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Parenting Boys in a (Wo)Man’s World

This is the first Father’s Day I spent without my children. It was interesting. Work had me at the Allied Media conference in Detroit. I saw a few children while there (shout out to Mae Lou and N8) and a few others running about. There were families there too. They were nontraditional, in the white Christian American sense. They reminded me of the families I saw in my youth. I saw people loving children intentionally. It made me think of the way I parent and the type of men I am working to build.

I have two boys; Miles-Garvey is 5 and August is 2. They are the tag team champions of the world. They’re amazing boys. Boys and men in this society learn to become less human bit by bit. Every time they’re told to stop crying when they’re told “boys don’t …,” when they’re called names for showing any emotion that isn’t anger or horny, they learn the unhealthy boundaries of manhood. At some point, they find their voices, and that makes them less human. It’s not just rap music. But growing up, my friends and I looked at these very men to be an example to take the place of the men that were absent in our lives. We found their messages and held one another accountable to the virtues of their tales. As I have grown, I cringe when I revisit some of the music of my youth. It’s hard to listen knowing what I have learned. To learn how these images and tales hindered my development as a whole being … Listen, to reconcile wanting to be a good man and singing along to “Ain’t No Fun” is a real contradiction.

See, I love women. Not just the women in my life, all women. During my only other AMC experience, I learned when I talked about Black people, I really meant Black men. It wasn’t intentional; it was ignorance. I didn’t know the issues of Black women. I didn’t understand they suffer a special kind of hell. The fact that they do and tend to navigate the world so easily makes it seem like it’s not that big of a deal… like there is no special kind of hell. Once the scales fell off my eyes, I saw a lot of things differently.

If you read our blog or know me personally, you know my opinions of the serial child rapist and sexual predator R. K*lly. If you don’t, they’re here. If you’re new here, f*ck R. K*lly. He’s an evil man, but here’s the thing: He ain’t alone. He is the fruit from a tree. A tree I am teaching my sons to avoid. I love 8ball and MJG. The song “Space Age Pimpin’” was a soundtrack to many a moment with girls in my life. But I fear too many men eat of this tree and can only take away, “take control of a woman and fear no man” from the rappers’ catalogue. This tree fortifies the idea that control and domination make you a man.

It’s not simple work, uprooting a tree. Working with boys is a lot more straightforward, though. I talk with my boys about consent regularly. Hugs and kisses aren’t allowed when they say no. Their “stop,” even for me, tells me to stop. Once, when Miles-Garvey was in time-out in his room, I went to talk to him, and he told me to leave his room. As I walked away, I chuckled thinking, “This is going to confuse people.” When I say people, I mean my Black momma and uncles. I mean the poor parents I work alongside. I know they look at me crazy because they know I am Black Black, and this is a different way of doing things. How else does one learn to accept a “no” other than having their own respected, though?

My children and I also talk intentionally about being fair and them articulating their wants, needs and fears. Miss Connie is the director of the daycare where August goes, and MG goes for after-school care. When I dropped them off one morning, she told me how caring and kind MG was. She told me about a little girl with special needs who needed help and he was the first to attend to her, staying with her throughout the rest of the day. He was her friend. I can’t imagine how thrown off Miss Connie probably was at how quickly I teared up. He’s kind. He hugs, cries and gets held. He speaks up and loves girls. I’m ashamed of how proud I am of him when he loves girls. (I mean, I ate of that tree for more than 20 years so be patient with me.) I see him. I am working to not only give him the language to understand, I work daily to model what love looks like.

A friend of mine asked during a conversation where all of these powerful women were going to find husbands. That’s my job. At The Lighthouse | Black Girl Projects, we accept Douglass’ claim that it’s easier to build strong (wo)men than it is to repair broken boys and girls. I hope my teachings prepare my boys to be assets to our community. In our work with the men and boys participating in our Re|Defining Adam Project, we seek to challenge the existing attitudes and beliefs of men that think being a man is taking control of a woman and fearing no man.

Here at TLBGP, we believe power is space and time. Not just for women, but for all people. We take it to heart when Ella Baker told us that strong people don’t need leaders. If there are people in our community that want partners, I want my boys to be among the most eligible partners to be had. I want them to be patient and kind, attentive and emotionally literate. I want them to share the space and time they’re afforded with women. I want their ideas of women to extend well beyond their mothers, grandmothers and our friends.

I want them to understand how the exploitation of women is a central Black issue.

I want them to see Black women and their issues as central to the welfare of all Black people. We are working to define what it means to be a man in a whole sense, building in men and boys a real understanding of the importance of being emotionally literate. A part of my work is teaching men that being slow to wrath and slow to speak is a perfectly OK means of existing and occupying space in order to, further, build an appreciation for the skills of listening and hearing.

As my brothers and I learn and grow together, we must put in the work to understand how our palate is so influenced by the tree of our youth. We have to acknowledge it to move beyond it. Starting at any other point—an expectation without foundational education—makes the destination a distant land we’ll never reach. Men too often think they understand when they have no idea. I am working to give my sons an idea of what it means to be Black in America, and part of that understanding is seeing how interconnected the issues and challenges of Black women are to the Black experience in its totality.


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