My father–Hendrick Bernard Johnson–who was gunned down by the sheriff’s deputies in 1987 when I was 9 years old, left my mother a widow, and me looking for a model to follow. It was heartbreaking for me, and it took some time to get over it. My father had two strikes against him, and I’m told an addict for some reason lied and said he had a gun. The end began with a long chase, but concluded with my father being shot 21 times on 92nd and Central Avenue. The deputies believed he was reaching for a gun, but no gun was found.
There were no other men that actually made a difference in my life beside my uncles, but I also had Bill Cosby, Andy Griffith, John Amos, Matlock, Ricky Ricardo, Al Bundy and other celebrities who I tried to adopt as TV dads and pattern my image after. Many men take the stance that they had no father figure in their lives, and I understand that. But now that they are in position to be good fathers to their own sons and daughters, they get stuck in front of a video game trying to figure out how they make more kills on “Call of Duty.” I don’t understand that.
I take my job as a single father (my son Andre stays with his mother on most weekends) very seriously, because my son is a reflection of the hard work that I have already put into his development. But managing an impressionable 4-year-old presents a fairly high mountain to climb everyday. Sometimes when my money is low, I look at my son’s smile and it instantly erases my anxiety.
Now that Andre is getting ready for elementary school, the kindergarten programs that I consider are numerous, and my research is tireless and extensive. Attempting to find the best for my son is a daily struggle of sacrifices, with much prayer and supplication. But I do it because, 30 years from now I want to know in my heart that I took full advantage of all opportunities that were available for him.
Mustering up enough patience to deal with his questions can sometimes be an exhausting task, especially when you add the countless repeated statements and, after a while, find yourself hoping to purchase a little more patience for sale on Ebay or Amazon. The questions often begin with a barrage:
“Daddy, where does God live? Daddy, can you and my mommy get married? Daddy can I have a Mohawk? Daddy, can I have a girlfriend?”
At 4 years old, he already has insights on religion, marriage, fashion and relationships.
These and many other questions spring from his car seat as I try to focus on the reckless drivers on the city streets, as well as on my son’s young innovative mind.
I respond, “Andre, God lives everywhere,” which is a good answer, but for Andre one that needs much clarity.
“So, God lives at our house too?” “Yes, son,” I reply. “So God lives at my mom’s house, too?” “Yes, son,” I reply. “So God lives at my auntie’s house, too?” “Yes, son,” I reply. “So, God lives at my granny’s house, too?” “Yes, son, God lives everywhere.” “How daddy? How does God live everywhere?” I reply: “Because God is big and he travels everywhere, son.”
For a few seconds there is a break in the conversation, and I feel that I have fully addressed his questions. But out of nowhere he asks: “So what does God eat, daddy?”
We as fathers need to spend more time engaging and less time enraging our children. I feel that the pendulum of parenting has shifted from the time when I was being raised. Children in my opinion, need more attention and direction now than ever before. They need a firm foundation in order to be successful in their everyday lives. Children need to be trained, and they need to have parents that make them first priority, not their fourth or fifth. What I can honestly say is that my role as a father is constantly evolving everyday, and I modify my approach constantly when dealing with my son.
Today, I may feel the need to spend more quality time with him, or I may develop a new strategy that allows us to leave the house 10 minutes earlier in the morning to give us more time to talk prior to dropping him off at school and releasing him into the real world. Everyone says that kids do not come with instructions, but they don’t come with tools either, and my job as his father is to equip him with the proper tools for coping.
My advice to other fathers is that you work with your children in all areas. Don’t put the responsibility off on a tutor, teacher, coach, or your wife. This is your cross to bear, and you need to be the one who grooms your children. You should challenge them on a daily basis to minimize complacency, equip them with insights, expose them to activities, and offer them resources. Most importantly, pray with and for your child everyday and be sure to buckle up, because at times it is a wild, bumpy ride.
Happy Father’s Day to the fathers, stepfathers, uncles, mentors, coaches, and all of the positive males figures in between. We are responsible for shaping, molding, and developing replicas of great men and women throughout this world, and we must continue building.