A friend of mine, a chef and father who’s just opened a deli, recently asked the following question on Facebook: “When is enough, enough? When do you stop trying and hoping and pushing? When do you finally say that it’s done?” When I first read, it resonated a little with me—unlike so many other Facebook posts—so I decided to offer him my (in hindsight) flippant reply: When it negatively affects your health and your relationships with your loved ones.
In the moment I typed them, my words rang true to me. Why would anyone engage in any kind of activity that would do anything to disrupt positive relationships with their families? From my perspective as a husband and father, I truly feel it’s my responsibility and privilege to be there for my family. Nothing should distract me from being where they need me, when they need me. My family deserves all parts of me, in ways that are healthy and beneficial for all involved.
I cannot be a good husband or father if half of me is off in the clouds, dreaming, while the other half is trying to manage the here and now. After submitting my comment, I regretted it. I started to truly empathize with my friend, and felt that my comment completely disregarded what he was trying to ask. As we all do, I was answering the question through my experiences, not through his. And like most Black folks born in the 1970s, I have a complicated history with dreaming beyond my circumstances.
I am the product of a generation of poor and practical Black people. There were no frills in my house. Everything and everyone had a purpose, and that purpose was a practical one. I remember saving my money to attend a concert, and my grandfather popped me in the head with my copy of Run-DMC’s Raising Hell. “You have dis. You know what they are gwan’ sing. Why go out the house and see dem?”
If I wanted to ensure a harsh lecture from my grandmother, all I had to do was have her hear me say, “I wish…” In my house, wishing was an “open invitation for the devil to do something wit’ your time, since you are not using it well.” When I asked my grandmother why she always invoked the devil, she replied: “It’s the devil dat’s making you ask this question.”
I was supposed to live a now life, to be in the moment. Thinking about the future was wasteful. The only time the future was ever discussed was when we spoke about what trade I was going to take up. If we weren’t talking about my working in construction, at the post office, or helping out in my family’s restaurant, we weren’t talking about my future. And I was not alone.
So many of my friends seemed almost afraid to speak their dreams aloud, for fear of being shot down by those closest to them. It’s one thing for someone to laugh at your idea of becoming an astronaut. But it’s quite another when your mother or father makes you feel unworthy for having such a dream. I have a friend—one of the smartest people I know—turn down a full-ride at an Ivy League school because his family forced him into believing he wasn’t worthy of Yale University. He now runs his family’s bodega. He’s 43 and has already had two heart attacks. I just turned 41 a few weeks ago, and I have started to dream all day, every day.
Without dreams, without the ability, drive, and support to imagine an aspirational future for our families, how can we be effective fathers and husbands? We need to be able to see past the bills and all the barriers, and imagine we can elevate out of our current circumstances. And it isn’t just dreaming about material gain and financial stability that’s important. We need to envision a better world. We need to have the time and space to see our children doing better than us, and not just following in our same overstressed footsteps.
But dreaming is not enough. We have to act.
An old mentor wrote this down for me several years ago, on a Rocky Rococo receipt: A dream is the first step to changing the world. Once you change the world, it is much easier to dream. Do it. Live it. Be it.
I still carry this receipt in my wallet.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.