Kevin Powell on Being a "Father"

Kevin Powell on Being a "Father"

Writer Kevin Powell speaks on how growing up without a father inspired him to be a father figure for young Black males.

by Kevin Powell, June 18, 2012

Kevin Powell on Being a "Father"

Kevin Powell

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

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