Kevin Powwell`s blog

Being A Father

I am a father. I did not know that I was one, but I am. Not even sure when it happened, but, alas, it is a reality for me now. I did not ask for it, nor was it planned. And, to be brutally honest, I scratch my head and wonder how this came to me. I mean, for sure, I have a vague idea, but I am struggling to recollect what led to this.

This is especially profound for me because I don’t know my own father. Yes, I knew him in passing, as a child. He was about a dozen years older than my early 20something mother when they met. They both hail from South Carolina, but met in my hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey. My father swept my mother off her feet, made her fall in love with him while he was simply in lust with her, and there I was nine months later. To say my biological did not bother would be a grand understatement. My single mother, armed with nothing more than an eighth-grade education, sheer will, and countless prayers to God, was forced to raise me in dire poverty, with the aid of welfare, food stamps, and government cheese. And with the kind of relentless hardships I would not wish on anyone. I still am amazed, all these years later, with all the miracles my mother made happen.

My father did make a few select guest appearances the first eight years of my life: to purchase my first bike, my first watch, to ride me, once, in the truck he drove long distance for work. Yes, he had money, a home he owned in Jersey City, and could have co-parented and co-supported me, his child. But for reasons only he knew, he chose not to do so.

The one thing that he did do over those first eight years of my life was play with my mother’s mind, leading her, time and again, to believe he would eventually marry her. I remember how my mother’s eyes would light up when she talked in the kitchen with my Aunt Cathy about marriage. But because my father was, among other things, an incredible liar, it never happened. What did happen was a day I shall never forget for the rest of my life: Because my mother and I were so poor we did not have a home telephone at least until I was about 10 or 11-years-old (and we would not get a color television until I was off to college years later, thanks to a full financial aid package). So “home phone” was the phone booth of the local pharmacy around the corner from our apartment building.

These were particularly desperate times for us, so my mother swallowed her pride and dignity and called my father for help. I could not hear his side of the conversation but I could sense something was terribly wrong, as my mother’s body seemed to shrink in that phone booth and she was visibly upset. Then my father hung up the phone on my mother. She told me, immediately, that my father charged her with lying to him, that I was not his son, that they were never going to marry, that he would never again give her “a near nickel” to help us, me, his son. And he never did. And over three decades later I have not seen nor heard from my father—

I felt abandoned, hurt, embarrassed. At school I had long taken to the practice of making up a different name for my father each year because I was too ashamed to say, “I don’t have one.” As I got to my teenage years the father absence and hurt only intensified. No dad there to show me how to tie a tie as I prepared to graduate from grammar to high school, so my mother had to ask a male neighbor to show me. No dad to play catch with in spite of my great love of baseball. No dad to ask questions of as I passed through puberty, and those weird sensations and intense attractions to girls really kicked in. I was completely clueless about what it was to be a man, and there was no guidance whatsoever, not even from my sports coaches.

That meant constant battles with my mother, behavioral problems in school despite my excellent grades, and even run-ins with the police as a teen. In one breath my mother would say to me “Do not be like your father.” And in the next breath “You are just like your father.” Yes, I was confused, terribly confused, and literally stumbled into my adult years, as a college student at Rutgers University, as a budding writer in New York City. There was confusion on how to handle my then very bad temper. There was confusion on how to relate to women in a way that was not awkward, hyper-aggressive, or abusive in any form. I made many mistakes, and I was also constantly hurting and sabotaging myself. I longed for a father figure but even there I stumbled as my father’s abandonment had wounded me so badly that I could not completely trust any of the older males who attempted to mentor or guide me in my young adult years. I would either push them away, or run away.

But there was one older gentleman who did leave a profound impact on my self-esteem and psyche. He was a therapist I was mandated to see after I was suspended from Rutgers for one year. The therapy sessions were required as part of the conditions for my being re-admitted to school. Little did I know those first sessions would begin a life committed to constant self-reflection and healing, even in the most difficult moments of my life. This therapist, this father figure, listened to me in a way I had never experienced before. Then he said something that totally lifted my self-esteem from the gutter: “Kevin, you are a prince.”

I did not know what to do with that, fought back tears bubbling inside my chest, and I have never forgotten that moment since. I felt empowered, liberated, because of those very simple words. In essence the therapist was telling me that I was valuable, that my life mattered, that I had a purpose, all the things a father or father figure or mentor should say to his son. Or his daughter.

Now this did not mean I was past the father hurt. Just a few years later I read an open letter to my father at an arts festival in Atlanta and cried through the entire reading. I was nearly 30 at this point and a strange thing happened because of whatever little recognition I had gained as a writer and activist, and because of numerous television and radio appearances: younger people, from all walks of life, were suddenly asking me to mentor them, were telling me they looked up to me, and some even went so far as to say I was like a father figure to them. I will not lie: this all scared the hell out of me. I was like “Me?”

And what these younger people either did not know or chose to ignore was that I was grappling with who I was, or who I wanted to be. But just as I had in my younger years been on the search for a male mentor I could look up to and learn from, so too were these younger men and women, especially the younger males.

All these years later I am now in my 40s and have accepted being a father. Not in the biological sense because I have no children of my own, nor have I been married. I definitely look forward to marrying a great woman one day and having a child or two. I have survived, experienced, and learned so much that I feel, today, I would be a good father. But what I am speaking of is the fact that I’ve made peace, finally, with one of the roles of my life: that of a mentor and father figure to many people. Because I travel America so much as an activist, public speaker, and writer that means there are younger people in my adopted community of New York City and nationwide who call on me for advice in some form. And I must listen to as many of them as I can because it seems like yesterday that that was me. And what is the point of doing well in one’s own life, of having some measure of progress and success if what is learned is not passed on to those who come behind?

What has especially touched me are the parents, guardians, or various family members who’ve time and again asked me to speak to or work with their son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew, niece, or cousin. I am not going to lie: I have a particular soft spot in my heart for all the single mothers out there raising sons who’ve sought my counsel in person at events, via telephone or email, and even on twitter and facebook. I am both humbled and honored by this outreach. But for the grace of God and my mother’s great love and push for me to make something of my life by all available means I would not be writing this blog this very moment.

And I must add, finally, that I came to forgive my father for abandoning my mother and I—many years back—because I had to let that hurt and pain go forever. We cannot change our past experiences, and if we do not ever make peace with those experiences, we become prisoners of those experiences for the rest of our lives. As a man I simply refuse to allow that to happen ever again. And as I wrote in another space years back, I just have to be the man and the father I wanted him, my own biological dad, to be, but could not be. For the rest of my life.

Kevin Powell is an activist, public speaker, and author or editor of 11 books, including his newest title “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays. You can order the book at www.lulu.com, or on iTunes and Amazon/Amazon Kindle. Email him at kevin@kevinpowell.net or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell

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20 Responses to “Being A Father”

  1. Dear Kevin,
    Wow. Such beautiful elegant words. It is both uplifting and reassuring to hear your expression of appreciation, acknowledgment and love for your hard-working single mom, as we are most oftentimes ostracized and mistreated thanks to the spread of stereotypes, stigmatizations, and misinformation spread by politicians and the mass media in their efforts to blame the ills of society on the most vulnerable to deflect the blame for their failures to make positive social change… We are, in effect their “scapegoats,” and we suffer greatly as a result.
    I myself, a single mom, can only hope that my two boys, now ages 8 and 10, will turn out to have a perspective and positive outlook such as yours. I do my best to teach them the importance of good quality characteristics and proper behavior but lord knows it isn’t always easy to do it on your own in today’s society that chooses to demonize, villify, punish and unfairly penalize single moms simply because they are single. Every day is a struggle as instead of creating solutions for our barriers to success and self sufficiency, our current government is in a state of perpetual denial of the needs of the people and refuses to address our needs. It shuns responsibility and takes care of itself and its greedy friends. I would love to hear you speak, and would love to bring my boys. If you ever speak at California State Long Beach, please update me by email as this is where I attend school and would be thrilled to go to hear you. Thank you for your inspiration.
    IN Solidarity,
    Michele Marino
    President of JAGed (Justice and Gender Education)

    • Chilla says:

      Peace Father Jay,Just an information quitseon on the website. Is there a podcast link list that is by title only, giving podcast number, that one could find a subject faster with. This could be a separate list by video, by audio, etc. Does one have to scroll through all the pages for over 200 podcasts? Or use the tag list, which may not include all the topics on one page? Mabye this can help improve the searching for your wonderful talks, and get the information out more quickly.Oh, if need be, Father, I will be doing some scrolling for now. I find your talks very warm and informative. Maybe someday this link list can be created by a person with these skills.I pray for your continued success, and the goodness you give to everyone with your website.Pax et BonumPaulNovice1, CFP

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  2. Evvie says:

    You are such a remarkable individual with such a grand insight into the plight of American History, African Disapora, and Politics. I have always admired you, but after reading this post, I am in total inspiration, I have a soft spot for your past. Your ability to detail specifics of such painful wevents is not easy, im sure as you were writng this it might have been difficult. Sadly, this is whatnhappen more often than not. Your revelation has touched me to see that this is a real epidemic that can’t continue. If we can just sit down with the men who leave their families and express the enormous impact it places on the community and society’s a whole, it could change a lot of lives. I am happy that you have shown such exceptional strength and determination. I am so thankful to have met you and I feel you are not only a friend but a brother. We have been there at some point to support your goals and dreams. It brings me great joy that you have been able to turn this situation around.
    Good for you Kev…

  3. I remember years ago reading your essay about being abandoned by your father and here we are again dealing with the same subject matter but you are now a father. I love your candor brother.

  4. Adrienne Gravish says:

    Kevin,

    I am just thrilled that you got to exactly where you are now. Even back when you were that young man struggling, I saw that you were a prince and kept up with how you were doing. I’ve read your books and writings over the years. Then I find myself a single parent of a 6 year old due to divorce and I actually feel confident that my son has men he can one day e-mail or call and talk with as he grows. There are many men like you Kevin, yet I appreciate you so much for what you shared.

  5. Vantawn says:

    Very strongs words..I love it

  6. Lynda Miller says:

    Beautifully written, KP. Great stuff. Sending hugs from Australia.

  7. Calvin says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I, too, did not know my father, he died via a random act of violence on the streets of Philadephia when I was two. I was raised, along with 6 other brothers and sisters, by a single mother.

    I am now a single dad with shared custody of my 11 year old son. While I admire single mothers, I also seek to lift up the single fathers in the world who are doing their best despite the laws of the land and society working against them. I love my son with all my being and while I’m not ‘in love” with his mother, I do love and respect her for bringing our child into the world.

    We – single fathers – are doing our best to be role models for our children and while I’m not demanding recognition for me doing the job/playing the role of which I am supposed, it would certainly be nice for others to give props every now and then to those who follow suit.

    Godspeed Kevin! Thanks for keeping it real.

  8. Maureen C says:

    This is beautiful Kevin!!!

  9. My brother!

    This is why we pledged: #ManlyDeeds. I have a similar story, which has resulted in me being a single father to my son. We may not plan, and may not have intended. But God doesn’t wait for our plans in order to bestow His blessings!

    May the Lord give you strength and courage, wisdom and humility, grace and patience for this journey!

    Together in Fatherhood,
    Onward…

    Jabriel

  10. Cherry says:

    Wow, I’m reading this and holding back tears. Amazing story and many of us can relate to you. My father was never around, I would probably pass him in the streets and not even know him. Thankfully my grandfather and my uncles were amazing, supportive, funny, loving, family men. I remember when my father (grandfather) passed when I was 17 , it left me empty- the only man I loved and knew I could call on at anytime was gone. years passed, I was 23 and reached out to my dad – Christmas Day (I went to spend it with his mother and sisters) and my dad said “You’re grown up now, why do you want to get to know me now” …I’m laughing because here was a Jehovah Witness Pastor who is suppose to teach love , denying his own child.

    I stand in awe of your maturity, your comapssion, your love of humanity and your openess. @UniquelyChe

  11. ann says:

    Wow. I was reading this at work, and literally started to tear up. Although these words are about your experience and life, so many of the words could be describing mine. I think the ones that really hit home were the words “…all the things a father or father figure or mentor should say to his son. Or his daughter…”

    I never knew my father. Not sure I even know his name. I’ve been lied to so many times, by the only person who can reveal the mystery. I have only half of myself. I didn’t have a father to teach me how to be treated by men. So I let many of the men I became involved with mistreat me, in one way or another. And I live with my mistakes and my choices every day.

    I’m so happy that you found your path.

  12. Alina says:

    This piece has bought up so many childhood memories I had with a father who didnt care to get to know us. My father being a musical legend in the salsa world left my mother with 3 children, homeless, bankrupt and hungry. He started a new life with another woman, married her, adopted her daughter and had 2 other daughters. My mom picked herself up. She went to college, got a great job with the city and got herself out of bankruptcy. She was a mom and dad to my siblings and I. Don’t understand what goes through the mind of a absent father when he chooses to abandon his family but I do know that excuses are not allowed in my life and neither is my dad. Thanks for sharing this

  13. Isis Naima says:

    Thanks for sharing this and yourself with the world. In my own experience, it is sometimes difficult to navigate that role and all that it brings but KNOWING that God doesn’t give that “space” to everyone makes it that much more endearing.
    I love this Piece/Peace (of mind and space)! Trials and triumphs! This is a story that must be told and one that resonates as a reality for so many, it is also a story that brings hope and the realization that journey is what counts. Enduring the journey and having under/innerstanding…. is priceless. It brings Peace!!! It seems like this would be difficult to write… it also seems like it was revelational….. Powerfully moving!!!! I was able to go into a “space” that although I haven’t experienced but could and did experience through your words!!!! Transformative!!!! And not just for others but for YOU too, Kevin!
    Kevin, you are one of those people that make others feel like they’ve known you forever. That’s a wonderful gift…. YOU are truly an inspiration! Stay Humble, friend!
    I wish you continued wellness….

  14. Waleed Anderson says:

    Kevin I am proud to say that a few weeks ago I bought your latest book Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs & Essays. I really like your open letter to Chris Brown. There is some great points that you made in that article, that also tie into to your article about being a father. In your letter to Chris Brown, you disclosed alot about your past, and ultimately what led to alot of conflicts that you endured in your early adulthood. One of the main points that stood out to me was that you realized that you had to take ownership for every aspect of your life. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason! I find it interesting, yet fitting, that through all that you have endured, that you are so looked up to! Something divine must have saw a certain strength of character in you! Something saw a stength, and intelligence in you to manage your pain, and therefore use it as tool to help those of like circumstance. I admire that! However, it isnt always worse on those brothas that didnt grow up with fathers. Myself, and one of my closest friends grew up with fathers that didnt teach us shit about life!! An to say the least, my father was very psychologically abusive. He himself, didnt grow up with a father either, an he certainly wasnt willing to go to therapy for anything. My father was a black man, born in the 40’s, in the deep south. The only thing I got from him was some sense of history, and drinking hard alcohol to relieve stress. In everything that you wrote to Chris Brown, as well as this article, you are helping to heal wounds, and bring clarity! Please keep up this work!!!!

  15. Donna says:

    My parents were married (they got married because she was pregnant with me). She was 19, he was 20. I was born, and 3 years later my younger sister was born. And, about 3 years after that (when I was 6) my parents divorced, and for all intents and purposes, we didn’t see him again. Yes, for a while he showed up occasionally (with that first bike, or to take us for a week long visit in the summer once or twice) but there was never a consistent, reliable connection – and he just faded. He’s never lived further away than a 4 hour drive. The last time I saw him was when he came to my High School graduation (I’m 43 now – and he never did come to my younger sister’s…) I can’t understand any parent absent by choice. After spending time with my niece and nephew – or my friend’s kids – I definitely can’t understand how it’s humanly possible to be in a child’s daily life for 6 years, then walk. It’s beyond me. Once, when I was growing up, we stayed with my aunt and uncle for a weekend – they’d just had a baby girl who was a couple of months old at the time. After 2 days of holding her, I bawled the whole way home when Mom picked us up after the weekend. How do you walk away from a baby? From your own child?

    Men like you make a difference, Kevin. Your story is all the more beautiful to me because of the work you did to get to the place where you are today. So many others would have never made it to college…or if they got suspended…never made it THROUGH college… It’s like you’ve sought out, and then followed the path you were meant for – and a lot of other people just give up, go off track…take the “easy way out”. Bravo to you. If I had a son (or a daughter for that matter), I’d want him/her to have a father like you – whether it be biologically, or through mentorship. They would be blessed either way.

  16. @Robotec says:

    This was a Great piece, I relate like you were telling 75% of my story, too many males/females of single parents households carry alot of unnessasary baggage. Believe it or not some of the most successful entrepreneur’s that look great on the outside can never totally commite in a relationship just b/c of abandonment issue’s from their childhood. Iam 39 yrs old & don’t have any children but mentor a few young men. They always tell me that they look up to me & Iam a father figure & its alot to take in at times. I even mentor one of my ex girl friends son, he reach out to me & told me he hoped that I was wasn’t finished with him b/c his mom & I didnt work out, I laughed & told him that our bond will not change that was back in 2008 we spoke last week on my birthday & he told me how he appreciated the role I played in his life & his family alway talking about me still!!! I say all of this b/c fatherhood is not biological its how much time & wisdom you pass on to a young man or young lady!! Thank You for that piece!!! Mr. Powell You inspire me!! Trevor Isaacs on FB & @Robotec on Twitter!!!

  17. Tonja says:

    This is an absolutely beautiful entry! As a child that has been abandoned by her own father, I can certainly relate to the struggles and pain both you and your mother has gone through. In the end, this kind of experience can only do two things – make us bitter or make us better. You’ve chosen to be better! May God continue to bless you!

  18. Michele says:

    So many people just have no idea of the devastating effects abandonment can have on a child. You’ve done a great job of turning something so negative into something positive for other people. Keep it up!

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