Writing about the relationship I share with my dad is difficult. It requires me to recognize how I’ve aligned myself with false beliefs about masculinity for most of my life. As children, we are socialized to believe that vulnerability coincides with weakness. It begins on playgrounds. If we fall, scrape our knees and want to cry, we are told to “walk it off.” We learn that crying and expressing emotions are behaviors reserved for girls and women.
My father is not an emotive man. Growing up, he never cried at home.
For years I thought crying was a superpower only accessible by girls and women. Even when upset, tears did not fall from my father’s eyes. In my memoir, Critical Race & Education for Black Males: When Pretty Boys Become Men, published last year, I tell stories about my experiences in school and being the only son among my parents’ six children. In between school, church, and my neighborhoods, I became the man I am today. I use the book as a tool to engage young Black males in important conversations about race and masculinity.
For the most part, I had a pleasant childhood. My parents maintained a loving relationship. I had a good group of friends. While I didn’t have everything I wanted, I had my needs. My father pastored a church on the Southside of Chicago, which provided a salary and covered many of our household expenses. These benefits enabled my mom to work full-time as a homemaker.
While my siblings and I knew our dad loved us, he did not often display his affection. It was a rare occasion if I heard the words, “I love you, Vernon.” My father speaks a different love language.
His preferred method to display love resurfaced again last week. My dad gave my family a loan to purchase a used car. After renting a car for the past six months, it was clear that buying a car was a smarter investment. When my parents visited us last week in Antigua, my dad decided that he wanted to help us in any possible way.
We spent an ample amount of time together. My wife and I took my parents to explore historical sites, eat at popular restaurants, and to shop for souvenirs. On most occasions when it came time to pay the bill at a restaurant, my father would not accept any help. He also insisted that we shop for used cars.
I didn’t want to accept his help with getting a car. I said to my wife, “my dad has done so much for our family. I need to take responsibility for getting us a car.” It became clear to me that this was a goal he had to achieve. He pushed me to find a vehicle.
My father’s love language is made verbal in how he provides for his family.
He is not a man of many words. Affection is not easy for him, but I know he loves me. I love him. He is my dad, and his model of fatherhood informs how I raise my children.
I aim to show my two boys and girl an equal amount of affection and attention. I tell my children every day that I love them. My kids don’t get everything they want, but I find joy in knowing that I am fulfilling my role as a provider. I owe it to my dad for shaping me into the man I am today.
I encourage you to contact your father or a father-figure and let him know you appreciate him. A man who is willing to be vulnerable about their emotions is qualified to lead.
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