In honor of Father’s Day, this post is dedicated to the father figures in my life. I’ll start off by saying that I didn’t know my biological father all that well. When he and my mother divorced, I was very young, and I only remember seeing him every once in a while. However, I have no sob story about missing a father because the men in my family stepped in and played an important role in my life that I will never forget. I am indebted to them for molding me into the person I am today. So I will highlight the lessons that they have instilled in me, not only through conversation, but by acting as living examples.
Be a Visionary
Tom is my stepfather by technicality only. I consider him my father because he has raised me since the age of eleven. During that time, I watched him take small ideas and turn them into big ones. He always possessed a level of ambition that I, as a boy who liked to stay inside and read, couldn’t quite understand at first but learned to respect. He has always been a dreamer, but he always knew how to make his dreams come true.
Born and raised in Bridgeport , Connecticut, Tom did not come from a whole lot of money. However, by the time I was a college student, we had a lavish home in a quiet suburb that he designed himself with no contracting experience. He just had an idea, and he followed through with it until he succeeded. Tom always tells me this principle:
“Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t let anyone take your dream away from you.”
Now, whenever I get discouraged, or whenever someone tries to cut me down, I remember those words. They carried me through law school, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
Fight for what you Believe
Fight for what you believe.Tom also taught me to fight for my beliefs. During law school, I didn’t always fit in with the crowd. I naively thought that having a good idea meant that I would get support from my peers. During my first year, it didn’t always work out that way. There were moments when all I wanted to do was pursue a passion and do good work. All I wanted to do was enjoy my law school experience, but the second I got the ball rolling on something, there was always someone there to try to interfere with it. Some students even resorted to lies, manipulation, and spreading rumors in their attempts to trip up my efforts and isolate me. It felt like there was a hidden agenda being pursued, and I was not supposed to be a part of it. Sometimes that’s the price of being different and stepping outside of people’s expectations of you, and I was certainly paying it.
Fortunately, three things happened during my law school experience. First, the good people I met at school never wavered and always supported me. Second, Tom was behind me the whole way encouraging me to stand up for myself and never let anyone push me around. Sometimes it worked in my favor. Other times it didn’t. However, nothing would have worked out if I didn’t have the principles instilled in me to stand up for what’s right, no matter how unpopular that stance may be. To this day, I instinctively speak up when someone does wrong. I don’t speak up because I’m a showboat, a holy roller, or an activist. I was raised by a father who I watched do the same thing every day, and I decided to follow the example that he set for me. Third, I graduated because of the support of my friends and family that gave me the strength to fight for myself when faced with some intense opposition. I was raised to not let anyone take away my dreams; not without a fight. So far, I have a pretty good record.
Always express Love to your Loved Ones
My mother’s stepfather, and my grandfather, Philip, was another huge influence in my life as a child. Despite his slight frame, he had a deep voice that could carry his North Carolina accent down the street and strong hands that felt like they could bend steel when he held my head still to cut my hair. However, he was the most loving and gentle man I’ve ever known. I remember the days when he took me and my brother out to eat every Tuesday, lit a fire in the basement, watched television with me every night, and even took me outside for golfing lessons. However, there’s one moment with him that is forever etched in my memory. One day, he called me and my brother downstairs to speak to us. He looked at me through his shaded glasses and said:
“I was driving down the street and saw an ambulance and some police cars. Turned out somebody hit a boy who was riding a bike just like yours. I couldn’t stomach it. I had to see your face and make sure you were ok.”
For any fathers reading this, don’t ever think that your children don’t remember when you make statements like that. I’m living proof that they do. Keep it up.
You Reap What You Sow
I didn’t often see my biological grandfather, Barney, during my childhood, but I decided to move in with him in Colorado after I graduated from college. It became apparent that we grew up in two different worlds. I grew up in the suburbs of Connecticut. Though I had a fair share of peers who were involved in criminal activity, I was always able to stay away from it. Barney grew up in Mississippi and had to hunt for his own food. He then managed to live in the most dangerous cities across the nation; including East St. Louis and the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. In those areas, the criminal element comes to you. By the time he was my age, he had learned a variety of ways to survive. He taught me a few tricks to help me defend myself from manipulative people, and that advice came in handy when I moved to Chicago. However, there was one phrase that he used over and over again:
“Son, you will always reap what you sow. That means that if you sow apple seeds, you won’t get corn. You’ll get apples.”
Every day I see this principle in action. I watch people looking for a desired result with no idea of how to get there, and when they don’t get it, they get angry at the world. Sometimes it’s comical. Other times, it’s quite sad. I refuse to be so stubborn, arrogant, and self-centered that I cannot see the error of my own ways. When I don’t get the desired result that I want, I look in the mirror and ask myself what I am doing wrong. I ask myself how I can sow the right seed to bear the fruit I hunger for. When I figure it out, I am always pleased with the results. In life, you will always reap what you sow. It’s up to you to figure out the seeds you have planted, the seeds you’re currently watering, and the fruit that comes as a result. Understand that, and life becomes much simpler. It certainly has for me.
Treat Respect like Money
On a particularly frustrating day, I sat down across from Barney and went on a tough-guy rant about how I was going to take respect from a certain person. I had it in my mind that clearly I had to do something to earn another person’s respect, even if it meant proving my toughness. Barney shook his head before he looked at me and said:
“If you have to earn someone’s respect, you’re hanging around the wrong people. You’re supposed to be respectful to people. Nobody should have to earn it from you.”
After that, I realized that respect truly is like money. Never be afraid to give it to someone, but if he doesn’t give it back, don’t give him any more. People who loan money and never get it back are usually chumps. The same goes with respect. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Simple mistakes can be overlooked, but people should only be allowed to cross the line once; whatever your line may be. I don’t care who they are. I don’t care how popular they are. I don’t care what they have done for you in the past. No one is allowed to disrespect you, and you are not required to spend time around anyone who does. There is so much freedom and power in understanding that, especially when you put it into practice. Cherish respect like money, and you’ll have a whole lot of it just the same.
The Right Woman could be the Best Thing to ever happen to You
Watching Tom and my mother for the past fourteen years has taught me what love looks like. I’m not saying that I have perfect parents, but after watching how some couples treat each other, I can confidently say that I have some damn good ones. A good marriage takes hard work and dedication, but clearly they’ve learned how to do it. After watching their example, I have a sixth sense. I can spot a happy or unhappy couple a mile away. I’m also learning how to tell if I’ll be happy with the women I meet.
I think the reason my parents were always so good to me as a kid is because they were always so good to each other, and they still are. They work together, pray together, watch movies together, dance together. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company. However, there’s one subtle thing I see them do that is a dead giveaway for a great relationship. When they walk together, they walk side-by-side. They don’t just call each other partners. They act like it every second of every day.
I’ve met women who are hell-bent on walking ahead of me as if they were superior to me in some regard. Women like that never last long with me. I’ve never seen my mother give Tom her back during a conversation, and if a woman tries that with me, she’ll look over her shoulder and find that I’m no longer there. I’ve seen men treat their girlfriends the same way, walking ten feet ahead of them as if they don’t exist. For me, there are few bigger red flags than when a man treats his girlfriend that way, and if I have a daughter, no man will be allowed to leave her behind on purpose and expect her to stick around. I have now learned that the only time I should give a woman my back is if she disrespects me and I am walking away from her to never return. Your back isn’t intended for people you care about. It’s reserved for people you don’t care enough about to look at. If someone gives you her back, and you don’t have to deal with her, don’t. Walk away and make sure she never sees you again.
My parents never give each other their backs. They give each other love, respect, and dedication, and that doesn’t happen unless you’re with the right person for the right reasons. Tom found the right woman for him, and she happened to be my mother. The two of them are all the proof I need that a positive relationship pays in dividends. Tom has taught me that settling for less would be a waste of time.
When you find the Right Woman, treat her like the Right Woman
My Uncle Bill also served as an example to me of how a man is supposed to treat his wife. At a family gathering at their house, he gave my aunt a note that she loved so much that she read out loud for all of us to hear. I won’t share the contents here, but I will say this. My Aunt and Uncle live in a very nice home. They have nice cars. They live in a safe neighborhood. However, that note was proof to me that none of those material possessions were what kept them together. It was the time, effort, and care behind writing such a thing that let my aunt know how much Uncle Bill valued their relationship.
As a single man in his twenties who has been engulfed in new age dating advice, I sometimes cringe at the thought of writing a woman a love note. In our dating culture today, that would be way too heartfelt, caring, and devoid of ulterior motives. Who would ever want that(cue the sarcastic tone)? The answer to that question is easy. Everyone may not appreciate it, but the right person will. So just save it for that person. That’s what Uncle Bill did, and that’s good enough for me.
Good People are Always Remembered.
Unfortunately, Philip passed away just over a year ago. I will always remember him as the strong but gentle man who lit a fire in the basement every night and smiled whenever he saw me come down to watch television with him. I will always remember him as the man who called me downstairs because he couldn’t bear the thought of losing his grandson. Whether he was taking me and my brother out to eat, or cutting my hair in his barbershop, I have nothing but the fondest memories of him. He was truly a positive influence in my life.
However, Philip was a positive influence on a lot more people than just me. When I attended his funeral in Bridgeport, I walked with my grandmother down the aisle and sat next to her in the front row of the church. When the preacher prompted the congregation to look around, I looked over my shoulder and saw two floors full of people; some of whom were standing from lack of seating. That church must have seated at least six hundred people. I always loved and respected Philip, but on that day I found myself in awe of him. I was in awe of the fact that I once woke up every morning and ate grits and sausage for breakfast in front of such a great man. Good people are always remembered because they can’t help but do good things, and I get the feeling that Bridgeport will always remember and love Philip. I know that I always will.
These are the lessons that I’ve learned from the men in my life. However, they still have a lot more to teach. Despite being the first person in my known family to go to law school, I find that they are still showing me the ropes. You see lawyers might wear nice suits and sometimes use big words(unnecessarily), but they are no different from Tom’s friends from the East End of Bridgeport; just like Philip’s customer’s at Carter’s Barbershop on Stratford Avenue or Barney’s old buddies from the billiards halls in Watts. I’m not going anywhere these men haven’t been; nor am I meeting anyone they haven’t met before. Therefore, I’m gleaning from them all the advice that I can get. As their son, it is my duty to represent them well, and I can never do that without learning from their successes and failures. The men in my life aren’t perfect, and neither am I, but we’re all good enough to band together when times get tough and push through anything. Thanks to them, I am convinced that there is nothing that I cannot achieve, and that’s a feeling that not everyone is lucky enough to have.
For those of you who have fathers, or father figures, in their lives right now, appreciate them. Call them. Hug them. Catch the game with them. Shoot some hoops with them. Love them for who they are day in and day out. Appreciate what you have in them because it can never be replaced. If you don’t believe that, come with me to Bridgeport, Connecticut and ask the hundreds of people who came to pay Philip their respects. They will be sure to tell you that there will never be another quite like him. It is my dream to leave a legacy just as strong as his. No one is going to take that dream from me or the right woman at my side; not without a fight. It is my hope that at the end of this post, you will feel the same way about the father figures who fought for you.
Happy Father’s Day!
p.s. What lessons have you learned from your father (figure)? Feel free to share by commenting below!