The Evolving Face of Fatherhood
The reality of our society is that sometimes children grow up without fathers. This isn’t said to bash men or fathers, and anyone who knows me knows I’m the first person to demand fathers be honored on fathers day and year round. In my world, fatherhood expanded and evolved to include men who weren’t responsible for my existence but stepped up to raise me and make sure I had everything I needed. This post is about them, and dedicated to men like them.
The Fathers of My Heart
My parents divorced when I was young and I grew up without an active father in my life. Some would say this is a sad story, but actually it was a blessing for me because three wonderful men stepped in and provided the male figure that is so crucial in a young girl’s life. You may ask, why three instead of one, but that number three was perfect because each man taught me a very special gift that was unique to them.
The Freedom of Being Your Unique Self
My Uncle Ernie, my mother’s oldest brother, has had an afro longer than I’ve been alive. Legend has it that he started growing it in the late 60’s and hasn’t cut his hair since. I spent many happy moments at Uncle Ernie’s house with him and his wife, my Aunt Cynthia. He would come pick me up, we would go take pictures, and he’d show me how to use his camera equipment. He would also let me play his Atari and computer games on his Apple computer.
To understand how unique this experience was, you have to understand that this was the late 80’s and early 90’s. Uncle Ernie had a fully functioning original Atari, and to my knowledge still does. People had long moved on from Atari to Nintendo, but my uncle had no designs to do such because he liked what he liked. It was also unique to have a home computer at the time. Not only did he have them, but he gifted them to me when he upgraded every few years.
Uncle Ernie showed me that it’s okay to pursue your interests and not worry about what people think about your choices. I chose to make that line of thought my personal mantra and pursued my love of reading and writing. I’m now a best selling author and I own my own publishing company. To this day he encourages me to do what makes me happy, not what society says should make me happy.
The Importance of Family and a Poker Face
My Uncle Darrin, my mother’s brother-in-law, taught me how to ride a bike. I have vague memories (this was roughly 30 years ago) of his quiet patience and refusal to allow me to give up. A career military man, I looked up to Uncle Darrin. He always took care of his family, handled his business, and showed me the importance of the poker face.
When my mother, my sister, and I moved from Maryland to North Carolina Uncle Darrin looked out for us and made sure we were safe. This was in 1994, long before free long distance and FaceTime. Moving away from home was a big, scary deal. Knowing that Uncle Darrin was only a short car ride away made the transition less scary because I knew if we needed him, he would be there and that knowledge kept me secure. As an adult, I try my hardest to look out for anyone whom I consider to be family. I want the people I love to know I’m out here pulling for them in any way I can.
Uncle Darrin comes off as the strong silent type, but if he likes you, you get to see the fun side of him. However, that side isn’t for everyone to see. Watching him showed me that not everyone is worthy or deserving of knowing the real you and to always have your poker face ready. I rarely, if ever, show all my cards. This has helped me exponentially in many aspects of my life, from school to working as a college professor (you’d be surprised at the politics involved) to owning my own business. There are only a few people, less than a handful, who know exactly what I’m up to.
Music Is Life
My father’s brother, Uncle Stevie, loves music. Specifically, my Uncle Stevie loves Prince. As a kid I remember watching him walking around my grandmother’s house in cut off sweatshirts (remember, it was the 80s) singing and dancing. He finds great joy in music, and through him I learned that music is life.
During some of the roughest times in my life, I turned to music. First my walkman, then my disc man, then my mp3 player got me through not understanding why I didn’t have the same family dynamic as my friends, the adjustment moving to a different part of the country, my first and subsequent heartbreaks, all those awkward teen and young adult years, and the deaths of those I held dear to my heart. When I got married, I worked harder on the music list than I did the guest list.
To this day, music is a daily part of my life. I have a playlist for everything. 80s and 90s R&B while I’m cleaning. Swing music while I’m cooking. 70s and 80s funk when I want to dance around. And at any given time you can hear Prince, George Michael, or Selena coming through my front door and windows. My daughter won’t clean up her toys unless music is playing. She loves to practice her ballet moves to classical music. Dance music from the 90s fuels her soul. Lizzo is her favorite singer in the whole wide world. Clearly I’ve passed this love of music on to her.
I don’t know if these men quite understand how crucial their presence in my life was and still is. I’m honestly not sure who I’d be had they not stepped in and stood in the gap my father left. A man doesn’t have to contribute to a child’s conception to be a father. He just has to care for a child and love the child as his own. I was blessed to have three men do this for me.
So, on Father’s Day, while we’re acknowledging the many wonderful biological fathers out there, let’s also take a moment to acknowledge the men who step up and look out for the fatherless kids. They may not be biological fathers, but they are certainly fathers of the heart.