I won’t begin to assume what you’re going through, for there’s a spectrum of Blackness and man-ness and person-hood that exist, but I just had to write this as I sit in the delivery room hours before the arrival of our firstborn child.
I’m mostly writing to connect, reach out, and encourage.
To let you know that you’re not alone, and to remind myself that I’m not alone.
See, there’s this perception that a lot of black men aren’t there for their children. That a lot of us are either dying, killing, being killed, imprisoned. But, we know the truth: we’re not a monolith and a lot of us are here for our children, our families, our communities, our world.
Some of us are graduating from college. Some of us are owning businesses. Some of us are the best gamers, chefs, delivery men this world has ever seen. And some of us are struggling to get out of bed because of ancestral pain and trauma.
We come in so many shapes, sizes, belief systems, and lived experiences, but there are some things that connect us:
- Many of us will have the talk with our child, especially our sons. We’ll let them know how different they are and what to do when they’re pulled over and how they’ll feel the need to be two steps ahead of their peers.
- Many of us have experienced some type of othering in our lifetime. Personally, I was called too white and not black enough as a child. That’s part of what led to the self-hate I’ve been working to unlearn in my 30s.
- Many of us had fathers or father figures who were really really tough on us. Who hit us, or swore at us, or made us feel like we were worthless in order to help us survive a cold world. They inherited much of that from their fathers and so on. If this is your story, you may often find ourselves at the crossroads of restoration and resentment.
And many of us are trying to figure out what type of dads we’ll be, and we’re doing everything we can to break generational patters and curses, and do better.
I know I am.
I feel the pressure to do well with this baby that will come any hour now. With this black baby that will live in a world that often weaponizes, sexualizes, brutalizes their body (see Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates).
A world that doesn’t understand what it means to “always be thinking about race” or to “often be wondering if we’re code switching or actually saying the right thing for the moment”.
I will make an assumption now.
I assume that some of you are reading this and going, “Oh, no. This author clearly isn’t in touch with his true self and his roots. He needs to read up on his history and learn.” And you’d be correct. I have a lot to learn and ways to go, and also, I’m right where I should be — that’s a big takeaway I hope most new dads have from this letter.
We are exactly where we need to be.
We are ready as we are to be stewards of this new life form that is before us.
Who can say what a whole, sound, and perfect black man looks like? I’m sure someone can, but what matters most to me is being a father — a parent — who shows up every single day to his child.
As someone was raised by resilient and loving grandparents with middle school educations, one of the best things they did for me was be present.
Present to invite me to sleep on their bedroom floor when thunderstorms rolled through. Present for the tears I cried after bullies had their way. Present for the times my hands couldn’t stop shaking after my own father stopped by to berate and abuse.
That’s what’s required, dear brothers. And if you can, some grace, love, and patience.
Grace is the space we hold for someone to be imperfect and unfinished. Love is the acceptance and validation we fill that space with. And patience is what we give ourselves to do better at the former at the latter.
My heart both panics and smiles as I think of holding my newborn child.
What will become of them, what will they dream of, will I be enough for them, will we succeed in keeping them safe?
What will they accomplish?
How will I ruin them?
How will I help them thrive?
And so, I find myself overwhelmed with favorable and unfavorable outcomes, and it’s imperative for me to give myself the same grace, love, and patience my child will require. The same you require. The same we all are so desperately needing as we parent, teach, lead, and guide.
For we are enough and we’re exactly where we need to be: in the life of someone who we mean the world to, before we even utter a word.