Like many individuals, I find my motivation for different tasks from places beyond my internal being. Much of what I learn does not come from a textbook. It comes from experience and observational learning. I am a sight driven person and I pick up a lot by paying attention to what's being done around me. When I was a child, I never had an example of the 'ideal' father figure.
There were men who passed through my life as role models and dropped small nuggets of what manhood was in my mind, but never that one person who I could say showed or said, "This is what a father looks like."
Just as many males I have known and now know, I grew up in a single parent home with my mom and older sister. Allow me to be clear. My father was not always absent. My sister and I were born before my parents got married. I've actually seen the photos of us at their wedding. So for the first few years of my life, he was around more often than not when he wasn't incarcerated. My recollection of my childhood shows my father's presence in my life as early as seven years old. Family photos show him around from infancy. What I do know for a fact is by the time I was eight, he was already out of the house. There were times where my mother let him back in, but those moments didn't last long due to his actions.
My father was a very selfish and self-centred individual. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted. And when he did not have his way, he would try to impose it in a physical manner. When my mother decided enough was enough, he was dismissed from our home for good. Although their relationship was over, he was never banned from my life. My mother always encouraged him to have a relationship with us despite what did not work out between them. My father chose his friends and the streets over his family. And for that reason, I was forced to grow up a fatherless child.
You might ask how I was fatherless if my father came around. Well by definition, the interchangeable term 'fatherless' applies when a child resides in a home with no biological father and experiences little to no involvement from that father.
At a very early age, a high level of resentment for him sprouted within me. I produced the type of anger a child should not have to bear nor have toward a parent. But I did. My father disciplined me physically only once when I brought home an unacceptable report card that said 'needs self-control'. This would have been fine if he showed me love before that discipline. But he didn't. So again, I resented him more. He treated my mother the same way, but more often. The very last time I witnessed my father put his hands on my mother, I promised myself if it ever happened again I would end his life before he ended hers.
From that day forth, I made myself another promise. I said, "If I ever become a father at any point in my life, I will never treat my children the way he treated his. I will be a much better father to them than he is to me." After that day, there were several pop-ups when he decided he wanted to be bothered or my grandparents wanted to see us. But there was no real paternal relationship. There were just random pickups and drop offs. I did not experience all the father-son activities one might expect: unless you count the times he tried to shove his dream of playing pro basketball down my throat. You might think this would promote positive feelings. But in all actuality, it only made the resentment grow and show me more of what I was missing and did not want to be subjected to. It showed me that children don't ask to be brought into the world and you don't treat them like they are insignificant. This was a lesson that stuck with me then and still does to this day.
Today, I sit just before my 40th birthday as the father of two great children. I give my all to them no matter what circumstances come our way. Fortunately, I have them and other people who can vouch for the father I have been to them so far. While I believe I'm doing a heck of a job, I'm always pushing myself to do more, be more present, and make sure I'm making the best decisions for them.
So who do I owe the credit to for being this way? Who can I say has inspired me to be the father I am? Well to this day, I still unashamedly give the credit to my father.
My father showed me everything I did not want to be as a man and more so as a father.
I did not want to be disrespectful to my child's mother. I did not want my child to view me as selfish. I did not want them to be abandoned in a cruel world. What I do want is for them to be proud when they see me, hear my name, or mention me to others.
I've learned that a man's value is determined by the impression he makes and leaves on others. When you produce children, you forfeit 'I want' for 'they need'. So while you have things you want to accomplish in life, you make sure your children have all they need and most of what they deserve first. Anything else is out of order. So when asked how I stay inspired to fulfil my role as a father when I didn't have a positive example of one, I answer by saying, "Simple. I give my children what I always desired."
How did YOUR FATHER inspire YOU? Please share your story.
Rahsaan is a father, husband, mentor, writer and PhD candidate completing his dissertation on the experiences of African American males who have participated in fatherhood programs and how they have influenced their children as a result.