”You will never be able to escape your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.” – Paul Coelho
Just last week I witnessed a dad telling his 4-5 year old son to not be a “cry baby” because he wanted his mother. It was in a public place, so I am pretty sure the father was a bit embarrassed, not because he should have been, but because of the valueless stereotype placed on boys, (and fathers) whom one day become men that are taught to believe that emotions, specifically crying is a sign of weakness and should never be displayed.
The term is, “suck it up”, and as a dad I have used it with my own son on many occasions, and have been told the same by my father many times growing up. Initially it seems like a harmless thing, but over time young boys (like me) learned to internalize that idea, and it eventually began to shape how we think about what it meant to be a man, father and husband.
Imagine growing up and being shamed for displaying any type of emotions. Being called a cry baby, punk or sissy. After a while you learn to contain those emotions, just to protect yourself from being shamed any longer, despite the circumstances and the slow burning turmoil begins.
Now I absolutely celebrate the beauty of our differences as men and women. We each play an important role in the family and in some cases the roles are actually reversed, but nonetheless there are a unique set of attributes being disseminated to our offspring through us. Those attributes do not primarily come from what we say, but ultimately how we live and interact with our children.
What is important to take note of is one day we grow up. We become men who raise our own children, men who establish relationships, get married, interact in the work place and in our respective communities. What does this type of man give if he has been told all his life that his authentic self is weak and should be replaced by someone better, someone stronger or someone less sensitive?
He morphs into that acceptable image of a man and screams inside, because we learn it feels better to be accepted for who we are not, than to be ridiculed for who we really are.
Obviously this goes deeper than just being shamed for crying after experiencing a fall, cut or bruise. It is about the impact to our psyche, ideals about who we are and possibly who we will become in the future. If I choose to hide my best self, due to the shame I experienced for a great part of my life what have I become? Sadly I have become a liar of the worst kind. The one that lies to himself.
It took me many years to truly discover who I was. I was ashamed based on what I thought I was supposed to be true about me, but I eventually learned there was more to who I was, and those new discoveries were admirable, holistic, pure and honest. I learned that I was okay in my own skin, no matter what anyone else had to say.
So much of our lives is spent on jockeying for position, affirmation and status. We our taught at those tender young impressionable ages through expression, interactions and experiences, that we really are not good enough as we are. Therefore we spend a lifetime reinventing ourselves. For men, we define ourselves by our possessions, how strong and viral we are and the current status we hold in the workplace and community.
Of course the aforementioned list has it’s place and relevance in our lives, but far too often it becomes the standard we live by name strive for. Therefore we short-circuit the creative genius and beauty that is waiting to manifest itself.
Sadly, for so many that beauty and creative genius will die or remain dormant, trapped inside the walls of shame, disgrace and fear that someone else built for us many years prior. Like a glass ceiling we can see the other side, we just are not sure how to actually get to the other side of it. So we make do with what we know and are comfortable with, however something on the inside will always be shouting to us, “YOU ARE MORE THAN YOU ARE RIGHT NOW!”
Will you listen or simply continue living with the armor on?
- “Every father should remember that one day his children will follow his example instead of his advice!” – Unknown
So I have been a parent for approximately eighteen years, with the last eight years as a singe father, until I recently married last month. The role of being a parent (mother or father) is certainly not an easy one, and becoming a single-father definitely added a new set of challenges for me as well as for my children, but I am thankful for my journey and I continue to learn and appreciate the experiences I have had and will have.
As any parent knows, there is no handbook on how to become a good parent, (although there are many tools that exists now that did not years ago) and the role becomes even more difficult when you find yourself fulfilling the role alone, even if it is only 50% of the time. While most children from divorced families still end up living with their mothers the majority of the time, there are those situations where the fathers will have more time, equal time or close to it with their children, as I did.
So I would like to take a moment to share what I have learned, what I would repeat or what I would never do again or advise for other single-fathers. Like anything that requires hard work, there is no magic formula or list of ten ways to make your life better as a single-parent, but there is help and I would like to pay it forward, because I have certainly received some great support while on my journey as a dad.
My list is not necessarily in order of importance, but honestly the ones that came to my mind first. Perhaps that does mean some are more significant than others, but each have their place of priority, which will differ for each family.
- Divorcing, separating or splitting from your kid’s mother does not mean that you divorced your child – In other words don’t abandon your children because you have unresolved issues with their mother. I understand that some women can make this an almost impossible scenario, but do all that you can to keep the relationship with your child in tact. Remember the children are the real victims of divorce. They did not ask for you two to divorce nor get married in the first place, so if and when things don’t work out between you two, remind them that they matter by remaining involved in their lives on a regular basis.
- Seek for positive ways to work out any differences you have with your ex spouse and keep the children as the focal point, not your emotions – Although my ex and I could not save our marriage, we did make a conscious choice to keep our children first. This was/is a sacrifice, but it certainly provided a stable environment for our kids. It is all too easy to continue with the fighting after splitting up, but at what point do both parties become the adults in the situation and give their children a sense of stability? Too many times I have seen and heard fathers degrade their ex spouses in the presence of their children. Men, this is the worst thing you can do, and the quickest way for your child to begin to have feelings of resentment towards you! (It works both ways honestly) There will never be a “good enough” excuse that justifies this action, so steer away from it, even if the information is true. As your child matures, he or she will be able to see and form opinions on their own.
- If at all possible, remain geographically close to your children – I never wanted to be a weekend father, so from the beginning we knew we would have some form of joint custody. After our divorce, the kid’s mom and I have always lived in the same community, and although it was a part of our divorce decree to do so, I believe we both understood the importance of staying close regardless. Again, this is what it looks like to put your children first. Yes, I would prefer to live closer to my job. It would be much easier for my commute and improve my quality of life, but at the expense of sharing my life with my kids on the weekends only was not an option for me. It was important for me to see my kids during the week when real life was happening to them. I wanted to be there to pray with them at night when they went to bed, or help them solve problems that occurred at school in real-time, not wait to hear about it on the weekend.
- If and when you start to date, do not introduce them to every woman you become close to – This is a given for women, but it should apply to men as well. Some say 4-6 months, others say one year. Whatever you decide, the point is whomever they meet, you should plan for this person to be around awhile, and worthy enough for them to meet. Of course things happen, but again when we place our children first, this should work itself out to their benefit, not yours.
- If you make more money, expect to pay more and quit questioning what she does with it – I know this one may seem like the most unfair part of getting divorced when children are involved, but it is what it is, and the sooner we men can accept it, the better off things will become for us. The idea of family support or child support is to make the one that makes less to become more whole. The kid’s way of life should not be financially great with one parent and dismal with the other. (Remember, this is not what it looks like to keep your children first) So as you write-out your monthly check, payable to your ex, quit wondering what she does with the money. Whether she is purchasing the latest Nike’s, paying the rent or making ends meet, overall it is still for the benefit of your children. Even if she is doing the wrong things with the money, our trying to control it or bring into question will only create more issues. Now if your kids our wearing holey shoes and she is dressed to the nine, than that is another matter altogether.
- Never take for granted how important you are as a father – We only have so much time to shape the lives of our children, and even less when divorced. It is actually shorter than we think and we only get once chance to do it, so make it count. I will never forget the tools my father gave me as a boy. To this day they are meaningful and have helped to position me in life for the better. What gifts do you have to dispense to your children? What stories and examples are waiting to be shared with them to help them become better human beings? No one can ever take the place of a good mother, but fathers are significant and when we choose to neglect are responsibilities society suffers greatly.
I will never forget the day I moved out of the house we lived in together. I will never forget the day I moved into an apartment and started my life over. It was a very sad day for everyone. I will never wish that pain on anyone, so if you can work out your marriage, do it. If not, keep your children first by being their father, a man they can count on, trust and take pride in calling you daddy.
“It’s easier to raise strong children than to fix broken men.” – Newark Mayor, Corey Booker
So I am a father of three. Two girls and a man-child in the middle. Almost eighteen, fifteen and about eleven are their respective ages. My oldest daughter will graduate this year and leave the nest for college next year. This will leave Kadin, my son as the oldest in the house once Niala is off to pursue her collegiate career. This structure was similar to my own childhood experience. I have three siblings, all girls. Tammy is the oldest, although at times I felt like the oldest, even if it was only in my head. I have always believed that the difference between raising a girl versus a boy was fairly black and white; complex versus simple. This has been my belief all my life, and although I do still believe this is true, Kadin has seemed to create an extra set of challenges for me as a father. Not in a bad sense necessarily just different. So as I ponder about what I have exemplified as a man to him, I get excited and sad at the same time. I think about all the good examples and conversations we have had, but then there is the not so good things. Like two divorces, brokenness, failure, unanswered questions and just a host of things that I can easily see as falling short of the mark of being a great father. Honestly, I know Kadin will do well in life, but I understand more and more as life moves forward that it’s not so black and white like I first suggested. So as my only son matures into manhood, I recently thought about what more could I pass down to him as a father. What other ways could I ensure his future will be solid, fulfilling and well-rounded?
Like a light it came to me just a few nights ago. As we spent our regular one on one time together, I struck up a conversation about being a good man and what it means and looks like to him. I asked him his opinion and thought about a way to capture this moment and memorialize it forever. So here is what we came up with.
Everyday for the next several months, Kadin will either text me (when he’s with his mom) or tell me personally one characteristic of a good man everyday. We will do this until I decide we don’t anymore. Once his list is essentially saturated, I will have him select the top ten (with a discussion and explanation). I will then frame the list and hang it in his room; both homes, so that he could always remember what is important to him regarding this topic.
Some of you may ask, “how is this subject matter relevant to this blog? If you did, I am glad that you asked.
One of the hardest things about divorce is the splitting of the children. None of it was their fault, although studies show that many kids place blame on themselves. I still remember that day back on June 27, 2008 when I left the home. I moved into a two bedroom apartment, and my main focus was to purchase a couch, a television and cable and so we could all try to have a positive memory of the night I left the home, that we knew as our normal family. It’s not that watching a movie was somehow going to cure the ails of our then broken hearts, but it brought us together in a way that was positive and memorable. It was a sad day and I can still recall the deep guilt I felt for the breakup of our family. That said, I remained committed to my children as their father and although the sacrifices were great, every one of them were worth the money or time it required during the time.
As I learned to cope and overcome from the many trials of being a single-father, my children were (and remain) my number one priority. Raising a son has simply brought new things for me to contemplate. Even though I established a mentor program years ago for single-mothers with sons, successfully mentored my own young men and read endless books on the plight and struggles of young black males specifically, it is still different when it comes to raising your own man-child.
I find myself asking questions like, “Am I giving him enough to be a strong and productive man one day, Is he confident enough, Can he discern danger or people who don’t have his best interest?” So many things that flow through my brain. And not that my daughters lives aren’t equally important, it’s just raising a man is simply different. Considering the disproportionate high school drop out rate, life expectancy, college acceptance and overwhelming violence that invades the lives of young black males, I have this pressing desire to keep him on task with a different set of tools.
Is this tool the cure-all? Obviously not, but it certainly will not hinder the many choices he will be faced with as he grows closer to becoming a man. One of the indirect benefits of doing this is the commitment required from him to submit a word to me everyday and simultaneously I have the opportunity to tap into what is important to my son. He needs to dig and search within himself to determine what is important to him. Since they come from within himself, it will be easier for him to own them and adhere to what they look like being lived out.
So as we came to the 6th evening, I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt what the essential attributes of good man are to my man-child. They are as follows:
Day 1 – Someone that believes in himself.
Day 2 – A follower of God.
Day 3 – Someone who strives for greatness.
Day 4 – A leader.
Day 5 – Someone courageous.
Day 6 – Someone responsible.
I am certainly blessed to have such a son that will take the time to engage in such an activity with me. We will both grow closer and become better men for it. I’ll keep you posted once the list is completed. If you have any ideas to share on things you have done with your children, please do so.
“Love is not something we give or get; it is something we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” – Brene Brown
By nature I’m an optimist, so my world view tends to place people in a position of seeking to do the right thing more often than not. As I realize this is not true of the world in which we live, I still found myself being hopeful of the best that human nature could produce in any given set of circumstances. Like many, having this idea and actually acting on it can cause one much grief and pain. I was both a recipient and perpetrator of this fact. At times I professed to being in love, but I truly was only in love with the idea of it and at other times someone else professed to love me, but had not come to a full understanding of what love really was. So years ago, as I gained more wisdom along with some traumatic experiences to follow in addition to having three sisters that taught me a lot, I came to an understanding that not everyone loves you, even if they are professing it with passionate heart-felt words.
Although the truth can hurt at times, it is one of the best ways for us to face our realities, whether those realities open new doors with great possibilities or closes others to past harshness. It is the concept of understanding this truth that can bring you to a place of responding appropriately when all hell seems to be breaking loose in your life, protecting yourself more effectively when your faced with sudden hardships and moving forward more progressively in life in such a way that declares your worth and your value. This worth and value is not about shouting anything new to your world of family and friends, or necessarily declaring a new-found disposition to anyone, but more importantly it’s recognizing and owning the scars you have inherited during your life journey and the many lessons that you have acquired because of them. It is then taking those life lessons and applying them to every scenario and situation that you face moving forward.
Relationally this will transcend with you being empowered to say no to abuse of any type, where in the past you accepted it because you felt powerless and believed you were suppose to. It will allow you to recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing more quickly, therefore you can act accordingly. Additionally it will save you from heartache and endless amounts of time dealing with potential life partners that have bad intentions and are out only for themselves. Everything about you may look the same to everyone you know, but they will soon come to understand that a profound shift has occurred in you. That same guy or girl no longer has the license to disrespect you. You finally understand that not everyone loves you and that you don’t have to be indefinitely angry to arrive at this place.
For years I worked with single-mothers with sons at a mentor program I oversaw. I encountered countless women involved in one-sided relationships where their partners consistently betrayed, abused and left them to fend for themselves and their children. It was/is a vicious cycle that unfortunately remains alive to this day, but for the few women that actually began to embrace and practice this concept, their lives changed dramatically. “Joe Blow” was no longer able to woo them over with empty words and meaningless affection because they had come to know him very well, no matter if he came with a nice suit, expensive cars, or blue-jeans and a nice smile. His story no longer captivated them, because they saw him for who he truly was, which in most cases was a manipulator and a liar.
Although embracing this life concept requires determination, something much more is essential an imperative to all that choose to walk down this path. It’s not that you suddenly gain this new-found ability to identify “knuckle-heads” from miles away, although that may be a part of the equation. And it’s equally not necessary that you walk around with a poor attitude that scares every Jonathan, Jerome and Tony away. It is still something deeper.
It is true for women and men alike. Without it we won’t have fulfilling relationships. That truth is learning what love really is and how it looks to actually love ourselves. I could now give you several definitions of what I believe love is, but I won’t. It is something we all must discover for ourselves, but until we understand it, embrace it and practice it daily or our lives will be faced with turmoil, unnecessary hardships and grief that is centered around our own inability to love ourselves.
Now when we talk about doing the work, this is the hard stuff. This is the time when we’re no longer seeking to blame our mothers and fathers for their shortcomings (even though they exist), but we have come to the place where we simply want to work through it once in for all. This is the time when we desire to get past what our abusers did to our psyches and esteem. We know about forgiveness, moving past the pain, identifying the wrong, but when it comes to loving ourselves many times we fall short. We’d rather talk about an easier topic, perhaps someone else’s inability to love themselves. The topic for many of us is just too damn painful to broach. And many of our friends mean well, but they just aren’t prepared or skilled to authentically help us during this time. So at no fault of our own, we could easily become enslaved to a perpetual lifestyle of scratching the surface of many of our most significant core issues. What a tragedy to live this type of life, but many have and continue to do so.
So, what are we to do? Remain in the abyss of a loveless life, entrapped by misinterpretations and abusive indicators of what real love is? Heavens no! Begin your journey of loving yourself by first admitting you are worthy of being loved as you recognize and identify when this was not true for you. Because this could be most of your life, don’t think too long and hard on this one. Now imagine the opposite occurring, where someone who once took from you, imagine another person restoring and giving you a gift without ever a need to pay it back. In other words begin with a moment that declares you are more than the circumstances that have accumulated over the course of your lifespan. However difficult, this is the journey that must occur one day at a time. Commit to yourself that you are worth the resources, time and energy required to learning to love yourself. If professional help is necessary, again remember that you are worthy.
It will always remain true that we must protect ourselves from the bandits that want our most precious gift, which is our ability to love ourselves. It is also true that not everyone will ever love us, but once we are finally able to make those distinctions it won’t matter, because the ones that do love us will shine like stars in the night and the sun in the day. We will see clearly, love with our whole hearts without regret, fear or doubt.
“No one can develop freely in this world and find a full life without feeling understood by at least one person” – Dr. Paul Tournier, M.D.
The moment I began this blog I knew a level of my privacy would be gone forever. For many reasons I was just fine with this. I’m not sure if it was the many years of teaching classes and sharing bits and pieces of my life to strangers and friends for years, or going through a few bad relationships that broke me. Maybe its how I am framed. Whatever the reason, here I am sharing my life story to the world with no hesitancy. Some of my friends ask me, “how do you feel after releasing such a personal part of you to everyone?” My answer is simple. I’ve released everything I have written long before I press the send button. It would be too painful to do it any other way. My point is, the journey that I took to get here was hard, agonizing, however essential, like a prerequisite or pre-qualification to share with you on this type of platform. I have nothing to lose by sharing my story to the world. I actually have a sense of peace knowing that my traumatic life experiences, when shared with integrity will impact someone to hope more, hold on a little while longer or keep believing that life is worth living.
It wasn’t always this way. Like many, I had secret parts of me that no one knew about. I was a master at disguising the real me. What I divulged was perfectly orchestrated. No surprises, at least to me. I was in control and very comfortable with it. The sad part about all of this was, I was living a lie (at least to a degree). The real me was hidden and only surfaced when I allowed him to. A “Plan B” was ALWAYS in my line of sight. I would not be hurt, (so I thought) rejected or dismissed by anyone. I knew how to protect myself, like drinking a disinfectant. It’s meant to kill germs, but when applied incorrectly it can destroy everything it touches. This was me. Hurting everyone around me, by keeping the ones I professed to love at a distance. I wouldn’t dare reveal the real me.
Once the brokenness (read my other post to find out what they are) did its work in me and I chose to surrender, my life begin to change. This change didn’t simply occur because I willed it to, but because I was in a new place. A place of reflection, a place of being still and finally coming to the understanding that I was missing something very essential to living a full life. That place was being true to myself. I mean really true. I came across a great book entitled, “Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?”, by John Powell.
It challenged me to look into the mirror of my soul and ask myself several hard questions, like:
- What is at the core of my fear to show my real self?
- What happens when I finally disclose who I am?
- Why did I always seem to have a “Plan B” in place?
Answer to Question 1 – Ultimately I have learned to understand that my biggest fear was the fear of rejection. I honestly had a fear that if the most important people in my life truly knew me, there is no way that they would still accept me, therefore that perpetuated the lie. It’s human nature for most of us to believe that we’ll never be good enough or measure up to societies’ standards and the truth is we may not ever measure up, but what we must learn is we are enough as we are. My faith in God tells me that I am ever-growing, imperfect and to trust the process of my transformation to evolve to the best me over time. It cannot be with a mindset of comparing myself to others or pretending I understand something when I truly do not. We all want to be accepted by others, but we must resist the temptation to project something or someone who we have not yet become. If we only fit into a specific circle because of an illusion that we feel obligated to project, than we continue to lie to ourselves and perpetuate a lifestyle that saps us of all the creative energy essential to living a life of authentic wholeness.
To authentically learn to love thyself is to release the bondage of performing for others in order to be loved and accepted.
When we learn what mask we place on our hearts every time we have an opportunity to be fully present, is the moment that our chains will begin to drop off. For those of us that have perfected this to an art form, it may require much more work, prayer and therapy to have full release, but it is certainly possible. I am a living witness.
Answer to Question 2 – It’s easy to think that our world will fall a part when we finally choose to live a life of integrity when we haven’t for so long. When we’re making decisions to bring the real me to the table for the very first time, our common sense may tell us to consider the cost and take delicate steps. As a man who can over think even the simplest of things, I encourage you to listen to your first mind and take that leap of faith and courage. No need to figure it out completely, write a dissertation on it or share it with ten friends, just step out and frickin do it.
Take baby steps at first.
I remember the first person that I confessed to that I was molested and the first person that knew how broken I really felt after my string of broken relationships. It was absolutely freeing! For us men, we don’t do this. We place a cork on every hurt and disappointment that we have ever experienced, and will profess that it doesn’t matter when we know that it really does. We’ll cope by turning to drugs, illicit affairs, meaningless sex, violence and others acts that are detrimental to ourselves and others. While these coping mechanisms may provide a temporary way of escape, they are also equally effective in keeping a barrier up so we can remain elusive, at bay and removed from the painful reality we’re trying so desperately hard to escape. Sad truth is it doesn’t work. It never works. Disclosing who I really am brings on freedom like nothing else can. It’s the truth we have heard of for so long that truly sets us free.
Answer to Question 3 – I’ve learned over the years that having a “Plan B” in place is quite common in most things we do. We’ve been taught as children that with college and career choices, we needed a “Plan B”. We always need to have something to fall back on just in case our first plan didn’t come through. This practice has carried over to serious relationships, even marriage. I recently saw an article on Facebook where a poll was taken on how many women had a backup “friend” in case their marriages didn’t work out.
A staggering 80% of the women polled, admitted to having someone there if their relationships were ever in trouble.
I imagine this is not just a women’s issue, but more a human issue. We will enter into relationships declaring our whole heart to someone, (I know this because I did it) committing our lives, time and future, essentially all that we are safe to share and know good and well we aren’t ready yet. We know that we have only revealed the best parts of us, even after a few years and we dare to take the relationship to the next level. What pain this will bring you! Ultimately, none of us want to be frauds or live a lie, but many of the pains of our lives have made it very comfortable for us to retreat to the person that seems most accepted in that particular moment. No one quite knows but us when we shift into that other guy or gal mode.
We smile and laugh the same, we still share in interesting exchanges and come across as very engaged, but something deep within us has checked out.
The familiar wall begins to rise and soon we’re projecting a limited version of who we are. “Plan B” is full effect at this time. For me it simply was easier to project this guy then to be explicitly open with the ones closest to me. My “Plan B” was my safety net and I had justified why I allowed it to exist, not realizing that it was suffocating those important relationships and my own personal growth.
Thankfully, as we continue to journey through life we find ourselves with opportunities to grow. These are typically the times when we have suffered a broken heart or some other type of tragedy. When we confess that we hurt, or that someone hurt us we can begin to own that pain and do something positive with it.
The pain is just the indicator, like a warning light on the dashboard of your car.
It’s our opportunity to heal by acknowledging the pain. It’s our opportunity to remove the walls that have effectively kept us watching life, versus doing life. Being afraid to tell someone who you really are is indeed a scary thing, but I have learned its scarier to live a life alone, a life alone with people all around you that are clueless to the real you. It’s time to step off the ledge my friends. Dare to believe that you can.