Over the last few months, I’ve held my children more than I ever have before. It is one of the silver linings in the various dark clouds of reality for so many nowadays – no working on a daily basis, no school, more time at home with the little ones. For roughly 11 weeks I (like many others) played the role of preschool teacher, trying to teach my kids beyond what dads have been imparting on their children for thousands of years. In the midst of losing a lot of my professional self (a far smaller price to pay than many during these difficult days) I had to find a way to be more than I thought I could be for my four and one year old daughters.
When things got tough? I stopped whatever I was doing, and I picked them up and held them. Because that, I knew I could do.
You think you know what life is about as someone that walks the grounds we call Earth after growing up and getting an education, enjoying (or enduring) relationships and friendships while developing experience among others. You believe you understand what it is to love after meeting “the one” and all the peaks and valleys that come with that pursuit, whether it winds up being correct or not. I for one always knew that the job I was destined to do was influence young students and athletes, and that would be where I got the validation and fulfillment I was always in search of.
Then, five years ago this September, that all changed. For I became a dad. I held my daughter Caroline, and felt the weight of the world in my hands. Then almost two years ago it happened again, and my Abigail came in to my life. My wife, my Caroline, and my Abbie.
My world, now somehow even more than ever before.
It changes over the years. It multiplies in terms of individual size and number of children. The world around us spins both differently and the same – troubles come and go, but the magnitude of those times where you have those young lives in your grasp never falters. In my life, my most significant moments of clarity I have ever experienced is when I look in the eyes of my children. There’s no greater sense of responsibility than the one that comes when a little hand reaches for you as they look at you, not seeing all you’ve failed at in life or the flaws of the world you brought them in to. All they see is their daddy.
And you want more than anything to be half the man they think you are.
During these times with my daughters over the last few months, different thoughts have entered my mind as I tried to calm their tears, rock them to sleep, or just be. If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t need me to tell you that the world seems pretty broken. So many are hurting for so many reasons. Multiple crises on multiple level are exposing the weaknesses in our way of life. From the systemic racism that helped build this nation that now appears to be back in our collective consciousness as it was during the 1960’s to the pandemic that has claimed the lives of far too many there is so much that you can’t explain properly to fellow adults, much less two small children.
So as I would hold my world in my hands, I would think of others who sat in not the exact same chair as me but in the same spot. And I would reflect on what their minds must be searching for in similar times.
I would think of a young dad like Ja Morant, 13 years my junior but a fellow journeyman on the path of fatherhood. At just 20 years old he is responsible for being the face of the Memphis Grizzlies, an NBA franchise that boasts one of the league’s brightest futures. The millions of dollars, the limelight, the career that lies ahead of him…how overwhelming it all must be. The understanding of late that as the NBA prepares to resume that he will likely not see his baby girl for some time – being away from her surely weighs on him, as it has for me in the past. But then I think about him holding his daughter, and how even with all that controlled chaos swirling around him his clarity surely is strongest in similar times to mine.
Other times I think about my own father who would have held me in a similar fashion all those years ago, and the countless dads who have had their worlds in their grasp. As we get older if we’re fortunate enough to have our fathers around the relationship changes. You don’t feel the “fear” of what Dad may do when he finds out what you did as much as you look for guidance about how you’ll respond in similar instances down the line. He’s a mentor, a confidant, a friend…a best friend. And a grandpa (or “Papu” as my girls call my old man), a title they wear very often with pride.
Then my mind would wander toward those who were losing their Dads and Papus due to COVID-19. The sons and daughters that weren’t able to talk to their fathers anymore, or weren’t even able to be there when they passed away or were buried. I would then think of the doctors, the nurses, the first responders, the essential workers that left their children to go help keep people safe. The time and effort spent away from those they are risking so much for is inspiring.
Beyond that, I’d remember that throughout history there have been Black dads and grandpas that were poorly treated across the centuries, killed or taken in to bondage because of the color of their skin. They weren’t able to have the opportunity to be a dad the way that I do now, because of factors outside of their control. I think of George Floyd, a daddy like me that no longer has the opportunity to hold his little girl and calm her down when she has a bad dream. The pain and anguish that must come from such loss and despair – the fact George and countless other Black fathers have had to teach their kids lessons about how they look that never should have had to happen…that I would never have to explain to my own children.
I would even think of Kobe Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, and how the last thing Bryant likely ever did was try to comfort his daughter…and tell her that everything would be ok. And how much sadness must have been felt in that moment for him knowing she would never be able to live her life as she should have been able to.
It is easy to try to turn away from the pain, sadness, and events of the past six months. It’s human nature to try to move on from trauma whenever possible. But we as fathers owe it to the little lives that depend on us to help build a world that they can improve upon. To take the mistakes and times we fell short before and learn from them, to listen to voices that haven’t been heard as they should have been. We need to understand how lucky we are to have the chance to be there for our kids, and how important it is to act on that ability.
On this Father’s Day, if you’re as lucky as me to be able to call yourself a dad, commit to making choices that help people that will never be able to repay you. Have empathy for those that look different than you, whose life experiences and stages may not be in line with yours. Try to soak in those moments when young eyes look up to you, and use them as motivation to be more than you are.
Aspire to be that man they see you as. In pursuit of that ideal, you’ll make the world that much better for the ones that you love the most.
Their future – and ours – is entirely in our hands.