He called out to me, trying to show me his attempt at turning the McDonald’s Happy Meal box into a hat. His innocent brown eyes just smiled as the box fell from his head.
I realized the sum of a father’s mistakes have no bearing on their child’s love for him.
As an imperfect father, I write to the dads who believe they have messed up beyond all repairs. We are the targets of why our communities are so messed up. We get ostracized for any little mistake we make. We may even work at McDonald’s to try and provide. And yet it is still not enough.
This is not a column to make excuses for deadbeat dads. But rather a piece about the self-righteous person who always has something negative to say about a black father whose best still falls short.
Truth is, some of us never had any shining examples of what fathers ought to do. Our mothers chose us to be products of deadbeats. But we dare not tread that path, right?
Maybe some fathers gave up on us at some point. Maybe the preacher in the church who was so focused on the earring or the sagging jeans never really acknowledged the reason we showed up at his church to begin with.
Maybe we sought hope because we never knew what we were getting into. No one could really prepare us for the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that comes with fatherhood.
That’s still no excuse. I get it.
But everywhere we turn, there is some statistic about how we fill prisons. But never mind the cracked-out generation before us. We are to blame, and to a degree we are.
But how do we do better when we have never seen better? We are following this standard of practice that women laugh at – but condone with actions. Fathers pass on this measurement of manhood by the number of seeds planted in the field.
We all have made mistakes.
My plea to those fathers who are trying as hard as they can but feel hopeless at life’s circumstances is that you cannot let shame hinder you from undertaking the most important role that will define you as a man.
I have had my fair share of misunderstandings with my son’s mother, but the most reassuring thing she has ever said to me was: “I did not want to do this alone.” At first it came off as condemning — and maybe she had every right to be — but I listened deeper.
I believed that she was extending an olive branch, making peace in order to start fresh.
Sometimes we have to look beneath the fussing, cursing and nagging. We have to know that most of the baby mommas are doing what they believe is in the best interest of our children. We do not have to agree, but we do have to lay pride aside for the sake of the children and just listen.
No matter how bad you have screwed up or how at odds you may be with the mother, it’s not over. Your children need you.
I can tell you about the uncomfortable looks and unfair treatment you will face as a black man walking into a child support or child custody hearing. I can tell you that Illinois is not the most father-friendly state. And even though you were there at conception through birth, your still have to fight for your rights as a father.
I’m not painting a pretty picture. Fatherhood isn’t all filling in the financial gaps or showing up at birthday celebrations.
Aside from everything else you have to face on a daily basis, you will still be a dad. There are times when you want to give up, quit, and threaten to sign over your parental rights or have a spouse or current girlfriend fight your battle with your baby momma. There are episodes when you just wish it never happened.
But if you did quit or are considering quitting, you may miss out on being called “Daddy” in a semi-crowded McDonald’s over a Happy Meal. You miss out protecting them from your worst fears and mistakes, trying to make them better than you were. You miss out on milestones that may help you heal the inner child that longed for a father.
I have never met a perfect parent. And those who criticize you may have a right to. But you also have a right to redemption. That child has his or her own way of measuring you, and it is not the same as society.
Put away all of the excuses and don’t just man up. It’s deeper. Be a father.