Father’s Day always induces mixed emotions for me, living in a country where a mass majority of children grow up without fathers. Most of the kids I know and work with come from fatherless homes; “fatherless” being anything from the child never even meeting the dude who co-created him, to a child growing up knowing some jerk lives in the same community but never bothers to get to know his own flesh and blood. I have a sixteen-year-old boy living with me who is a mixture of the two scenarios.
I was invited to take part in a youth conference yesterday; I spoke to the youth about Identity in the morning and performed with DJ Eazy in the evening, and just hung out with the youth in between the two. There was one teenage boy in particular who stood out to me. We were just sitting there, talking about music, school, teachers who beat up kids, grandfathers who try and stab grandmothers in a drunken performances, you know…the usual, and then all of the sudden, out of the blue, totally unprompted, the kid looked deep in my eyes, deep enough for me to see years of pain trapped in there, and he said, “It is so hard growing up without a mother and a father!”
It had not come out before that moment that he was indeed living in that reality so I was slightly taken aback by his sudden honesty and vulnerability. As we continued to speak he filled me in on his life. It turns out he lives with his grandmother, and has most of his life. He has seen his dad one time in his life, and during this meeting his dad looked him in the eyes, didn’t acknowledge his existence, and then answered a pseudo call on his cellphone, maybe thinking the kid didn’t pick up on the fact the phone didn’t ring, much less vibrate. It was painful to hear the kid speak about it. It was hard to see his hurt, and unattended biological need to be accepted by some loser who doesn’t have the balls to raise his own son. It was hard to know what to say, but I realized it was actually more important just to listen.
Later that night, after I performed, another little dude (I’ll call Andrew) latched on to me. He was about eight-years-old. DJ Eazy was up doing his set and all the youth were partying and having a great time. Andrew opened the conversation by asking if I was really from America. I said yeah. He asked how it looked in America. I said, “The same but different.” He was happy with that answer. From that moment I don’t think he left my side for the remainder of the evening. He moved his head from side to side, like a Stevie Wonder dance move with attitude. He looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. I joined him in the move and his face exploded with a smile.
We continued our dance move, me very aware that I cannot dance to save my life. As the evening, and beats, banged on our moves progressed, involving snaps, and kicks, and moon walks, and spins, and other things that looked more like convulsions than dancing when I tried it. By the near end of the evening we had an entire repertoire of dance moves, and even a secret hand shake. At one point I gave Andrew, and his little friend, some money to go buy a coke, to cool off from all our grooves and moves. A lady came up to me at that point and thanked me for buying them a drink. “They live in a children’s home you know. They just come to me for weekends. They don’t have parents.” My heart suddenly broke into a trillion pieces. But why?
I mean, this is nothing new to me. The very kids I work with live in the same reality! But for some reason, in that particular instance, that lady’s words flew into my ears and bounced around in my heart and mind, creating all sorts of havoc. It suddenly made sense as to why Andrew was so hungry for positive dude attention. I couldn’t get my mind off how unfair it all is. It sucks. It got even worse when he, hopefully, asked me if I was “coming back tomorrow”. I wasn’t. He was disappointed and asked when he would see me again. Probably never came to mind, realistically thinking, but I opted for a more hopeful, “I’m not sure.”
From that moment he seemed even more resolute about not leaving my side. He told me he was going to become a DJ when he grows up and only play my music. How can it happen that in such a small amount of time, just cutting a rug on the dance floor, a little guy can climb into my heart the way Andrew did, and I apparently in his. Speaking for myself, I’m just a softy really; I may be an ugly, scruffy, tattooed guy, trying to appear hard, but on the inside I’m pretty marshmellow-like. For Andrew, I guess it goes back to that need, not just in him but in all of us, that need to know there is an older male, preferably a father but any replacement really, who we can look up to and be looked down upon with love, acceptance and care. It makes my stomach turn to think that so many kids in the world don’t have that.
When it came time for me to leave Andrew followed me all the way out to my car, seemingly savoring the last moments of hang time and trying desperately to come up with conversation in order to prolong the inevitable goodbye.
“Do you have a Playstation?”
“No, my house is pretty boring really.”
“Do you have a dog?”
“No, my flat’s too small for a dog. Do you?”
“Yeah. Do you have a wife?”
“Do you have a child?”
“Not one of my own, but I have a kid who lives with me.”
“Does he have a mother?”
“But you’re like his Daddy right?”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
Andrew looked at me with a look that told many stories, hopeful, confused, sad, happy, and the lot. He said bye and ran off. Then screamed bye again as I drove away. I waved and said bye, admittedly with eyes more glossy than usual. Andrew became smaller and smaller in my rearview mirror. I don’t think I’m a wimp, though how this experience affected makes me feel like a big wuss; I think I’m just aware. And sometimes, no maybe most of the time, ignorance is bliss but awareness can cut deep.
Happy Father’s Day?