Yesterday, I invited my father to speak to my classes on leadership. He was impeccably dressed as most black men are who were born into the era of the segregated 50’s when being black, male, and American was extremely dangerous and extremely painful. As much as my siblings and I have tried to “dress Daddy down”, his first inclination is always dress pants, shirt, tie, and of course Stacey Adams. And after working 30 years for mostly 6 days a week assembling tires and smelling like tar so my siblings and I could have better opportunities, not one of us complains about his dress code. Much respect.
So Dad walks in and immediately his aura fills my classroom. He’s calm, cool, and collected. My classes have never been so quiet. Dad opened his mouth and you could hear a pin drop. I actually was surprised. It always takes me a few minutes to calm down the chatter so I can assume my position of authority, but Dad was so natural. No one texted under their desks. No one shuffled papers as a signal that class was about to come to an end. Dad was just so organic and I was a little jealous.
I assumed that he would easily connect with my male students and he did. Yet, I was surprised, however, by the impact that my dad had on the young ladies in my classes. One of them emailed me immediately after class expressing how they almost burst into tears as they could see that my father and I shared a great relationship-a relationship that “I could only wish that I had with my father…”
I also noticed that many of the students that greeted my dad afterwards were females. They shook his hand and they thanked him for coming. I didn’t expect that either.
As usual, politicizing an issue forces you to choose sides and the majority of the emphasis has been on the state of young boys growing up in fatherless homes while very little attention is given to the young girls growing up in fatherless homes. Both groups equally suffer although their coping mechanisms are extremely different.
Young girls without the presence of a father-figure, cope by dating guys that they assume are father-figure types. Young boys without the presence of a father-figure, cope by doing whatever activity they assume to be a father-figure activity which ultimately consists of playing the role of “being the man” without having any idea of what that phrase even means or without having anyone to model “real man” behavior. And both groups are equally daddy deficient because neither group understands that the essential element of being a father is not how you look on the outside, but your ability to carry the weight and the burden of responsibility.
So when my 60-year old father stood up in front of my classroom of 18, 19, and 20 year olds, his presence was like a sweet-smelling perfume reeking of strength, security, and protection for the young ladies and he was a living, tangible example of “being a man” for the young men in my classes.
I don’t know how to solve the father crisis plaguing our communities but I do know that there are many capable men to help provide examples. My dad is just one example and although he ranks as #1 in my book, I am looking forward to many, many, more examples stepping up to the plate. Our young men and our young women are counting on you.