I am blessed to have two fathers. You may guess that arriving at this place is the result of my parents’ divorce. Divorce can come at any time, but we often think of it happening to small children and the horrible negative impact it can have on them. My parents went their separate ways while I was in college. I can tell you that watching your parents' marriage end is traumatic regardless of whether you are eight or 18. But I am living proof that being a child – well, a child who is now nearly 48 years old – of divorced parents is not an automatic sentence to dysfunction, distress and blame. I think for the most part we all survived it well; and I came out of it with two fathers.
My fathers have shaped who I am. They are each strong, intelligent, successful, beautiful, black men who came of age during a time in America when being so was actively, purposefully undermined at all levels of our society. But they ignored the so-called "rules." Thank God! They refused to be beat down. They persevered. In that way they are very similar and I admire their guts, quiet self-assurance and determination. In many other ways they are remarkably different.
They have taught me to be resourceful and practical, fiscally responsible, capable of assembling furniture, mowing a lawn, painting a room, using power tools and chain saws and driving a big truck hauling a car behind it – fearlessly. I have also learned to explore my own creativity, appreciate the beauty of nature, bonsai, solitude, dry humor, excellent writing, savory food, strong coffee, a stiff drink and the joy of just being.
When so many children today grow up without their fathers, I find myself being both terribly sad and immeasurably angry at all of the men who drop seed and leave, apparently unaware of the impact of their absence. When my fathers were growing up in a time when the world was so much less open to black men, and the ability to cultivate success in one’s life was shut down at nearly every turn, They Persevered. They put the time and energy into growing their minds and their skills. They made something of themselves despite what the world was trying to tell them -- and they were still good fathers. I fail to see what the excuse is of so many absent fathers today.
Don't misunderstand me. I know that there are plenty of young black men who are doing right by their children; loving them, guiding them, molding them. I see these men every day. I know them and I respect them. Far be it for me to perpetuate the negative stereotype of the absent black man. We all know that there are too many fathers – black and white – who are not doing right by their children. It's time for them to step up and stop making excuses. Neither one of my fathers made excuses about what an unfair hand they had been dealt. They simply made the best of their hand, turning chicken shit into chicken salad.
My stepfather came into my life during my late teens, early womanhood years and has been there for me ever since. I have no idea what stars aligned in the universe to shower me with such good fortune, but there it is. And I am grateful.
I danced with each one of them at my wedding. They have been there for me emotionally, financially, and with strong, loving hugs during some of the darkest, saddest times in my life. Who on earth has the right to be so lucky to have two fathers who are so remarkable, so loving and so present in her life! No matter how many words I create on paper -- or in pixels -- the words will never be enough to truly say what this means in my life. They have each in their own way, filled my heart, fed my soul and shaped my character. That is fatherhood.
I don’t mean to gloat or brag. I share this to simply point out that neither one of them went to a special school to learn how to be great dads. Neither one will ever really know how important he is in my life because I do not have the skill to express it. They just are. So I wonder where the wheels came off the wagon with so many young black men? (Perhaps the advantage my dads had was that each grew up with fathers who were good men and positive role models for them.)
I am blessed to have two fathers. Despite the fact that my father is divorced from my mother and my stepfather found her later and married her, my fathers are on friendly terms. We are able to celebrate big family events together without any angst about who might feel awkward, because my fathers have grace; they have class; they have honor. They see the world in terms that are larger than themselves.
Father’s Day has become mostly about neckties and cologne, eating out and a day off from yard work. Maybe it is time to refocus it so it is more about fatherhood. Let's focus on what it means to be a good father who shapes the direction of the life of their child. Let's celebrate the fathers who are involved, who teach and demand accountability and respect, but give love and affection freely and in equal measure. My fathers have done that for me and, even in my current days as a grown woman, they still do. Because there is one thing about fatherhood, it is a job that has no end no matter how old our fathers live to be, or how grown we children think we have become – we are always our fathers' children.
Leslie Germaine is marketing manager for an Atlanta construction company. She is also Lyn May’s daughter.