Sins of the Father
Sooooo, I’d started this blog 8 times over the last 20 days and have been writing this specific one over the course of 6 days...which might be why this is the longest blog you guys have gotten from me, and probably the least fluid. The presenting issue is(still) connection with my son and we’re gonna explore some recent developments in efforts to remedy that. We’ll talk about emotional ineptitude and behaviors, both inherited and situationally conditioned, that have stifled my development in that area. We’ll talk about my father and our similarities in emotional experiences and the thought and behavioral results of those. Where I am right now is in the realization that my issue with my son is just a single example of a much further reaching area of interactive deficiency. So I reckon we’re gonna talk this thing out and see where it lands.
While I’m grateful there are a lot of newer readers I don’t want to do a full recap of the applicable backstories, so here are the strongly recommended readings if you’d like some deeper context or the whole story behind much of what I presume I’ll be referencing.: Honesty, Wanted: Emotion pt.1, and Wanted: Emotion pt. 2 (The Brainwork)
Because I’m not a total asshole, I will give you a Cliff’s Notes summary. ‘Honesty’ tells the truths I’d hidden throughout my drinking. The part relevant to this piece is that I have other children that I’ve either lost or haven’t been able to communicate with. The ‘Wanted: Emotion’ blogs address my recognition of the lack of connection, the hurt I experience through it, correlations to my father, efforts taken to try to remedy it, etc. ←and there’s your recap.
Since the ‘Wanted:Emotion’ blogs, I took action steps to address the issue. We started a Sunday hang sesh that we affectionately tagged SONday’s. This was where we got to spend time separate from his mother in an attempt to build a connection solely ours. I also started therapy which has worked wonders in uncovering things that I tried to dismiss as resolved (ie. ootem#) that could be blocking my ability to feel. I was doing the whole involved parent thing, attending baseball games with the pre/post game meal and the occasional unscheduled time spent. This was the routine for quite some time and although I felt more uncomfortable than connected, I was present. This was working until I moved to my new place.
More time spent was the main reason for seeking out a bigger place. Living in a small studio apartment made the time spent spatially and interactively uncomfortable, especially given where I was emotionally regarding the situation. So when I secured this place, I was excited to be starting this new chapter and kinda surprised at how much I wanted him involved in it. I had these lofty aspirations of a 50/50 split and his going to school and being engaged in a life here in my town. I was trying to orchestrate a scenario where he was a fixture in my life, not just my being a weekend parent because weekend parenting blows. I didn't like how because you only see them on occasion, it had to be an event of sorts and that too felt inauthentic. So what’d I do? I asked for more time.
His mom informed me, "He doesn’t feel comfortable staying the night right away and I’m not gonna make him do anything that he’s not comfortable with." That was understandable but those first few times when he was uncomfortable hanging out with me without her (and so was I), her position was “you’re his father, he’s gonna have to get over it.” It was fine though, I wasn’t gonna push the issue. His mom had been seeing a guy and my suggestion was, “Hey, why don’t guys pick a couple nights out the week for date night and you can drop him off with me for dinner and a hang sesh and then come scoop him after.” No response. I followed up maybe a month and change later and she said, “His work schedule at the hospital is unpredictable so it’s just hard to say.” Her suggestion was that I Uber to pick him up and drop him off. I can’t speak to her state of mind, but I’m of a pretty solid belief that she was well aware that that was a financial impossibility.
Considering I didn’t have a history of wanting more time or proactively inquiring and following up on it, selfishly, I felt my ask should’ve been more valued. But, being well aware that it is not her job to cater to any need or want of mine, I wasn’t pissed, just disappointed. If you read ‘Honesty’, you saw how having had and lost children was not a situation I’d handled all that well in the past. That being the case, any further effort from my end would require me to care and to care opens me up to disappointment/hurt. So rather than feel it, I said “fuck it.”...and then COVID happened.
No one really knew what was going on in the beginning. We were mandated to tuck away in our homes and to not be around anyone we didn’t live with. I was at higher risk of ill effects if I caught it and his mom runs a daycare so that, coupled with my failed attempts at more time spent, brought everything to a halt. I was home alone for a couple months and not seeing him had become the new norm. His mother would reach out from time to time, typically when he was having troubles or she was overwhelmed. I didn’t appreciate the on-call nature she tried to employ and I guess I did resent her for not working with me on the more time thing.
As the COVID depression crept in, I felt like it was revealing how worthless I was. On one hand, I felt like I was the only person in America having to shelter-in-place alone and that it was a direct reflection of my value to people. On the other hand was my inability to feel what I so desperately wanted to offer to this perfect and deserving little boy. It made me feel irreparably damaged thus rendering my existence valueless. I didn’t want to kill myself but, knowing the effects of feeling like your father didn’t care about you and being a father causing that emotion in your child, certainly begged the question, what good is existing? That loop of thought and emotion took me to such a dark place that it wasn’t a good idea for me to be around anyone.
His mom’s boyfriend had moved in by this point and he, being a parent himself and an emotionally normal human, was able to be there for my son in all the ways I couldn’t. I think his mother worried about me being jealous of his time with him or me using that as an out to not continue to try. Really, I was grateful. He was giving my son essential authentic interactions that a developing child needs for comprehensive emotional development. All I could offer was what I’d received, a contrived display of what parental emotion looked like. Seeing where those examples of paternal parenting got me, I didn’t want him to learn that from me. Here I was stuck in this paradox of wanting to be a dad to my kid, having the opportunity to do such, yet loathing the time I spend with him SOLELY because I’m not able to represent the love, value, and pride he should know he adds to his fathers life. It’s not a good feeling to know that your presence creates emotional ineptitude and your absence creates trauma.
October 24th I got a facebook message from Erie, PA simply saying, “I need you to call me.” It was the mother of my 14yr old son whom I haven’t seen or really spoken to since he was 1. The brief backstory: I met her at a country club where I was working and we clicked perfectly, for all the wrong reasons. With her being new in town and knowing no one and my kinda being at the forefront of all things social, I was a good person to know. For me, she was obscenely attractive which met the entirety of my criteria for engagement at that time. Outside of those self-serving needs we had nothing in common, hell, we didn’t even really get along. She was a super sweet girl but had a pretty combative upbringing and explosive arguments were how she processed and expressed frustration. Despite her itty bitty stature, this girl was not a firecracker...more like an atom bomb. The things she said in arguments always went straight for the jugular but to her they were confined to that moment and she could let it go. Volatile emotional responses were not permitted in my upbringing so these types of altercations were both overwhelming and off putting, I couldn’t let them go. A logical person would’ve ended things and moved on. The problem was everyone wanted her and my ego wouldn’t let her go for someone else to have...and then she got pregnant.
When she told me she was pregnant and planned to keep it, I was opposed but figured it’d work itself out, it didn’t. She told her family she was pregnant by a black dude and they disowned her so I had to move her in with me. The entire pregnancy was a traumatic experience for both of us. I was being forced into a degree of commitment that I had zero desire to be in and this girl who’d just been ostracized from her family and needed support navigating a first pregnancy could not get it from the only person she could look to for it. When we found out we were having a boy something in me shifted and I was excited to have a chance to give him what I’d denied my daughter, a father. My increased desire to have this little boy did not decrease the toxicity of the relationship we’d forged and we couldn’t get things to a healthy and positive place. June 12, 2006 we had a healthy and beautiful baby boy, I even named him after my father. I was so in love with him! If I was home he was in my arms, I’d come home in between shifts just to hold him more. I loved being a dad and loved being his dad.
The arguments didn’t subside and I feared what his experiencing that at such a young age would do to his development. The last straw came one night when I’d gotten home from work 15mins later than we’d discussed for her to go to dinner with some co-workers. I remember walking in the door and as usual, going straight to him and picking him up to love on. She wasn’t even dressed to leave but was livid at my tardiness. I did my usual thing of ignoring her and walking around with our son. Out of nowhere she threw my phone at me while holding him and actually tried to fight me. I put the baby down and called a friend to come over because black guys don’t bode well in these types of scenarios. My friend got there and I told her that this wasn’t going to work. That she needed to go home to her parents because I felt like our relationship was a terrible example for him to grow up around. It just so happened that her parents were driving through NC on their way back to Erie so it was arranged for them to leave the next day. My heart hurt so bad that morning when they dropped me off for work knowing that when I got off, my son was going to be gone. I wanted to tell them to stay, she wanted me to tell them to stay, but I knew nothing would be different so I let them leave.
We’d come to an agreement to switch custody every two months until he was ready for school, so two months after he was born he was in Erie and two months after that, I was in Erie to get him. Her and I went out that night for drinks and we ended up hooking up. I got him back to NC and I am having the absolute best time as a single parent. I had the support of my family and friends so I was able to go to work and though I wasn’t pressed to go out, I could even still be social from time to time. The setup wasn’t optimal with me not having him always but I could work with the back and forth. What wasn’t planned for was the call from her telling me she was pregnant again. We’d agreed that having another kid was not a bright idea and that we’d take care of the situation when she came down to get him. It didn’t happen.
If having a second kid didn’t add stress to the situation, the fact that she reneged on the two month trade off agreement certainly did. I did not see him again until July of the next year when I flew up to stay for the birth of our forthcoming daughter, just 13 months later. I arrived in Erie, not a fan of the mom for not letting me see him all that time and not a fan of my lodging arrangements in the basement of her racist parents home. It only worsened when my son would not let me touch or play with him. He was terrified of me. If I touched him to pick him up, he screamed bloody murder. I tried rolling a ball with him at a distance and he screamed and ran away. I stayed in Erie for an entire month and excluding COVID depression, that was the worst month of my life. It completely overshadowed the joy of this beautiful little girl we’d just had. When it was time to leave, they were ready for me to go and I couldn’t wait to leave. Worst of all, I knew in my heart of hearts I wasn’t going to see them again...and I didn’t.
I was successful in blocking all the ilk with booze and people but it also blocked any chance of bettering the situation. Fast forward 13yrs and now we’re on the phone having one of the first civil conversations we’ve had in a decade. She expresses that his behavior had gotten to a point that she could not deal with him anymore and the option was to either step up as his father and take him or she was going to give him up to foster care. She told me how he blames her for my not being there and how my not being there made him feel unwanted. I already knew my answer but I gave her the space to lament all of the difficulties she’d endured raising him. The only sentence in the whole thing that really registered was, “I’ve done this on my own for 14 years, now it’s your turn.” I called my sponsor first and then my best homies and told them my 14yr old son was going to live with me and I don’t know how I’m going to do it. The collective response was, “we’ll figure it out.”
I had the extra unused bedroom and I was working on getting my license back but the glaring thing here was that I wanted to do it. The fear and uncertainty didn’t sway me, I just wanted him here. We went back and forth on the logistics and figuring out legal red tape but in that time he and his mom had worked out a deal that would allow him to stay in Erie as long as there were no further mishaps. Though disappointed he wasn’t coming immediately, I still wanted to maximize this opportunity while the door was open. Pretty nervous, I got his number from his mom and sent him this message, “I hope your holidays were good. I just wanted to say, whether or not you wind up coming, I‘d be interested in knowing you and letting you know me. No pressure. If you ever want to know anything, serious or ridiculous, just wanna talk, legit anything, I welcome it.” His reply, “Hey dad, hope you don’t mind if I call you that.”
We clicked immediately and since then, we talk almost everyday. We’ve talked about school and his behavior woes, girls, and his family, my alcoholism, my other kids...everything. He’s intelligent and extremely talented! He’s actually teaching himself to play piano and he’s really good. He sends me audios of songs he’s working on and I get to watch/hear his progress. I also thought it was ironic that I named him after my dad and my dad taught himself to play piano as well. Long story short, I am head over heels for this boy!
Looking at my relationships with my daughter whose life I came back into at 17 and my son at 14 and how I’ve been able to take an immediate, authentic, and active role in their lives. I’m wondering why can’t I do this with my youngest who is the easiest to access. (We’ll come back to this…)
So my dad reached out and suggested reading a book together, ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and get together weekly to discuss. I saw this as his attempt to connect with me so I said yes, well aware that I hope the same courtesy is afforded me if I were in a similar situation. The book is amazing and chatting with him about it has been enlightening as well. One week I’d not read on account of another depressive bout but rather than blow him off, I thought it a good idea to just chat it up.
I opened up to him about my depression and how I was struggling to experience some feelings, namely joy. First he tried to explain to me how I could out think my depression. I explained to him how I once believed that was possible as well, until I experienced real, non-circumstantial depression. He then persisted to tell me how he shared in not feeling some situationally appropriate emotions and how he’d learned how to present them without anyone ever realizing they weren’t real. This was an earth shattering realization as this was exactly what I’d been doing most of my life. If you read part 2 of the Wanted blog I talked about my father’s past, how much our situations were similar and I’m in the process of seeing how the outcomes are in kind as well.
I can’t tell you exactly how my dad felt about anything but here’s my take on what I know, what I’ve experienced and what that looks like today.
My father was orphaned and experienced homelessness young. He had family members that would not take him in and offer the love, security, and support one commonly learns from their family while growing up. He quickly learned to be self-reliant because the people he felt he should be able to count on for support proved to not be reliable. This would harden anyone’s heart to emotional or any form of vulnerability for that matter. The familial construct common to most was not his experience. When he got my mom pregnant and was forced (by the church) to get married, he was thrown into a situation that he neither wanted nor was equipped to navigate fruitfully. I, 100% without a doubt believe my father gave his all to myself and my sisters (maybe even my mom) in his attempts to be a good and caring father. What that looked like was preparing us for the world he believed we’d face based on his experience. He forced us to be organized, taught us to be well-mannered and thought out, and encouraged us to value intelligence and presentation. Within none of that was how to show affection, compassion, understanding, compromise, or tolerance...and after 12yrs of my existence, he was pretty much gone.
I grew up admiring my father. His charisma was infectious and he was a natural leader. He was the center of most things I witnessed and people hung on his every word. There were so many times in my childhood where we’d go out to dinner with a collective from the church and we were notorious for staying well after closing. All of us kids would be well ready to go but all the adults were wrapped up in another long story by my dad, usually ending in uproarious laughter. My earliest memories are of my father being a professor at Howard University, gone all week but home to weekend parent. The weekend parenting consisted of early morning Saturday chores and then choir rehearsal, family dinner, bed, and then church in the morning and early dinner before he’d drive back up to DC. When he started working here in NC and we were building our house he’d take me out for driving lessons at like 10yrs old and then we’d go by and look at progress on the house before heading home, that was the one bonding activity I remember. The rest of time I kinda sorta just tried to not be corrected because his lectures were almost as bad as his spankings.
At twelve years old my parents split and later that year I was sexually assaulted by a teacher. Up to that point I’d had my father’s example of paternal “love” and that was now gone and the first male to act as though they cared violated me and my trust. Even though my mother was ever-present and tried her damnedest to love me hard enough for them both, the idea of family wasn’t stable. My behavior reflected my experiences, much as it has happened with my own sons. I clung to my friends desperately needing for them to be like family but we were kids and desperation is unattractive at any age. I don’t think I ever really experienced any actual devastating slight from any of my friends growing up, but I perceived them as devastating a) because I was a kid and b) because I needed something that I could rely on. By my last year of high school I’d coined the phrase “Everybody leaves” and I made a very firm and deliberate decision to live “Fuck everybody.” As soon as I adopted that mentality my life instantly took off. I mastered the display of interest and care while rarely feeling an inkling of it.
Last week I asked my father how he felt about his ability to feel and, I shit you not, his response was a 15 uninterrupted minutes long dissection of the concept, use, and value of feelings. I sat there listening in awe and misery at a damn near verbatim iteration of my take on the matter. We understand feelings but believe feelings are unreliable in accuracy and make you vulnerable to other people's actions...was the general gist. I saw my future that moment and knew I didn’t want that for my youngest or myself for that matter. That conversation solidified what I’d been thinking and said a little earlier in this blog, “It’s not a good feeling to know that your presence creates emotional ineptitude and your absence creates trauma.” I’m seeing how our situations, feelings, and actions are all eerily similar. I showed up, I put on the show but there's an energy that accompanies authenticity that can not be manufactured and if you instill inauthentic life skills, you will produce an inauthentic life.
My father is a hyper analytical person and if you’ve ever read any blog of mine, it is apparent that I am too. My last blog I talked about not thinking so much, just responding to what is, and allowing situations to be. I’ve employed that pretty well since then. Where I’d fallen short in application was in my dealings with other people. There’s a lady I know whose energy I am really intrigued by. I know that she’s had a past and that she works really hard to build a whole and connected life. I want to know more about her but rather than be a normal human and connect with her on her terms, I make veiled comments inferring that she’s not giving me enough. I didn’t recognize I did this until she flat out told me. I saw her last week and she said something that was kind of telling about herself and I made some sly remark. She plainly told me that I do this to her often and where she would like to talk and engage me more, that line of behavior was off putting and made her not want to talk to me at all. I was taken aback by the directness and commenced to fumble over my explanation of the obliviousness of my actions. In the most earnest, yet kind and genuine tone, she looked me in my eyes and asked me, “Do you respond from fear or love?”
Almost like a reflex I said, “I respond from love!” But as soon as the words left my lips I knew this needed more consideration. I left that conversation and drove around for an hour with the radio off, absolutely floored by the inquiry and overwhelmed by the truth. I live in fear, fear of emotional investments that yield crappy returns. The reason my brain never shuts off and dissects everything is because I trust nothing, therefore it has to be proven. Because I trust nothing I must know and/or control as much of a situation or interaction as I can. In the last blog I said, “the assault and abandonment sitch had fucked me up more than I thought.” Obviously I didn’t know this at age 12 so I compensated by becoming masterful in offering the presentation of connectedness, while genuinely wanting it, but rarely experiencing actual connection. My dad’s absence and a trusted adults violation obliterated my ability to trust all while drastically heightening my need to be able to.
Now coming back to the question of what’s keeping me from connecting with my son when I am able to connect with my older children and really, all other children? After these months of developments, my guess today is expectation, self-loath, and experience. Expectation: I’m sure he’s not expecting me to be anything specific, just not to be made into a less productively functioning human in society by being around me. I see the way he looks at me and watches what I do and how I am and I don’t want him to be anything like me. Self-loath: Traumas have closed me off to many emotions, or at least connective emotions. I’m still quite proficient at not liking the person those events made me. I fear my son taking any behavioral cues from me will lead him to the exact outcome I got from taking my cues from my father, who I am just like. Chatting with my 14yr old last night and he says how he can’t believe how much alike we are...I almost vomited. Experience: Fear of losing him is very real as I’ve never had a kid that stayed in my life, those losses still hurt today. As I’m reconnecting with them I’m so grateful that they’ve become amazing people without me and now they can’t be taken from me.
HOLY COW this got outta hand and I’m gonna try to start wrapping this up now.
When I got sober, my FIRST prayer was to have my kids in my life and to be able to parent them. Thankfully prayers aren’t always answered on our time or how we want, I wasn’t ready. My homie Nolan has been my sounding board throughout this process. He has been the one to challenge me at every turn because he’s known me for 20+ years and will not let me cut any corners to avoid responsibility or make this easier on myself. But he has also seen me struggle and break down under the weight of it all. Yesterday we were chatting it up about this blog and the situation overall. He pointed out that if I step back and look at the macro view, my prayer is being answered incrementally. My daughter was easy, which gave me confidence and motivation to press on. The efforts with my youngest have been emotionally daunting for years now but this is the ugliness and discomfort that growth thrives in, this is The Work and it is yielding results. Obviously not the endgame I wanted immediately (or his mom wanted 5yrs ago) but as a byproduct of my efforts to get closer to him I have: Increased my independence (better jobs, 2 home move upgrades, license/car), therapy and the uncovering of underlying issues that will allow me be a better parent, partner, and person, communication with my father is now a thing. and when my 14yr old popped up, I was in position to be there. It has been The Work that has allowed all these things to come to light and allow me to be what I am for the kids I am able to be there for. It's convoluted but it is what is right now.
Some days smiles are harder to come by than others. Sometimes I still question if I have any value whatsoever. But through it all, I do my best to show up for the day, leave the outcomes to be what they will be, but never stop trying to improve. Maybe my father just couldn't see beyond the effects of his experiences to want different. Maybe that's why he’s accepted maneuvering within those parameters, with those perspectives, and that works for him. I want to feel, especially because I have hard proof of where my path leads if I leave it unaddressed. I know that different is possible because I’m experiencing the differences and this will allow me to be a different example of that for my children in attempts to break the cycle and minimize their susceptibility to the Sins of the(ir) Father.