I walked it and suffered through my activism. It affected us economically and I didn’t hide the visceral impact of standing up. The experience was instructive for the family.
The biggest worry my brothers and I conjured for our father was staying too long on the soccer field and maybe a fist fight that didn’t end friendships or lives. Today, my concerns include sexting, cyber-bullying, navigating LGBTQ issues, the cult of Kardashian and the appeal of bae status. For my daughter, I was focused on developing a healthy self-perception in her and a confident knowledge of her true worth and value. My son’s nurturing curriculum was different. He had to be taught how to sift his friends, how to treat girls, preservation of his body when he walked the streets, balancing the exercise of his individual rights while respecting authority, as a young black man. He had to know the evidential truth of Black life in America. Too often I agonized that our conversation should have been about topics other than his physical survival.
My daughter is a recent college graduate and when I asked her about the most important quality she admired in my role as a father, she responded, “emotional availability”. I knew I had to be delicate and vulnerable if my fathering was going to be authentic to her. Although I didn’t always do it right, I was conscious of what I said and how I said it to her. To reach my children, I had to control my testosterone and copy as much as I could from the good mothering I admired in respected family and friends.
“You weren’t just physically present dad. That was a big deal to me. You listened even when I talked about Molly and Lunette.”
For her, my root-ripping attempts at braiding her hair after we lost her mom, was big. Sucking up my pride to get her feminine products was big. My patience when finding a complimentary dress for her curvy figure, that we both agreed on while shopping at the mall, was impressive. Who knew? I was just being what she needed on a given day. It was a proud moment when the biology major was awarded the Carl Hitchner Social Justice Award in 2016. She was watching.
From Dragon Tales to Avatar, Dragon Ball Z to Attack on Titan, television series and sports entertainment have been a favorite connection to my son. They presented great segues to discussions about any subject, or so I spun them. My children are quick to consult the omniscient Google. They quote the stats. Present the memes. Save the videos. Pump the research. Daddy’s word? Mere opinion. My wisdom? Impractical. But, when science and technology had no answer, God looked beautiful. I danced in those moments.
In hindsight, I have been guilty of many mistakes. Too judgmental, short on patience, too logical and practical in my decision-making, tongue too sharp, and, I didn’t live in the moment enough, with my kids. Lesson learned? The necessity and balance of a good wife and mother weren’t underestimated.
Where was my father’s advice on how to deal with the major household conflicts about piercings, tattoos, leggings, haircuts, and Jordanitis? Blending families? What’s a father to do? Listen intently. Suspend judgment. Think about the consequences. Consult the experienced. Pray for wisdom. Collaborate with like minds. Act decisively. The tools are there. And when things get difficult, I trust, lean, and submit. In the end, Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child”. I didn’t insulate my children from struggle or conflict. They knew scarcity and abundance and today, it makes them appreciative of the little things.
Practice. My coaching advice was emphatic. If they planned on being good at anything, practice and dedication were key. Soccer players, spouses, friends, professionals, students, it didn’t matter. All relationships required faithfulness, honesty, commitment, and understanding. I acknowledged that they weren’t going to be the next Ronaldinho or Marta, but they possessed the capacity to be the next great biologist and the next great entrepreneur. Recognizing their needs and acknowledging their passions have helped me evolve into a today-father. But, my faith has been my coach, trainer, and nutritionist through my development.
Sherwyn Besson – is a Distributive Education instructor, community activist, and mentor. He grew up in Trinidad and has been a New York educator for eighteen years. He holds a Master of Science degree in Education from the College of Saint Rose, a Master of Science degree in Business Management from Polytechnic University of New York, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from St. Francis College.