America is the land of opportunity. The stories of rags to riches pepper our society and culture. There may or may not be specific “privilege” based on race, gender, or education, but one things for sure.
If you are born into poverty, your chances of getting out of poverty are slim to none.
I was born in Greenville, SC. I never knew my father and my mother was, well… she did her best. But growing up in poverty meant we didn’t always eat and there were plenty of times where we were living by candlelight as the electricity was shut off.
I’m not the only one who knows this type of upbringing and I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s just the way it was. My life was not interrupted by massive trauma. It was a slow burn of despair and my only mission was to simply survive. That meant I did things I’m not proud of now, but at the time, did not seem like a big deal.
But when I did, I used the money for food. This is no Oliver Twist tale, but it comes pretty darn close. The beatings I took when I got caught (and I always got caught) were severe. “Go outside and get a switch, boy” my uncle would tell me. Then He’d whip this little boy’s rear end until it was red.
I vowed that one day, when I was big and strong, these beatings would stop. So I took up football. As it turns out, I was pretty good at it.
I trained and I trained hard. I was still a bad boy in the literal sense of getting into trouble now and then, but it never got in the way of my true passion which was getting on that field and being the best I could be.
Was my motivation simply to get bigger so I could stare down my uncle?
Was my interest in football bolstered by my desire to go professional and escape the hood?
Who did I think I was, anyway?
As a teenager, I did not have the foresight of knowing where I would eventually end up, of course. Like all kids, I had dreams. My dreams where mainly focused around escape-not fame and fortune. I simply wanted to be and do better.
The one thought that kept nagging at me, the pebble in my shoe, however was my total lack of a compass. Again, this is where hindsight gives one great clarity. At the time, I could not have identified the foundational element that was lacking. But I know what it is today.
I know what drove me.
I know what I yearned for.
I knew what I would NOT do when I became a man.
I needed only one thing.
Without a man… a gentleman to guide me, encourage me, and support me, I was a literal Tazmanian devil. Training for football one day and stealing lunch money the next day. When I reflect upon my past and I talk to my boys today, it is crystal clear.
Fatherless households are the root cause of most of societies ills.
You can trace incarceration, drugs, rape, larceny, gangs, violence, and nearly all crimes to young men who grew up without a father. I’m not suggesting anyone who is a “sperm donor” is a father, of course. There are too many men who are rolling stones. What I do clearly see is the black and white difference between what I went through without a dad and what my son’s get on a daily basis.
A present Dad. I am fortunate that I am able to be a full-time father. Most dad’s who work don’t have that option. But That is no excuse for not being there for your kids. When we look back upon our lives, we rarely recall every day, but we do recall the moments… single events that galvanize our future and shape our destiny.
My job is to not let those moments happen by chance, but to create as many of those as possible. They could be as simple as a hug, listening to them, or going for a walk. The most important aspect of fatherhood is setting an example of being there for them.