The Prodigal Altar Boy

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I GOT a Daddy! - Part 3 - What young men need to know


I've done a lot of writing about my thoughts on men, fatherhood, and the trends I see. Thanks for the comments, I like them and they start a discussion that should continue. I hope that for all of you reading, you will post comments, continue the discussion, and more importantly, move from discussion to action in your own lives and communities.

Below is a list of things to start a list of what young men need to know. A few of those things focus on race, but apply as well to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, origin, etc.

This isn't meant to be an all-encompassing, last word on the subject list. THIS is the beginning of the discussion. Please add to the list in your comments, and I'll compile all of them into a not-too-far in the future follow up post.

Here we go:

• Once you get a job, acquire as much training as they will give you

• Before you assume it’s about race, make sure you are 100% compliant in all other areas.

• It’s always about race. Even if it’s not.

• Never threaten EEO or other legal action on the job. If you’re going to do it, then just do it.

• Before asking what you should get from a situation (job, relationship, etc.,) ask what you bring to that situation.

• When speaking to a woman, ask yourself, “Would I speak this way to my mother, sister, wife?”

• Focus on the long term. Instant gratification, especially when it takes away from long term focus, has lasting consequences.

• Watch and learn.

• The number one person who has to believe in you is you.

• While imitation can be a source of inspiration and foundation, the bottom line is the world doesn’t need another ________________, it needs you to develop your own voice.

• Maturity is the transition from the job defining you to you defining the job.

• If you’re doing something “just for the money,” find something else to do.

• While “paying dues” is part of life, there is no benefit to overpaying them.

• With “mentors,” you have a vote. Choose wisely and challenge them.

• Does the company you keep challenge you to be the best? If not, find some new company.

• The moment you give someone else the power to determine your worth, you become a slave. (no exceptions, sorry)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I GOT a Daddy! - Part 2 - Absent Fathers

Absent Fathers
There is no dearth of discussion on absent fathers and the effect it has sons, daughters and families in general.  Growing up in a household where my father was absent due to legal separation, military assignments and finally divorce, I am in no position to dispute the body of studies outlining the negative effects of absent fathers. 

While I will not dispute the studies, I also will not condone their use as an excuse for poor behavior.  An absent father can be an obstacle, but does not have to be a life sentence.  It is interesting how a child’s home life, especially an absent father, weighs in explanations for poor academic performance and/or acting out in school.   Equally interesting is that when a student with an absent father is successful, the student’s success is couched as being “in spite” of an absent father.

Could this focus on the ills of absent fathers somehow “teach”children an absent father impairs them from achieving at the same level as students from intact families?  Are we teaching mothers the “handicap” caused by the absent fathers is remedied by condoning/enabling unproductive behavior?  Are we conditioning teachers to lower expectations for children of absent fathers, and in the race for higher test scores, shift their focus on students with greater “potential”? 

My father’s absence from the home was a source of financial and emotional household strain, and I certainly knew my “home situation” was different from that of my peers.  While that difference was a fact, my mother, father, extended family, family friends worked hard to keep that difference from being a license to fail.  My father never missed an opportunity to express his love for me and his desire for me to “make something of myself.”  He laid out the milestones of that goal by emphasizing education.  He embodied as well as advocated the benefits of a superior work ethic and encouraged me to prioritize what would bring me closer to my goals.

While he had goals for me and some idea of what the milestones for those goals looked like, he also had the wisdom to know that the ultimate goal was for me to have as much freedom as possible to choose my own path.  When I flunked out of U.Va., he was the one who drove me from Charlottesville to Richmond to enlist in the Air Force.  Although he retired from the Navy, he was quick o tell me he thought the Air Force was a good choice and encouraged me to get as much training as I could.  When I told him I would be going to language school to learn Russian, he was very proud.  Our conversation during  the drive to Richmond and sitting in the cafĂ© in the lobby of the hotel the recruiting station paid for is one I refer back to on a daily basis.  Even if I had I known at the time it would be the last time I would see him, I don’t think there was more we would have talked about.

Again, thanks for checking out the blog.  For my Board members, I'm knocking this out before I hit the road to Tidewater.  I wanted to get this one out before Father's Day, and promise I will finish this up on Sunday.  I  heard on the radio that this weekend (in Baltimore at least) is "Amnesty Weekend" for absent fathers.  That's a lot to think about.  The call-in show about it was interesting, saddening and uplifting at the same time. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I GOT a Daddy!

My father’s birthday was April 30, and while I think of him often, milestone dates and holidays always bring him to the forefront of my mind.  A blog post on State Department and Harvard documents on President Obama’s father reinforced this year’s reverie.  The blog used the President’s release of his birth certificate as a jumping off point to explore other documents a journalist discovered using the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). 

I will avoid discussing the whole birth certificate issue so as not to dignify the inherent dishonesty of that debate.  Suffice it to say, wake me up when you’re ready to discuss the racist implications of the birther movement. 

Much discussion about black fathers is a spinoff of the entire “issue” of black males in America.  A recent discussion with one of my advisory board members centered on college graduation rates for black men and black women, which showed black women far more likely to get a college degree than black men.  That led to a discussion of incarceration rates for black men and the implication of those two issues on marriage prospects for our daughters. 

As Father’s Day approaches, I’m sure we’ll see further recitation of disturbing statistics, gloomy extrapolation of those numbers, much hand-wringing and a general call for yet another call for black males to become “more involved” with their children, especially their sons, in order to break this cycle. 

More Involved
Really?  That’s your best shot?  Black men need to be more involved with their children?  When I think of my own adventures in parenthood (and single-parenthood), “involved” is not an adjective that comes to mind.  Not because I think parents shouldn’t  be “involved” with their children, I think if you’re loving them and providing for them and preparing them for a future a productive members of society, “involvement” is going to be a natural byproduct, so let’s give “involved” a much needed rest.

Beyond Involvement
Let’s replace “involved,” with “goal oriented.”  Establishing “goals” (as opposed to “wishes” and “dreams”) forces us to think things through and work out plans of action.  If I want my children to be a part of society and contribute to the world in the best way they can, there must be tangible steps to reach that goal.  What would that look like?  What kinds of tools will they need to do that?  How can I provide those tools? 

Already I can hear people saying, “Cal, if we love them and provide for them, won’t they become productive members of society?”  The short answer is, “No.”  In our current society, the definitions of “love” and “providing for” are diluted, if not swapped.  Catering to every whim, financing continual occupation through electronics and wall-to-wall organized activities replace purposeful interaction and preparation.  Parents are more akin to personal assistants as they shepherd children from one event to another, while the children interact with their world through cybernetic networks that at best tolerates parents. 

Next:  Absent Fathers

Thanks for checking out the blog.  For my Advisory Board members, yes, this is a little off topic, but reading a friend's blog  prompted me to start this thread.  I had planned to bust out the whole thing on Father's Day, but reading Jeff's blog put me in the mood to get something out.  Enjoy and see you next time.