“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.