Friday, February 28, 2014

Let's Make History

"I didn't have a dad in the house, and I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices.”
–President Barack Obama 2/27/2014 “My Brother’s Keeper” Program Press Conference

Yesterday, the President announced an initiative to encourage  businesses and nonprofits to provide greater opportunities for the placement of black males in jobs. The program is called My Brother's Keeper. This is definitely a good program but how do we first deal with the problems stemming from fatherlessness? Before some of the broken kids in our communities can join the workforce, they need someone to prepare them for it. I once mentored a group of young men that never owned a suit or had any knowledge of how to tie a tie. The reason? There was not one man in their life that took the time to help them with this. The mentoring program I led took our guys down to Menswearhouse to get measured for their first suit. As we close out another Black History Month, I’m left wondering what is being done in the name of the "Black Present Day"- especially as it relates to fathers. Considering that 1 out of 2 black children will go to bed tonight without a father in the house, there is something that needs present day action. Thirty to 40 years ago, the majority of black families had both parents in the house. It was normal for dads to be hands on with the family unit. Obviously, things have changed. But why have things changed? How do all of the fathers trying to "hold it down" encourage wayward father’s to stay active with their kids?  How many kids are now looking for acceptance in gangs because of the rage they feel from not knowing dad?  Some of these same guys turn to selling drugs because the street life has shown them no other way to make a living. It seems the nightly news is filled with stories of young black men killing one another during the prime of their lives. Many times this only because they didn't have a dad. Judging from the media, the actively involved  father is becoming a trend of the past. Is being an absentee father going to one day be the new black history?

I think those of us, like the President, who have persevered through the struggles of fatherlessness, should make sure this isn’t the case.  Mr. Obama stated that it was a support system of teachers and community leaders that guided him onto the right path. We need to do more to create a support system for the fatherless kids in our communities. A lot of today’s devoted dads are the way they are because they know how bad it hurts to be without their dad. These "superdads" have an amazing ability to help a fatherless child turn their anger into something positive. To those dads, I say rock on and keep leaving that legacy!

Dads in Action Challenge: Look for a child or a group of children in your community that you could spend some time mentoring. In my work as male mentor, I've found that just devoting an hour a week to a kid with no dad can go a long way in improving the child's life. Here are some suggestions:

1.) Get involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program
2.) Coach a little league team at your YMCA
3.) Connect with a mentoring program at a nearby college

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Are The Dad Days?

They say that there isn't an instruction manual for being a good father-not that we would read it anyway. Most of the dads I know just do what they saw their dad do or didn't do growing up. Others like me, just try to figure it out while "on the job." Most of the time we're not really sure how well we're doing. There is one day that we do get a progress report on our daddy skills. The holiday centers around gifts like a gaudy tie or a pair of socks. I'm talking about Father's Day. It is when we as a nation set aside a day to honor dads.
Each year, kids, wives, and girlfriends, go out of their way to find that one special gift that fully embodies just how special dad is.  I personally look forward to it because my kids always make me really creative cards. But what about the other 364 days of the year when:

1.)  The car has broken down for the 5th time in 2 months
2.)   Two of your buddies need you to help them move this Saturday ("It's not that much stuff.") YEAH RIGHT!
3.) You're working late and you suddenly realize that it was your turn to pick up the kids!
4.) The hot water heater is leaking again--this time it's soaked the new sofa your just got last week.

 On those crazy days of being Superman, let's face it a guy could use a few minutes in his Fortress of Solitude watching Sportscenter, eating wings, and having a cold drink. This is where the Dad Days blog comes in. Through personal stories from myself and other committed dads, I believe we can inspire one another during those other 364 days of the year which I refer to as the Dad Days. These are during those ordinary days where we're running all over the planet making a living while trying to be a good hubby and daddy.  I know we're guys and we don't need any help, but just maybe together we can unlock some of the keys to successful fatherhood while proudly wearing our gaudy ties and new socks!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Unemployed Provider

Life is good. A loving wife, two adorable daughters, a house in the burbs, cars paid off, and a job that pays the bills.  I'm holding it down like a real man should.  Phone rings.  What? Huh? I just talked to her a few hours ago.  Dead?  Is that what you just said?  Yes, your mother is gone.  This one phone call started a snowball of doom that would roll through my life for the next two years.

Snowball of Doom

I don't think you ever get over the death of a parent, you simply just learn to cope after a few years of grief.  Four months after my mother's passing, I get the news that I will be laid off from my job.  Being that my wife is a stay at home mom, that equates to no income coming into the house.  Houston we have a problem.  I'm the spiritual, emotional, and financial provider of this house and I'm unemployed.  The problem grew bigger and bigger as the months turned into a year and I still hadn't been able to land a new gig.  I was actually unemployed for a total of 20 straight months.  Yes, twenty--that's no typo.  Also during this stent, both of my grandmothers passed within three months of each other.  Here I am without a job and I just lost 3 matriarchs that always cheered me on when things went wrong.  I felt overwhelmed.  I really thought I was unfit for this role of a husband and father.  This was mainly due to the fact that at that time I found my worth and measure in the amount of dollars (or lack thereof) in my bank account. Our society conditions men to view themselves in this way.

The Journey To Find The Real Me

The snowball of doom felt like it was going to take me out.  However, it was the beginning of my journey into understanding who I really am. During my unemployed season, I looked earnestly for a job and took odd jobs here and there to try and make ends meet. My family was sustained somewhat by my efforts, combined with support from family and friends. I was grateful, but it just didn't feel good. I found myself angry at God because I was supposed to be able to provide for my family and it seemed like I was making no headway on finding gainful employment. I thought and shared with my wife that she and the kids would be better off if I weren't around. I had a life insurance policy that would have them set.  My wife confronted me on that one day, saying, "you know firsthand the pain of growing up with no father, why would you even think about wishing that on your daughters!!?" Thankfully, she spoke the truth and her words cut me deep.

I continued the job search, but I also decided to change my perspective. Instead of spending all day looking for jobs, I set boundaries on the job search and became more intentional about spending quality time with my kids. I began to do things that I couldn't do if I were on a job.  Several days, I found myself at the beach watching a sunrise.

My youngest daughter and I celebrating her birthday during the "unemployed years"
Other times, I would take the kids fishing or spend the afternoon with them at the beach. I soon began to figure out that my kids weren't complaining and neither was my wife. So, I began to wonder why I didn't just loosen up and at least try to enjoy this extra family time.  There I was, beginning to live life again, with almost no money in the bank...yet I was still a man that was greatly loved by an amazing woman and two wonderful daughters. During this time out of work, we made some memories that will last us a lifetime.  Somehow, this all began to give me the confidence I needed to go on day in and day out during those 20 months.

My bride and I visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania
Just knowing that my kids and my wife loved me unconditionally, helped revolutionize how I defined myself. I no longer look at those day as "unemployed days," but I look at them as days of gainful employment as a full time father and devoted husband. I am blessed to have had so much "extra" quality time with my kids during that almost 2 year period. How many dads can say that they've spent 20 months of almost uninterrupted time with their children? While I couldn't provide all of the dollars and cents like I wanted to, I was able to provide my family with emotional security. That is priceless. We did so many things together and I believe it will help them have a level of emotional security that they wouldn't have experienced, if I'd been punching a clock. At first it seemed like a really bad thing, but I was determined to turn it into something positive for us all. God's word says that He can turn all things around for our good.  He surely did it in this situation for me.

How to Create Good out of Bad

Since then, I have successfully found my way back into my original career path of television production. My current job pays pretty well and I'm doing what I love. Of course nothing  compares to being greeted at the door everyday by my fan club of three. Thanks to them I was able to take that   snowball of doom and used it to build a snowman with my daughters.

 I want to encourage all fathers out there to take an account of what is going right in your life. Regardless of your situation, you can still be a great father. You owe it to yourself and your kids to focus on the positives that you bring to the table. After all, in their eyes you will forever be their superhero, so you might as well swoop in and save the day. So here are some easy ways to do just that:

  1. Get rid of negative relationships (Getting rid of the draining friendships gives you more time and energy for your kids)
  2. Take each child out individually for an hour at least once a month (It doesn't have to be a full meal--grab a slurpee together and talk).
  3. Make family dinner a nightly tradition as much as you can (Play High/Low where each person tell the best part (the high) and the worst part (the low) of their day.)
  4. Spend at least an hour a week doing whatever your child likes to do (I play with Barbies quite often).
It doesn't matter how difficult your situation is, God's grace and a positive perspective is all you need. Things can get rough in this life I know, but take it from me, you CAN get past whatever mountains you're facing. Your days are not your own, but they are Dad Days that you've been given for a reason. How are you using them?