Written: June 3, 2011
All my life, children have gravitated towards me. I don’t even have to do much. I walk into a room and next thing I know somebody’s baby is in my face. Of all the people in the room, it’s me that they pick.
I think there’s a presence some people have that somehow draws young people to them. With me, it’ll start with one kid, then a couple of teenagers, and before you know it I’m talking to a whole group of teenagers and we’re chopping it up. With the little ones, I’m a human jungle gym. I definitely can be as goofy as they come. One time when I was with one of my godsons when he was young, I was upstairs with him and we started horsing around to the point where his grandmother yelled upstairs, “Quiet down!” Instead of him responding, it was my voice that came down the stairs, very softly. “Okay.” It was very funny.
I’ve always tried to maintain a youthful spirit. As we grow up, no matter how big or mature we might get, if we can stay in touch with the child within us, we will always have a connection to what children are, what they need, what they are like, what it feels like to be them. I think that may be what young people sense or feel in me. It keeps me fun. I enjoy my life and I enjoy having children in my life, but at the same time I see an opportunity to teach, guide, discipline and encourage them.
I don’t have any kids of my own, but I serve as a godfather to six kids. Informally it’s actually closer to 10 because a couple of them have siblings. You can’t go and snatch one up and then leave his little brother out. With some of them I am actually listed on the birth certificate as the godparent; with others it is more of an informal relationship based on a close friendship with the father or mother or both. When you have a close friendship with someone, it’s easy to embrace his children and accept the responsibility that they are kids I will do my best to teach, provide for, protect, support and encourage.
In one situation, there was a young lady I was interested in dating but somehow found myself in the “friend zone.” Then she started dating this guy and, next thing I know, they’re engaged and then married and then they have kids. It was like boom, boom, boom. When her marriage ended, she and I remained friends. Now her kids call me “Uncle L” and I spend a lot of time with them. There were a couple of other women I’ve dated who already had kids. During the course of the relationship, the child would become a part of my life. Once the relationships ended, it was difficult for me to turn my back on the family, especially the children. All of these situations have provided me with a great opportunity to develop my parenting skills while I’m providing support for the families and the children.
On at least two occasions, I actually had to decline invitations to be a child’s godfather. I take the responsibility seriously and I knew I wouldn’t be able to put in the time and work that I felt was required. Like in any relationship, I didn’t want to make any promises I couldn’t keep. So I said, “No.” But I’m still close to these families and I check in on them from time to time.
I want to make clear that in no way am I trying to replace someone’s father, because that’s not possible. I’ve actually gotten more resistance than cooperation when the child has felt like that’s what was happening. No matter how wonderful you might be, you’re still not that child’s father—and that child knows it, too. So in some ways in those cases, your presence might cause the child pain or resentment because you are a reminder of how much their father has been missing. But there are some situations where the absent dad just can’t be avoided, such as the case of my niece.
When my brother was killed, my niece lost her father. I’ve tried to be there for her in his absence. In some ways, I guess that’s where this all started, with her. My brother fell in deeper into the streets after my parents divorced. Luckily I had the arts, athletics, academics and other goals and distractions. My brother was a hell of an athlete as well, but I think things started becoming less challenging for him and he was really affected by my father not being around. He was very close to my dad. So he ended up joining a gang, where he found another family. The OG’s wind up serving as the father figures and most of the time all it does is encourage criminal behavior and a dependency on one another. And the trap is that once they get in there, the hard part is trying to get out. My brother ended up not only being affected by the streets, but he also became a teenage father. So now he’s got that additional pressure. I was gone by then, away in college. My father was gone. Then my sister ends up having two kids herself before she’s 20. It was like we grew up in two different houses because my parents were together almost all the way until I got out of high school. The same year my sister graduated from high school, my brother was murdered. In less than five years, my sister and my mother lost all three men in their house. So I definitely understand what can happen to a family when there is no physical male presence in the house. That’s why I’m trying to help with that situation in a lot of these families.
When I get involved in a kid’s life, as a male initially I have to deal with the trust issue, especially if it’s a young child—male or female. Working with the child’s family can end up being more of a challenge than working with the child. They are going to wonder why this man is so interested in being in this child’s life. For some people, that creeps them out. And it’s understandable—I’m just as protective of all the children in my life. But there’s nothing I can do about the questions. You have to take your time, earn their trust, and demonstrate your work and value to the family. What happens eventually is I wind up inheriting not just a child but a whole new extended family of my own. So I think I might get even more benefit than the child. It’s really the whole village raising a child kind of thing. I’m taking it upon myself to bridge that gap, to say, even to some of the fathers who are there, Yo, dog, I got your back—you need a break? Let’s be a tag team. You take a break, I come in and give you a rest. And with the mothers doing it by themselves, it’s the same thing. I tell them, Drop them off here, go on and take day to yourself.
I am now starting to see great results with these kids and it’s something I’ve definitely taken pride in. Just this week I was online researching college for my niece and for the daughter of an ex-girlfriend. I’m batting a great percentage. All of them—my godkids, niece and nephews—are becoming great people and doing well academically. When we as men are there, when we do the work and are actively engaged and consistently present, it absolutely pays off.