My Two Days

February  28, 2012

Last night I was helping my daughter with her homework. It was a writing assignment in which she had to describe the appearance of her room. After reviewing the rough draft I told her to tell her reader where exactly the things in her room are located instead of just saying they are in her room. For example; Instead of saying you have a map of the world in your room say that you have a map of the world hanging on the wall above your bed. She took my advice and wrote what I thought to be a stellar piece. That was yesterday, today I had to give her back.

Specificity is the focus on small things, the ability to pay attention to details that the average person may not notice in order to positively affect the story at large. I only have about two days a week to spend with my child and I spend a significant portion of that time at work. I know that I am positively affecting her life. I know that I am going against the odds as a black man who chooses to handle responsibility and be a father. Yeah I know all of that stuff. I hear it all the time and that’s great. But it’s hard to feel like a father when the court gives you no more that 48 hours to be a parent. It’s hard to adjust to not having any real say in her life outside of what I say in those two days when I’m with her. It’s hard to not feel depressed every week when I kiss her goodbye and she goes to her real home.

Some men can’t deal with the trauma of having their parenting rights dictated to them and honestly I can’t blame them. I can’t say I never thought about checking out of the situation. It’s strange because everyone wants to judge absentee fathers but no one really wants to understand them. I mean how cruel does a system have to be in order to make a man want to leave his children? How is it that fatherhood has become so dispensable in the court of law? I don’t know. I try not to think about it. All I try to do is make my two days count.

-YB

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The Trials of Fatherhood

November 22, 2011

I remember when my daughter was a baby of about 11 months and I had to go to court to see her on a regular basis. I ended up having to fight the system as hard as I could to get two days a week for visitation. I can recall doing everything I possibly could to not only never miss a date when it was time to pick up my child but also to never be a second late. And I realize now just as I realized then that the main reason for my dedication was the constant fear that if I ever went over a week without seeing my child then she would forget me and I would soon be replaced.

Fatherhood can be a very unforgiving enterprise. It is very common for people to spend their whole lives hating their fathers without ever making an honest attempt to empathize with him. It’s a role that has become dispensable in society. In most cases having a healthy relationship with ones father is seen as a luxury as opposed to a necessity. At times when I would go to get my little girl I would read the faces of the people in the house where she lived and they would all say; “Why are you still coming here? How long are you going to keep this up?”

 

American households no longer know the function of a father. Fathers have become the appendix of the family unit, particularly when a couple splits up. There is no law in place that says a woman must allow her children to see their father. A father must go to family court and in the state of California he must pay upwards of $400 to start the mediation process. I’m sure most people can’t imagine how degrading it feels to, in essence, have to save up to buy your own child. I do believe this is was what caused Huckleberry Finn—the protagonist of Mark Twain’s most revered work—to experience an epiphany regarding the institution of slavery. It occurred after he discovered that his good friend Nigger Jim planned to work hard up north so that he could earn enough wages to eventually purchase his children who were still in bondage. Ultimately Huckleberry Finn who in so many ways represented the American conscience began to see that despite the popular opinion of the day and alleged biblical verses that justified the practice, slavery was in fact very immoral.

 

I wonder about the emotional shortcomings of a fatherless culture. How limited is the future of a people who fail to appreciate half of what brought them into existence?

-YB

Trying To Keep My Little Girl Off The Pole

I expose my 7-year-old daughter to as many things as I possibly can. We go to the Museum of African Diaspora together, and she has already been to several readings and open-mics. The girl paints, creates music, plays soccer, and loves math. Like all good fathers I try to be as supportive as possible. Even though her mother and I split several years ago I have always been a consistent presence in my little girl’s life. This is mostly because of my love for her and my strong desire for her to one day be a successful woman but it is also driven by an uncontrollable fear. I want my daughter to be talented and I want my daughter to be artistic but I do not want my daughter to become a stripper.

Over the past decade no institution –besides the penitentiary—has come to symbolize the failure of African-American father’s more than the strip club. Stripping is big business in every American city but it is even more lucrative in the Southern United States where a disproportionate amount of blacks either reside or send their children to Historically Black Colleges and Universities to be educated. There is a whole subgenre of hip-hop music made specifically for strippers to dance to; Pop Lock and Drop It, Rock her Hips, Shake it Like a Salt Shaker, Back That Thang Up, and a dozen other booty worshipping songs that cause me to quickly change the dial every time my daughter is in the back seat. “But I like that song Daddy,” she often says. “Well I don’t,” I tell her. At least not with her in the car I don’t.

The role of the stripper in society has been reinvented in the modern-era which adds a whole different dimension to my worst parenting nightmare. No longer is the stripper’s pole reserved for the neglected, tragically beautiful, young lady who grew up in foster care. Instead there is a huge cross-section of sisters who find themselves flinging their bodies from the stainless steel sphere and landing in a perfect split. There are graduate students, daughters of the bourgeoisie, former high-school athletes, and aspiring entrepreneurs all collectively making it clap for crisp new bills. Alas stripping has become a completely socially acceptable profession.

Not that I have anything against these women. I honestly believe that it takes a tremendous amount of swagger for these ladies to dance naked in front of total strangers as if they were dancing alone in front of a mirror. So many women have extreme insecurities about their bodies that it is somewhat refreshing to see females shake it with pride. My only issue is that I am scared that the incessant stream of black women dancing half-naked in music videos, and on billboards, in magazines, and in low-budget hip-hop movies, will force a whole generation of girls to think that is their only option in life.

No longer will young African-American females want to win gold medals like Dominique Dawes and Gail Devers. They won’t know that they can go to outer-space like Dr. Mae Jamison or make millions of dollars by starting their own business like Madam C.J. Walker. Instead they will think the only way they can get rich is by catching a hand full of bills thrown to them by some drunken rapper who was gracious enough to “make it rain” all over their once sacred bodies.

Needless to say I do not want that for my little girl. I want her to defy societal expectations and choose her own path. I want her to be socially outgoing yet ferociously independent. I want her to be proud of her culture while at the same time being aware that her people need her help. The last thing I want to do is fail like so many other black men.

Sometimes I close my eyes and I am haunted by the fact that every stripper had a daddy once. It is oh so troubling.

YB