It's a funny thing to be raised by both parents, go to a good school, get a few good jobs, then look back at the journey I've made over the years. And with all that I've accomplished, I can't help but feel a little bit guilty. A little bit confused. A little bit like I haven't maximized the opportunity that's been given to me.
EBONY.com gave me the opportunity to attend the launch event for MANIFEST, a discussion amongst men about men and, in particular, fatherhood. There I was, the introverted guy I can be at times, sitting with a room full of extroverts clawing to express their lives, their ideals, and the philosophies that have guided them through time. And there I was, reflecting on everything I've been through and looking for the right words to express myself in front of cameras and a group of strangers.
I found myself sitting there and thinking about the last time I had such an intense conversation with Black men, and I couldn't find anything to compare it to. I couldn't find one example of where I felt so inspired, so introspective, so enlightened by the sound bytes of men that have existed in a timeline so different from my own. Every demographic of the Black man was represented at B Braxton's. Every demographic of the Black man had given up his Sunday to engage in not only a real discussion, but an important one. To my left was Jermaine Spradley from Single Black Male, and to my right was David Lemieux, father of EBONY.com's News and Lifestyle Editor Jamilah Lemieux (who I came to know in her "Sister Toldja" days). I remember making the connection to who he was and immediately thinking of how proud a man he must be to attend an event moderated by his daughter. I asked him about it and his response was simple:
"I'm so proud. So very proud of what she's done."
It was that type of day. I had no idea of what I was getting myself into when I RSVP'd, but I was glad I attended. I couldn't help but feel proud myself. Not just because of her, but because of all the men that showed up. Proud to be in a room with so many talented and opinionated Black males. It was both a rarity and an oddity. I found myself thinking about the last time I was in a room with so many Black men open to discussing issues that are usually saved for blog posts and unremembered nights filled with alcohol and…other stuff. I couldn't find an event to compare it to. I felt blessed.
I've been on panels. I've been interviewed. I've been asked to share my thoughts on a myriad of topics with the world. But nothing compared to what I felt in that room. Nothing compared to raw honesty, the brutal realism, the truth about what men think on topics that are rarely discussed.
The question that led off the discussion — posed by moderator L'Heureux "Dumi" Lewis-McCoy –was "At what point did you become a man?" We were asked to share our answers in one sentence, which you can imagine was difficult. And with that being the case, the first few men to speak couldn't condense their thoughts into a brief string of words. They told stories. Stories that I couldn't necessarily identify with, but they resonated all the same. I listened to each as the words got nearer to me. And as the voices got closer, the magnitude of my answer amplified. I wanted to be candid. I wanted to say something potent. But all l I could think about was the passing of my father, and how I had to pull myself together for the sake of my family and, most importantly, my mother.
Legally, I became a man when I turned 18. But emotionally, I didn't become a man until my father passed when I was 25. I can remember being at work, getting a phone call from my mom around 11am, and knowing that it couldn't be anything good. I'd dreaded the call for years, but something told me that this time my worst fear was about to become tangible. An event that would change my life forever.
My father's passing was the first time something deeply tragic happened to me, but it wasn't about me. It was about my family. It was about my mother's mental and emotional well-being. And for me, it was about being stoic at a time when I felt my emotions bursting through the seams of my denial. It was about keeping myself together when the emotional glue was breaking down before everyone.
I still think about the day I had to take his favorite suit to the cleaners knowing it'd be the last time I'd see him wear it. I think about the welling tears, the stutters in my heart, and the rumbling in my stomach. They're as real now as they were then. I understood the situation, but I couldn't grasp the meaning. The circle of life had come full circle, but I just couldn't close the loop. And at the time, it wasn't my place. Not then. It wasn't my time to think. It was my time to provide support.
It took me years to realize the significance. But when I did, the potency of his passing landed on me like an anvil. I had become a man. I realized what separated boys from men. Men take care of their families. I took care of mine.
The discussion at B. Braxton went on to tackle a wide range of topics that we typically save for our therapists and closest friends. It was tough for me at times. Not because I was scared to share my voice, but because I had so many thoughts running through my head. I found myself wanting to speak, but felt so privileged to just listen. To hear the stories of men, heterosexual, homosexual, with kids and without, married and single, talk about how their upbringings influenced their lives.
I grew in my barbershop chair. I became more of a man than I ever could've expected. I found myself cherishing my experiences and accepting the things I'd denied for so many years. And I reflect on this experience feeling thankful, not only for my circumstances, but for the chance to talk with brothers who didn't know they were teaching me about myself.
As I sit here writing this article, all I can think about are my kids to be and my future family. I'm thinking about the message I'll share with them, and the hope I'll have that they live life on their own terms while internalizing my words. One day I'll be a father. And if I have one, one day my son will be a man.
Thank you EBONY.com for helping me grow.