LeRon Barton learns to confront a fallible, human man rather than an icon.
For a man, there are very few people that make him the person that he is more than his father. He is the primary example, the shining example for what manhood is, but also how to be. Growing up, I did not have my father in my life. My mother and him split up during college. While details are sketchy (I just never wanted to know about their courtship), they went their separate ways. He off to grad school and she to raise two boys. Now we were not alone, my grandmother, grandfather, and Aunt were a constant in our lives. grandmother was that extra motherly figure and my grandfather, the super macho masculine man that he is (and still the smartest person I have ever met) filled the semi-dad role. With those two and my mother, I really didn’t miss my father. To be honest, I didn’t think about him either.
About the time that I graduated 5th grade (so so long ago), my mother beckoned me to the phone. “There is someone I want you to talk to,” in her sweet but careful voice. I grabbed the phone and this guy who was very excited and eager to speak to me started chatting. I was confused like, “Who is this cat? Why is he so hyped up?” LOL. We began this strange communication about my grades and how I was doing. As I got off the phone I thought, “That’s my father?”
Meeting him for the first time was interesting. I remember being at my grandmother’s house and he coming in with three of my aunts. Maybe for back up, I don’t know, but I just looked up at him. He was this big guy, tall, broad shoulders, had a darker complexion than me, and flashed this smile like, “I am probably as nervous/excited as you are.” Then a light bulb came on, “This is my father.” Wow….
Through the years we would attempt to form this father/son bond, but there was this uneasiness to it. I don’t want to call it false, but it was not solid. As I got older, I began to grow more and more resentful. Asking myself, “Why is he back in our lives now?” Or “Why did he leave?” All these questions would come up and so finally I asked him while visiting Chicago. “Why did you leave?” He began to answer. I asked another one and he answered it. Then another one and the dance began. I have to give him credit, my father did not back-down. He was honest, very honest. He praised my mother on the job that she did and how we turned out. And it was real. I gained a new found respect for my father and I loved him.
If there is one thing that any boy/teenager/man wants in his life is a father. You want that figure in your life. Someone to teach you, instruct you, and show you how. And when you don’t have that, you subconsciously look for it in others. I like to think about my hero Malcolm X and his search for a father figure. Growing up with his father murdered at a young age, he drifted from gangster West Indian Archie to Elijah Muhammad. I projected my desire for a father on older friends as well as my mentor Stan Banks and of course my Grandfather. Everyman wants to be a son.
About eight years ago, my little brother got married. It was a joyous time. Oh my God, I was best man! And while the wedding was great, my father was not there. I don’t know why he did not show up and I could not think of a reason why. But he was not there. A couple of days after, Brent took me to return my rental car. We talked about the wedding and the conversation turned why our father was not there. Brent brushed it off by saying, “Well he just missed a good time.” I could not tell if he was just saying that to make me feel better or to hide his hurt, but I just broke down and cried in his arms saying, “It can’t believe that he was not there.” After that I told Brent, “I am not talking to him anymore.” Hurt me, okay whatever. Hurt Brent, you’re done.
A year had passed since I talked to my father. My mother and I would sometimes talk about him and she would start off, “So I talked to your father today….” She didn’t care if I spoke with him because she was also washing her hands of him as well. My Mom would say, “I told him why are you talking to me about this? You need to call him.” My father would then respond with, “But he doesn’t want to talk to me.” At that time Brent had gotten deeper into Christianity and forgave our father for all of his past wrong doings and began to urge me to do the same. I would say, “No man. How many times has homes messed up?” If anyone knows me, they know I am not the biggest “forgiver.” I hold a grudge for a long time. Still, this was Brent asking and I am Catholic. One of the basic tenants in Catholicism is forgiveness and I needed to practice that, but how?
While having a conversation with my “big brother” Chris, we talked about my father and I and how I was to move past this. Chris then gave me some of the best advice I have received: Sometimes you have to give someone something they need but do not deserve. Chris went on and added, “Whatever answer he gives you will not be good enough….. You have to find it in yourself to move on.” And so I did.
I don’t remember who called who, but we started talking again and everything happened so organically. Now it’s awesome. I couldn’t imagine myself without the guy. Look, things aren’t perfect, he missed out on a lot and he knows that he will not be looked at the same way as I look at my mother, but our relationship is great. My father has given me so much good advice on everything from jobs, race, politics, and women (He told me two important things that helped me get over two of my ex’s). We laugh and bust on each other constantly. He found a way to inject humor in helping me while I was stranded in Panama with no money during Easter weekend (Don’t trust a shady-looking ATM) and is always a great ear.
When I revealed the cover to my first book to everyone, my father called and left this awesome voice-mail telling me how proud he was of me. I can say that is one of my happiest moments in life that in the words of my friend Sunny, I can keep in my back-pocket for a rainy day (like when her beautiful friend Veronica said she would have dated me). We talk, banter, have discussions about life,and I see a lot of myself in him; someone who makes mistakes but is a good man.