I still remember the advice of “good” men I respected: “Leave your sons behind.”
Their logic was simple: I was starting a new marriage. My sons’ pubescent turmoil, in their estimation, was the last thing my new bride and I needed. So cutting the “baggage” from my previous marriage was their recommended best course of action.
“Abandon my children? Like my natural father abandoned me?” I thought. “Leave them to wonder what I sounded like, looked like?
“Consign them to a lifetime of soul-wrenching questions? To wonder how the man who was supposed to esteem, counsel, nurture and protect them could just up and discard them like trash? Not to mention the idea of abandoning them amid the forces consuming black boys in urban America.”
With all due respect, I still surmise that those well-intentioned brothers must have been out of their damn minds.
I could never abandon my children. It cuts against every fiber and fabric of fatherhood.
Life and time, however, have taught me that fatherhood is not for the faint of heart. That, honestly, sometimes you can “feel” like quitting. For fatherhood comes with its share of hurts, deep wounds and tears sometimes shed in secrecy, or simply swallowed.
But as fathers our unwritten oath is “Semper Fi.”
Often thankless and devoid of fanfare, fatherhood is a lifelong vocation that requires selfless service — without expectation. I have also discovered, both as an abandoned son and as a faithful father, that sometimes more glamorous are children’s fantasies about “perfect” fathers who are absent than their perceptions of imperfect loving fathers who are present.
And yet, our charge is to carry on — for the sake of our children, biological or otherwise.
Nothing I will do could ever be more critical, more lasting or more rewarding than being a father. In the early years of this journey of fatherhood, which I began at the tender age of 17, however, I sometimes had my doubts.
One thing I never doubted: That I needed as a father to be there for my children. For not every marriage or relationship lasts. But the one thing I am assured to take into eternity is forever being the father of those children born of my seed.
And in the end, it is not for me to pat myself on the back, or even to assign myself a grade. It’s to ensure that I have been a positive presence physically, emotionally and in other ways. Rather than an absence. And to love.
A month after we married, with my children taking part in our wedding, we moved to England — where my wife was studying — to live for a year. The boys joined us a few weeks after we arrived in a quaint English countryside town — I had left them in good hands with my mother until we found a place to live.
My boys and I had our share of ups and downs. Our laughter and our turmoil. Times when, in my mind, they seemed bent on breaking the rules or defying me. But in hindsight, they were maybe just dealing with life’s curves in their own way.
Many years have passed, and they’re doing OK, but we don’t talk much these days. I’m not happy about the way it is. It just is.
But whatever my mistakes as a father, one I did not make: I did not leave them.
Send letters to: email@example.com