“Exchanges Between Fathers and Sons”

Thanks to Patrik Gothe

Thanks to Patrik Gothe

I read John Wideman’s Fatheralong, and here’s a great quote:

The stories must be told. Ideas of manhood, true and transforming, grow out of private, personal exchanges between fathers and sons. Yet for generations of black men in America this privacy, this privilege has been systematically breached in a most shameful and public way. Not only breached, but brutally usurped, mediated by murder, mayhem, misinformation. Generation after generation of black men, deprived of the voices of their fathers, are for all intents and purposes born semi-orphans. Mama’s baby, Daddy’s maybe. Fathers in exile, in hiding, on the run, anonymous, undetermined, dead. The lost fathers cannot claim their sons, speak to them about growing up, until the fathers claim their own manhood. Speak first to themselves, then unambiguously to their sons. Arrayed against the possibility of conversation between fathers and sons is the country they inhabit, everywhere proclaiming the inadequacy of black fathers, their lack of manhood in almost every sense the term’s understood here in America. The power to speak, father to son, is mediated or withheld; white men, and the reality they subscribe to, stand in the way. Whites own the country, run the country, and in this world where possessions count more than people, where law values property more than person, the material reality speaks plainly to anyone who’s paying attention, especially black boys who own nothing, whose fathers, relegated to the margins, are empty-handed ghosts.

(From Fatheralong, 64-65)

Something I Read to the Men in Church Today


I want to tell you

That you are beautiful and brilliant and beloved.  No matter what you do, what you’ve done, what you’ve left undone or how terrible of a man you’ve been—your beauty, your brilliance, and your belovedness—these things have been true, are true, and will be true.

I want to tell you

That the world is not only against you; it is against every good that can come from you, so equip yourself with a power greater than yourself and find the grace of God that has a track record of defeating the strongest enemies.

I want to tell you

That the greatest thing you can be is a gift to somebody else.  So wrap yourself up in the hope that you can be that generous, that you can turn your desires toward another, and make sure somebody else has the things you have, gets the things you get, and will have a fraction of the life you’ve had.

I want to encourage you

To stay with the best ways you’ve been taught to love.  We don’t usually learn to love so when we find little ways, we need to practice them so we don’t forget them, hold them while learn to love better, and appreciate our growth in the process.

I want to encourage you

To keep to some goal in your face, to be careful who you share it with, and to be relentless in pursuing it because even if you fail, you will succeed at a behavior that is more Christian you know, more formative than you can imagine, and more enriching than success.

I want to encourage you

To enjoy yourself at least once a day, which means you’ll need to find joy in your work, in your home, in your leisure, and in your nothingness.  Slowly inspect these spheres of life so that you always, every day, find joy.  It’s there.  Whether it seems hidden, when it seems altogether gone, joy is underneath the parts of your day, and it’s waiting for your discovery.

I want to remind you

That you will be greeted by hell every week, that you will be visited by enemies every day, that you will be undone by the hour, that you will be deconstructed at personal and systemic levels, so if you are not serious about finding your sustenance outside of society, you will find death without life.  If you are not serious about finding strength in the source who is God, you will find brokenness without hope.  If you are not serious about placing Mystery in front of you, you will never be covered from back to front with the power that is undefeated.

I want to challenge you

To love every woman with such skill that she will respect you, with such honor that she will speak well of you, with such care that she will trust you, and with such admiration that she will feel safe with you.

I want to challenge you

To sit alone, with yourself, for 10 minutes a day, sitting in silence, sitting and listening to the voice of God as it comes to you even if it sounds scary or strange or welcoming.

I want to challenge you

To find the people in the world who make you feel like yourself and spend time with them.  They may be the truest, rarest gifts from God you have.

I want to challenge you

To be someone’s father this year, biological or not.  Be a man who some child can look up to, call when she needs you, question when he wonders something, claim when no one else steps up for them.  Be the man who stands in the gap for a single mother or who stands alongside another father.  Be the support, the presence, the strength, the weakness, the shoulder, the legs, the backbone.  Live all year and hear this greeting in some form regularly: Happy Father’s day.

And may your children love you.

Prepared For Manhood

I saw this post by Earl Hipp.  I think you’ll be interested in the work he’s discussing, in the film and follow up.  It may help you think of creative ways to heal your hurts or the wounds of folks you touch.

An engaged and loving father is the most powerful man-making force on the planet. The opposite is also true. When fathers are absent, physically or emotionally, the wound that results is profound. It touches a man to his core and forever leaves him with the question, “Am I good enough as a person and a man?” All men long to hear the biblical pronouncement from a father, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” The truth is that too many men and young males did not and do not hear it, and we are all paying the price as a result.

In my research for the Man-Making book, countless men offered up clear statements of their sense of masculine insufficiency as one of the barriers keeping them from being involved with and supporting young males. Too many men said they had been poorly prepared for manhood, their fathers had been unavailable, and as a result, they felt, as men, they didn’t have anything to offer boys. In the most tragic stories, some men felt such low masculine-esteem they believed their involvement with a boy would be damaging or hurtful to the young man. You can be certain that behind many of those stories is an invisible but still-open father wound.

In the Rite of Passage and group-mentoring work men are now doing with young males, an all too common story is about pathologically disengaged or abusive fathers or dads who were simply never part of a boy’s life. In the emotionally safe and supportive place that’s created, if it’s time, young males have the emotional room and permission to give up their deeply shielded and buried grief about their father wound. Often this shows up as powerful anger or deep sobbing. The tears in the eyes of so many of the men who hear these boy-stories are damp testimony to the pervasiveness of this father wound, and the core emptiness of the men that carry it. I have my own story about a present, but unavailable, shaming and emotionally terrorizing, alcoholic father.

To finish reading, click here.

“Everything You Need”

My friend, Patrick Shaffer wrote this letter to a young man when his mother and member of Patrick’s church asked him to participate in her son’s school assignment.  Patrick’s response is an essay of proverbs, written from a place of compassion and wisdom.  His letter reaches to distill everything you’d want a young man to know.

I’ve been turning over Too Short’s instructions to young boys in the last week; if you are unaware of it, don’t worry over it because it isn’t worth worry.  I started writing a post in response.  I haven’t finished.  Then, yesterday, I saw my comrade’s Advice at the Huffington Post.  Pastor Patrick’s words are a kind corrective to that musical nonsense that had so many people alarmed.

Of course, I don’t agree with everything Patrick says here; I never agree with everything Patrick says, so I shouldn’t start now, right?  Nonetheless, he’s got some powerful stuff in this lovely letter to a single mother’s son.

Hey, I hope you are well. I wanted to share some things with you about life and all of the above. Forgive me if they seem scattered but I think what I have might help.

You should be awakening to new ideas of freedom, an expanded world and optimism about your future. The substratum or foundation of all of those things, though, is responsibility. Great responsibility is placed on your shoulders. Responsibility perhaps that you would rather not have and don’t think it strange if you vacillate between your childish tendencies and being a young adult. It happens. I still wrestle with the kid in me, and it never leaves. You must master that little boy in you who says “this is too hard” or “I don’t feel like this.” Giving in to those voices will lead you to be fruitless in your life. You must hear those voices and push yourself pass them to be who you are — the world is waiting. Being a man is a hard and thankless enterprise, being an African American man is harder.

Your mother loves you and did her absolute best to raise you. As you get older you will see her in a different light and humanize her in ways you couldn’t when you were younger. That should make you appreciate her and love her all the more. You may have had to piece together the meaning of what a man is from your father and different male figures in your life. Some of us have failed you, some of us will fail you but use our lives always as a class. Learn from our failures; hear our wisdom and they will serve as the tapestry of the man you will become. But really it’s not up to us anymore; it’s all up to you. We are here for you but the training wheels of life are coming off now — time for you to peddle and ride the bike yourself. We will be watching and be right there when you fall.

You will have unbelievable standards to live up to from the world at large and even from your own people. Our president is a black man — who can live up to that? Your world and your very meaning in the world is ever changing at a seismic rate. Sometimes it will be hard to keep up.

You will look over your shoulder and know that there are peers who aren’t smarter, haven’t worked as hard as you, who will get all the breaks in life and you will wonder “why is this so hard for me?” But that question means that you are conscious of your growth, your progress and what you have achieved. Remember son, you are not in competition with anyone but that kid on the inside of you. If you can grow him up, without being weighed down by what someone else has achieved, you will be just fine. If you can understand that that little kid on the inside of you is there for counter balance, when things in life are stressful and sometimes way too serious for you. When you master the moments of knowing when it’s time to play and when it’s time to work, you will be just fine.

The world has expectations of you. Your mother has expectations of you. I have expectations of you but really, we don’t matter — it only matters what you expect from yourself. I hope you expect great things; you will achieve what you want when you master working smart and not hard.

I admonish you to stay in school, finish everything you start. You will be pressured to make money, for this reason and that reason. The reasons may be legitimate but stay in school anyway. Even if you’re broke, have to sleep on the floor in a friend’s apartment, finish the degree. Education is the key — go to school and work part time if you have to. I wish I could tell you that getting an undergraduate degree is enough, but it’s not. Don’t take a break, stay in and go to graduate school. The economy will turn, more jobs will be available one day, and your education will prepare you for your future career, your future life. You don’t want to work a job, you want to have a fulfilling career and there are no shortcuts to the life you want. If you want it go after it, stay after it. Don’t quit, you will be sorry you did.

To finish reading pastor Patrick’s letter, click here.

Boys, Men, or Something In Between

My son’s birthday is approaching, and one of my gifts will be to continually evaluate what kind of man I’m presenting to him.  I fear being a poor example because I want him to grow up loving people, honoring his mother, respecting his elders and everyone after that.  I want him to be a bold man, to be what he is.  I want him to have a bright boyhood full of fun and laughter, a phase that leads to a young adulthood that exposes him to greatness, that calls him to greatness.  I want him to be so much better than I am, than my mentors have been, than the exemplars before him–even though we’re aren’t “all that bad.”

I don’t think being a man is easy and I’m already finding that bringing one up has its challenges.  Telling him how to respond when people speak to him.  Walking with him by the hand so we can see new things approaching really slowly since once of us moves slower than the other.  Encouraging him to explore but not so much that he jumps off a balcony.  Watching him pull the oven door down upon his head.  And then watching him go toward it again later, just brushing against it that second time as he remembers the knot on his head from just a few weeks ago.  Yeah, I did it.  It’s called Michael’s method of child-proofing. 

I cannot imagine parenting without all my smart and generous family and friends around me and Dawn.  I cannot imagine.  With that said, I read something that has me turning over my role as a father and my role as a guy, as a man.  The question, “What makes a man?” stands out from a piece I read over at the WSJ.

The article talks about pre-adulthood, that phase that’s certainly post-high school and often post-college when young adults are earning and spending money and making their own decisions.  They are deciding what they want to do and what they don’t, including whether or not to clean the kitchen or take out the garbage.  Young adults, males and females, are deciding how to pay bills, how to develop themselves, how to become.  And, though the article is about men, women go through this as well.  I have a niece who’s growing up, and at times it is painful to watch.  But this post is about boys and men and something in between.

I’m wondering how you view manhood and what it takes to become a man.  I’m wondering if you have a real clear approach to raising the boys in your life so that they become good men.  I’m wondering why some guys are less motivated to get up and do things like take care of the people they love. 

I grew up with good models, including my father who didn’t live with us.  He taught me.  My mother taught me.  Other “fathers” taught me.  It’s foreign to me not to wash and cook and take care of myself, almost to the point where I find myself saying “I don’t need you” because I’m so good at that self-care thing, if that makes sense.  I’m not the guy who would just watch a woman do things for me.  I never have been.  My mother taught me to iron my shirts and she stopped because I started.  I have other issues, ones we don’t need to discuss in this post.  But this article reminds me that I can’t take for granted what becoming a man is and that’s done these days.  Seeing my boy grow up tells me the same. 

Questions for you: How do you think we can continue to encourage boys to become men?  And let’s not get nasty.  Let’s be constructive.  Any thoughts?  Is the project of bringing up a boy different from the one years ago?