Category Archives: Men

The Legacy of Black Father’s Love

Father_and_Son_(Imagicity_282)

The best part of my childhood was knowing how much I was loved. It wasn’t the “be a good kid and we’ll show you love” conditional kind of love. As for my father, he loved me with a fierceness that made me believe that I was infallible. I wish I could say that that I loved my father in the same way. Unfortunately, I held him up to unrealistic expectations and made unfair demands of him to prove his love. I had high standards for my dad. I wanted him to be the perfect husband, father, and man. Anytime he made a mistake, I voiced my disapproval. I wanted him to be more than he could be without taking in to consideration that my father did not have an example or a role model of fatherhood. He created his own fatherhood blueprint. I loved my father yet I didn’t give him a chance to be human. I took his love for granted.

The Black father is expected to be near perfect. We want him to have the strength of James Evans, the patience and wisdom of Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the lightheartedness of Carl Winslow and intelligence of Uncle Phil. We want the black father to embody superhuman qualities and be more than he may be able to live up to.

Even our society polarizes black fathers. We either hear about the black dads that are doing exemplary things or dysfunctional, irresponsible dead beat dad. Black fathers are often reduced to caricatures. But what about the loving yet unassuming black fathers who are overlooked almost daily? These humble giants do not look for fanfare or adulation for being a dad. Why have we forgotten these unsung heroes who do so much for their families and ask for so little in return?

I think of men like my brother and husband who don’t think twice about making sacrifices for their families, especially their children. I think of the black fathers who pack the classroom of PS 153 every year for Dads Take Your Child to School Day. I think of the black father who stands on line in frigid weather in hopes of securing a spot for their child in a high performing school. I think of the black father who forfeits his work lunch hour to volunteer in his child’s school. I think of the black fathers I see in the park, eagerly engaging with their children. I also think of the black fathers highlighted in Zun Lee’s photo book: “Father Figure: Exploring Alternate Notions of Black Fatherhood”. These are not perfect men, they are men doing their best to show their children that they are loved and valued.

This is my ode to those unsung heroes, the loving black father who we pass by daily without giving a second thought to his life, his love or his experiences. We may even dismiss him or make assumptions about his character. These are the black fathers who are not an enigma to their children. They are physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally present in their children’s lives. They are the black fathers who don’t shy away from being the most important male to their children. These black fathers aren’t overly concerned with accolades for loving and caring for their children. Nurturing, guiding and supporting their children comes to them naturally. We don’t see these black fathers because they get lost in the shuffle of fatherlessness. We bring out the torches and pitchforks for dead beat black fathers but we don’t bring compassion and gratitude to the loving black fathers.

To you, black fathers, I say “Thank you”. Thank you for not allowing society to taint your vision of fatherhood. Thank you for caring more about your children than “showing that you’re a good dad.” Thank you for showing your children the power of unconditional love. Thank you for showing your sons that true leaders lead with love. Thank you for being a blessing for your children. Thank you for leaving a legacy of love for generations to come.

Originally posted at The Good Men Project.com

8 Things I Want to Teach My Sons About Women

love women

As the mom of two boys,  I often have to remind them (and myself) that I’m a woman first, a mom second. I remember when my teen son was little and he said he wanted to marry a woman just like me. I was flattered and scared at the same time. On one hand,  he must see good qualities in me that he would want in a future wife but on the other hand was it fair to expect his future wife to be a  Star Wars, Pokemon, Hot Wheels, Lego, SpongeBob loving ninja?  I now realize that at that age, the thought of his wife being like his mother was the coolest thing in the world. Now that he’s a teen, he sees me through different lenses and I just pray that I’m giving him (and now his little brother) a balanced view on women.   Here are some things I want to teach my sons about women:

1. All Women Are Not The Same

The last thing I want is for my sons to make the assumption that all people are the same.  It’s easy to make judgments about others when you don’t have all the facts. Appreciate the differences in women based on their character, talents, personality, and interests.  Don’t try to change a woman because of your unrealistic expectations or preferences.  If you can’t accept her for who she is, find someone else who is more compatible.  Also, be mindful that there are good and bad people in the world, regardless of gender. Don’t let a bad experience with one woman influence your perception of all women.

2. Women are Funny

Tina Fey, Aisha Tyler, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Wanda Sykes, Mo’Nique, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris, Loni Love, Kym Whitley, Betty White, Carol Burnett, Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Cho, Roseann Barr, Chelsea Handler, Amanda Seales,  Kathy Griffin, Lisa Lampanelli, Sarah Silverman, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Sandra Bernard, Sommore, Jennifer Coolidge, Gilda Radner, Rachel Dratch, Joy Behar, just to name a few.

2. Appreciate a Woman’s Strength, Don’t Use It Against Her

Both genders get mixed messages about strength. Don’t get caught up in archaic views of traditional male or female roles. While men are expected to be strong, assertive and fearless, these same qualities are not always valued in women.  Be confident enough to admire a woman’s strength and not see it as a threat to your masculinity.

4. Listen but Don’t Rush to Solve a Woman’s Problem

Sometimes when a woman is talking, she is venting to release her frustration, anxiety or anger. She just wants you to listen. It doesn’t mean that she wants you to solve her problem or save the day.   If you’re unsure if a woman wants your help, just ask.

5. Don’t Call a Woman Crazy Because You Don’t Understand

Most conflicts arise because of miscommunication. What is spoken or written can be misconstrued. If you’re unclear about what a woman is saying, ask for clarification. Don’t dismiss what she’s saying as irrelevant or “crazy talk” because it doesn’t make sense to you. Feelings are real and just because you don’t understand or can’t relate doesn’t mean she’s being overly sensitive.

6. Be a Gentleman

Being a gentleman is not just about chivalry. At the core of being a gentleman is respect and love for self and others.  Treat people the way they want to be treated.  It takes a man of integrity to be a gentleman, so say what you mean and mean what you say in all forms of communication.  Your words and actions reflect your character, so think before you speak and act.

7.  If You’re Unsure, Ask

It’s the lack of clarity that can get you into trouble.  If you’re unclear, ask for more information. Asking questions helps you to set boundaries and helps you to better understand a particular situation. Respect the response and don’t  use manipulation or pressure to get your way.  As a follow-up, be clear in your responses.

8. Show Your Appreciation

A simple ‘Thank you” or acknowledgment of a gesture goes a long way.  Don’t take for granted what anyone does for you. Also, don’t let people take what you do granted.

Above all else, I want my sons to have self-love so that they are true to themselves.  Yes, it’s important to me that my sons are strong, loving, compassionate companions in the future but I also want them to be appreciated and loved for who they are as men.

Photo: Flickr

What Kind of Man Do You Want to Be: Image of a Real Man

This month’s What Kind of Man Do You Want to Be topic: The Image of a Real Man was a conversation about the image of a real man and how societal  and media masculine standards perpetuates male stereotyping.

Panelists  for Part I:  Enrique Pascal,  author of What Does A Real MAN Look Like? and host of Transformation Radio and Alan Bishop, founder of The 365 Effect, producer and creator several television shows .

Panelists for Part II: Edmund Adjapong, Rey Saint-Vil and Alex Hanse

The Zimmerman Verdict: The Message to Our Sons

My son told me the verdict in the Zimmerman trial.  Three simple words: “Mom, not guilty”.  My 15 year old who has been watching this trial from the beginning. At first I tried to register if he was joking just to see my reaction. As I turned on the news, I stood quietly for such a long time, he had to ask me if I was ok.

Painting by*S-Daniels

Painting by*S-Daniels

My first thought was, “Are you ok?” I was shocked, disappointed and slowly became outraged. Until I looked at my son and realized that this wasn’t about me. It was about the countless “Trayvon Martins” who have died because of gun violence.

Let’s be honest, most of these deaths were black on black crimes and the growing crime rate in Chicago sheds light on the fragility of the life of young black males. As the mom of two boys: a teen and a toddler, I have a visual daily reminder of the developmental stages of black boys.  While most adults coo and play with my toddler, they’re apprehensive about my 5’10 teen son.  I look at my son through society’s eyes, I wonder if he will be approached by the NYPD for Stop and Frisk?  At what point will women clutch their handbags and men shift uncomfortably when he steps on an elevator? At what point will he start thinking less about his comfort level and more about making others feel safe around him?

Jonathan Lethem asks in his book, The Fortress of Solitude, “What age is a black boy when he learns that he is scary?” Last night the bigger question became, “What age is a black boy when he learns the value of his life?” My son learned the answer to this question at 15 years old.  When I asked him what he thought and felt about the verdict, he simply responded “I’m shocked”.  As an adult, I was barely able to process the information, so I knew that he was still trying to make sense of it all.  He summed up his thoughts in a simple Facebook post: “I guess Florida doesn’t care about the life of teenagers”.

His post made me look at the verdict through his eyes. He wasn’t thinking about the complexities of the judicial system or why the jury acquitted George Zimmerman.  He was thinking about the value of his life. I thought about how Zimmerman’s defense attorneys gloated about their victory as if they’ve just won an NBA Championship. There was little remorse or respect for the life of Trayvon Martin.

Children are polarized thinkers until they become teenagers. At this point, the world is no longer black and white, so they start to question the areas of gray that don’t make sense to them.  They start to question the integrity, intelligence and common sense of adults.  How can we tell them to be fair and to think before you act, when we are guilty of doing these things.

How do we explain to them that Stand Your Ground Law gives an adult the right to kill a teen boy? How can we tell them that they are the future but we do little to protect that future?

 

 

Mom, I’m Not Your Husband!

I was so upset when I overheard a single mom at the supermarket tell her friend that she didn’t need a man because her son was her husband. Granted, I should have been minding my own business, but if you talk loud enough, I’m going to listen.

Mom, I'm Not Your husband

I wanted to find her son and tell him to run for his life.  It’s an unfair situation when mothers make their sons their surrogate husbands. These moms feel so deprived of love and attention that they turn to their sons for comfort and emotional support.  These moms are either single or in a marriage that is unfulfilled or unbalanced.  I’ve seen the long term effect and it can lead to these boys being incapable of having mature, loving and healthy relationships as adults. They will constantly have to support and comfort their mothers.

So how can mom divorce her son? For one, you must set boundaries in your relationship with your son. You are the adult, so be consistent with being the adult. Once you ask your son for advice about personal matters or leave him to make adult decisions, you have placed him in the position of authority. If you tell him, he’s the man of house, he will take it literally. If you try to bring in a boyfriend, it’s going to create a conflict.

You have to get a life of your own. If your relationship or marriage has troubles, do something about it.  You should be able to talk and share with your significant other/spouse, not your son. If you decide to make him your marriage counselor, don’t be surprised if he starts to resent his father. You’re not a victim, ask for what you need in your marriage. Your son is the victim because you are engaging him in inappropriate conversations. If you’re single, rely on your friends and family for emotional support or get counseling if you need it.

Your son is not your handy man. Sure, it’s good to teach him to help out around the house, but if you keep calling on him like he’s Schneider the handyman, eventually he’s going to get tired of fixing things. Do yourself a favor and sign up for Angie’s List.

Stop asking your son to attend events with you. I don’t mean having an occasional fun evening with your son, I mean having him cancel his plans to hang out with you because you’re lonely. Not cool. Get a hobby or find some new friends on Meetup.com. Let your son live his life.

Understand your son is not your equal. He’s not your support system, you are his support. When you turn him into an emotional partner, the dynamics of the mother-son relationship are skewed and your son will carry this unbalance into his adult relationships.

Where’s Daddy?

On Sunday, May 5 on Life Class on the OWN Network, Oprah Winfrey and Iyanla Vanzant are addressing a sensitive topic that needs more awareness: Fatherless Sons. This two part show is a must watch for families. We need to start the healing process for men who grew up without fathers, we need to set the example for our sons to be better men and fathers.

First Look: Oprah’s Lifeclass on Fatherless Sons

What if America’s sons didn’t have to grow up without their fathers? What difference could it make? It’s a problem that’s been going on for too long and at too great a cost. And it’s time to talk about it.

Tune in Sunday, May 5, at 9/8c for a special two-hour Oprah’s Lifeclass with Iyanla Vanzant.

As moms of boys, our role is to support the needs of the boys and men in our lives. Whether we’re married or single, we need to ensure that our sons understand the importance of a father in a boy’s life. We need to teach our sons to be accountable and responsible for their decisions and actions.   Let’s build a strong foundation for our sons to  leave a legacy of compassion, respect and responsibility.

Fathers, don’t be an invisible or silent force in your son’s life. You are the  man he aspires or does not aspire to be. Your actions and behavior dictate to him all he needs to know about manhood. He needs you to teach him how to be a man. He needs you to guide him through his rites of passage from boyhood to manhood.  Be a visible and powerful force in your son’s life.  Show him how to be man of character by living your life with integrity, honor, respect.  Every day in every way, you are becoming a better man.

Let’s teach our sons that fatherhood is not a casual choice.

The Real Talk We Need to Have With Our Sons About Rape

The past few weeks, I’ve been troubled by how some adults are reacting to the rape case in Steubenville. Making generalizations about teens doesn’t help other teens to understand the severity of rape. We need to address the “boys will be boys” attitude that permeates our society and we need to be honest about how much we really don’t tell boys about self-control and respecting boundaries.

Our first mistake is rushing to tell boys what rape is instead of asking them “What is rape?” Once we know what they’re thinking we can proceed to have a conversation about rape. We have to let them ask questions no matter how much we want to avoid answering them.

As parents of boys, how may of us have in-depth conversations with our sons about rape. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable  and complex subject but we can’t just keep telling them that “No means no”, “Respect women” and “Don’t rape.”

We have to teach them self-control and not to use their power or strength to over power a woman who is weak, vulnerable, promiscuous or inebriated. We have to let our sons know that under no circumstance is it ever okay to use words, physical force, drugs or alcohol to rape a woman. It starts with teaching boys at an early age to have self-control.

It’s not about just raising our sons to be gentleman, because there are men who by society’s standards are gentlemen, that rape women. There are nice guys that rape women. Let’s stop projecting an image of a rapist as an feral animal or a monster.  A rapist can be cleverly disguised as a friendly, well-respected neighbor, co-worker or associate. Boys need to know that no matter how popular, good looking, sexy, well-liked or charming they are, no matter no much money or time they spend with a girl, they are NOT entitled to sex.

I was almost raped by a “nice guy” who I thought was my friend. After he helped me move into my apartment, he tried to rape me. The thought that ran through my head as I was fighting him off was”No one would believe me because he’s a nice guy.” He never gave me any indication that he had this side to him. I never flirted or led him to believe we were anything more than friends. This is why it was so painful. I thank God that at some point he came to his senses and realized what was happening and left quickly. The next day he called to apologize but the damage had already been done. He crossed the boundaries and broke a trust. There was no turning back and our friendship was over.

Years later, what I learned about that night is that it was about control. He tried to use physical force and persuasive words to convince me that I led him on and I wanted this. This is what we need to remind our sons that no matter how charming, good looking, wealthy,  educated or successful they are, they have no right to take away a woman’s dignity, her self-respect, her pride and her trust. We have to remind our sons that no woman “asks for it” because she is promiscuous, flirty, sexy, or confident.

Rape is a sexual act that is sometimes violent in nature. Anytime someone is forced to do something against their will, it’s not mutual and consenting.We have to teach them that they may face a situation in which a woman is sending mixed messages and she is enticing him.  I don’t care if she’s buck naked and waiting, once her lips say “No” or “Stop”, you have to control your urges and stop. Only “yes” means yes.

We have to tell our sons that just because a woman is giving him signs that she is interested in having sex, these signs could be misconstrued.
If at any point the message is unclear, don’t try to proceed with sex. Alcohol played a major role in the Steubenville case and we have to let
our sons know that alcohol inhibits your thinking and reasoning. A “nice guy” can make bad choices when he has been drinking.

We need to teach our sons that if they witnessed another guy trying to coerce a girl into sex or is taking advantage of  her weakened state to speak up and do something. Let’s stop with the “boys club” and “no snitching” mentality. Let your son know that if he sees something and doesn’t take action, he is just as responsible. Sharing pictures and videos or making comments about the victim is also something we need to discuss.

Our conversations with our sons about sex and rape are not one shot deals. They have to be continuous and unabridged. No matter how often we talk about it, the message should be clear: “It’s about respecting boundaries and getting consent.”

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Are Boys and Men Becoming Obsolete?

NoSign

The other day I saw an image on a Facebook page in which a mom and her daughter stated “I don’t need a man” with a shadow of a man  leaving the house in the background. The picture represents one of  the most celebrated statements uttered by women. I have to be honest and say that I hear this most often from black women than any other group of women.

Some women use this statement as a defense mechanism to explain being single or express their disappointment  or distrust of men. Where does that leave boys and men? In the effort to raise girls to be strong and independent, women are conveying the wrong message by telling girls that they don’t need men.  First of all, we should teach all children to be independent and self-sufficient. People shouldn’t need other people. However, we were created for human relationships. By nature, we are social creatures and benefit from connecting and interacting with others.

Stating “I don’t need a man” doesn’t help girls or women become strong, confident, and independent. I get it, we want to ensure girls and young women understand that they don’t need a man to be or feel complete.  What we really should be telling girls is:

  • You don’t need a man who’ll disrespect you
  • You don’t need a man who doesn’t appreciate your efforts and contribution
  • You don’t need a man who is too insecure to let you own your greatness
  • You don’t need a man who only sees you as a sexual object

My mother taught my brother and I life skills so that we can care for ourselves and not rely on anyone for our financial, emotional, spiritual or physical well-being. She never stated to me “You don’t need a man”. When I was a child, I never doubted my mother’s confidence, power or strength. She didn’t depend on my father to make her feel whole. I understood the difference between “want” and “need”.

Also, let’s  think about what this statement tells boys. If our sons overhear us saying this, what are they learning about themselves as men?

We don’t want to undermine the roles  that boys and  men play in our lives. If we want to raise a generation of empowered women and compassionate men, we must begin to change our what we say.  It’s not about needing anyone, it’s about being true to yourself,
practicing self-care and  maintaining your individuality, even when
you’re in a relationship. Let’s not dismiss boys and men as an inconvenience in our lives.

Image courtesy  of Flickr

What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

IornMan

If you were to put 100 men in a room and ask them: “What does it mean to be a man?”, the responses would vary. Some men don’t have a clue what it means because no one took the time to explain to them the complexities of manhood. Some men simplify being a man by sexual conquests or ability to reproduce, others define by power, wealth and success.

The truth is most men didn’t have a role model who presented a holistic view of manhood.  Whether a man had a father in the home or not, he still may not have all the pieces of what it means to be a man. Those who were fortunate enough to have someone guide and teach them have a better understanding of manhood.

What we want for boys is to be able to say in their own words the traits of a healthy, well-adjusted man. They need guidance and support in being able to define what it means to be a man. Some of these boys are dealing with an identity crisis because they don’t fit into cultural stereotypes. They are grappling to find an acceptable role model that will show them how to be a man. As much as we want to believe being a man is simple, it’s not. Boys are faced with the daily challenge of figuring out what it means to be a man and men are faced with the challenge of trying to answer the question.

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Who’s Your Son’s Role Model?

BruceLee

Yesterday, many children and adults were disappointed to hear that Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. In one confession, Lance fell from his title as champion and role model to cheater and liar. As parents, we should be thinking about what this confession teaches our sons.

Growing up I had three role models: My brother, Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. I can’t explain why I chose guys as my role models but to me it wasn’t about their gender but their character.  I chose my brother because of his kindness and patience which is rare in an older brother who had to deal with an annoying sister. I liked Bruce Lee because of his quiet but powerful disposition. Muhammad Ali exuded confidence and I thought if anyone could think so much of himself, then I should think highly of myself too.

I didn’t idolize these role models because even in my innocence I knew that no one is perfect. As I grew older, my role models changed with the exception of my brother (who’s still my role model). With maturity came an appreciation for the unconditional love, compassion and support of my parents. My mother exemplified the type of woman I wanted to become. What I ignored and rebelled against in my teen years, I embraced in my adulthood.

Sometimes we don’t choose our role models, they choose us. They quietly slip into our hearts and minds and fill us with words of wisdom and encouragement. You aren’t aware of the power of their influence until you are enlightened enough to see how their words and actions have guided your decisions in life.

Your son’s world is filled with positive and negative influences. There are people whose actions will be reflected in how your son thinks and behaves. We can’t control who our sons choose as role models. We can hope that our sons will choose his father or a male relative that we admire, but you never know. We become concerned that if he  chooses someone who might disappoint him that he won’t recover from it.

We may not always approve of  our son’s role models but we can help them to see that role models are not infallible. When we rush to vilify a disgraced public figure, we’re actually teaching our sons that to admit failure and weaknesses does not benefit you. We need to have ongoing conversations with our sons about values and help them to understand that people’s personal lives may not always live up to their public image.

What is the lesson we want our  sons to learn from Lance Armstrong’s actions and confession? That you shouldn’t lie or cheat or that you shouldn’t get caught.

The most burning question in our minds should be “What will this role model teach my son about being a man?” I think what Lance Armstrong’s actions has taught us is that it is more important to be a man of character and to live by your words than it is to pretend to be a superhero.

Who’s your son’s role model?

Image: Flickr