Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fathers and sons

Thank you, Rick Reilly.

I was going to wait and write this next weekend, when it's Father's Day--and my dad's birthday.

Sometimes sons feel a need to overcompensate for what their fathers did or didn't have, or do or didn't do.

I didn't meet my dad until I was 15. A strange thing to say, yes, but a stranger thing to feel.

I had male figures in my life--uncles, teachers, men in Scouting, men at church. But no father. I think I did ok, and my mom and my grandmother did the best they could on the limited means they had.

There were a lot of things I had to learn and do on my own, because I didn't have that central figure.

In Cub Scouts, there was something called the Pinewood Derby, where you have to make a car out of wood and race down a wooden track. The first year, I didn't have anyone to make a car for me. A neighbor tried to carve a design, but it wasn't good at all, and I finished last. I did get help the next year, from the father of another scout. But my dad.

I even taught myself how to shave.

You don't know how lucky and blessed I am. Black males without fathers can get into so much trouble. No, the place I grew up in wasn't dangerous (at all), but a small town can leave you with nothing to do sometimes. But the scouts and school activities kept me busy--and helped me grow. I look back and think of all the people who were angels, who looked out for me. Just me saying how thankful I am for them can't do justice to everything great and small they've done for me.

I've done a lot, and achieved a lot in my life. And my dad and I are cool now (except when the Redskins play the Cowboys). But every so often I wonder, how different my life would have been.

My best friend in school lived a couple of houses down from me. We played ball in the streets, played Star Wars and G.I. Joe, and ride our bikes through the neighborhood. What he didn't know was that I was jealous of him. He had a brother, a sister, a mother--and a father. A normal family.

I don't want my lack of a father growing up to be a crutch for me, for what I don't have. There are a lot of things I could have done with him, but I did a lot of things without him. I bear no grudge or ill-will to him. There is every reason in the world for me to be angry at him, and the world. I'm not.

So, you have a partial understanding of why I am the way I am. My story is one of not having what everyone has, and still making the best of what I have--and maybe being a little better than I have a right to be. This is why I don't give up easily--if I had given up when I was a kid, succumbed, if other people had given up on me, God only knows where I would be now.

Maybe I overcompensate. Maybe I overanalzye. Maybe it's because I owe people--people on this earth, people gone from it, people not yet on it--a debt. A debt I willing, cheerfully, gratefully want to pay back. I want to give what I didn't receive, until late.

I owe them the debt of a man who wasn't there.

I want to be better than my father. Not for the sake of competition or payback. But because I want to be there when my child needs that Pinewood Derby car made. Or needs to sell cookies. Or needs to know what life is like.

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