Books, Fathership, Inner and Outer Success, Inspiration, Stories, Youth Development

Kevin Powell speaks on Being a Father

A Boy’s Journey into Manhood

I am a father. I did not know that I was one, but I am. Not even sure when it happened but, alas, it is a reality for me now. I did not ask for it, nor was it planned. And, to be brutally honest, I scratch my head and wonder how this came to me. I mean, for sure, I have a vague idea, but I am struggling to recollect what led to this.

This is especially profound for me because I don’t know my own father. Yes, I knew him in passing, as a child. He was about a dozen years older than my early-20-something mother when they met. They both hail from South Carolina but met in my hometown of Jersey City, N.J. My father swept my mother off her feet, made her fall in love with him while he was simply in lust with her, and there I was nine months later. To say my biological did not bother would be a grand understatement. My single mother, armed with nothing more than an eighth grade education, sheer will, and countless prayers to God, was forced to raise me in dire poverty, with the aid of welfare, food stamps, and government cheese. And with the kind of relentless hardships I would not wish on anyone. I still am amazed, all these years later, with all the miracles my mother made happen.

My father did make a few select guest appearances the first eight years of my life: to purchase my first bike, my first watch, to drive me, once, in the truck he drove long distance for work. Yes, he had money, a home he owned in Jersey City, and could have co-parented and co-supported me, his child. But for reasons only he knew, he chose not to do so.

The one thing that he did do over those first eight years of my life was play with my mother’s mind, leading her, time and again, to believe he would eventually marry her. I remember how my mother’s eyes would light up when she talked in the kitchen with my Aunt Cathy about marriage. But because my father was, among other things, an incredible liar, it never happened. What did happen was a day I shall never forget for the rest of my life. Because my mother and I were so poor we did not have a home telephone at least until I was about 10 or 11 years old (and we would not get a color television until I was off to college years later, thanks to a full financial aid package). So “home phone” was the phone booth of the local pharmacy around the corner from our apartment building.

These were particularly desperate times for us, so my mother swallowed her pride and dignity and called my father for help. I could not hear his side of the conversation, but I could sense something was terribly wrong, as my mother’s body seemed to shrink in that phone booth and she was visibly upset. Then my father hung up the phone on my mother. She told me, immediately, that my father charged her with lying to him, that I was not his son, that they were never going to marry, that he would never again give her “a near nickel” to help us, me, his son. And he never did. And more than three decades later I have not seen nor heard from my father.

I felt abandoned, hurt, embarrassed. At school I had long taken to the practice of making up a different name for my father each year because I was too ashamed to say, “I don’t have one.” As I got to my teenage years the father absence and hurt only intensified. No dad there to show me how to tie a tie as I prepared to graduate from grammar to high school, so my mother had to ask a male neighbor to show me. No dad to play catch with in spite of my great love of baseball. No dad to ask questions of as I passed through puberty, and those weird sensations and intense attractions to girls really kicked in. I was completely clueless about what it was to be a man, and there was no guidance whatsoever, not even from my sports coaches.

That meant constant battles with my mother, behavioral problems in school despite my excellent grades, and even run-ins with the police as a teen. In one breath my mother would say to me “Do not be like your father.” And in the next breath: “You are just like your father.” Yes, I was confused, terribly confused, and literally stumbled into my adult years, as a college student at Rutgers University, as a budding writer in New York City. There was confusion on how to handle my then very-bad temper. There was confusion on how to relate to women in a way that was not awkward, hyper-aggressive, or abusive in any form. I made many mistakes, and I was also constantly hurting and sabotaging myself. I longed for a father figure, but even there I stumbled as my father’s abandonment had wounded me so badly that I could not completely trust any of the older males who attempted to mentor or guide me in my young adult years. I would either push them away, or run away.

But there was one older gentleman who did leave a profound impact on my self-esteem and psyche. He was a therapist I was mandated to see after I was suspended from Rutgers for one year. The therapy sessions were required as part of the conditions for my being readmitted to school. Little did I know those first sessions would begin a life committed to constant self-reflection and healing, even in the most difficult moments of my life. This therapist, this father figure, listened to me in a way I had never experienced before. Then he said something that totally lifted my self-esteem from the gutter: “Kevin, you are a prince.”

I did not know what to do with that, fought back tears bubbling inside my chest, and I have never forgotten that moment since. I felt empowered, liberated, because of those very simple words. In essence, the therapist was telling me that I was valuable, that my life mattered, that I had a purpose, all the things a father or father figure or mentor should say to his son. Or his daughter.

Now, this did not mean I was past the father hurt. Just a few years later I read an open letter to my father at an arts festival in Atlanta and cried through the entire reading. I was nearly 30 at this point, and a strange thing happened because of whatever little recognition I had gained as a writer and activist, and because of numerous television and radio appearances: Younger people, from all walks of life, were suddenly asking me to mentor them, were telling me they looked up to me, and some even went so far as to say I was like a father figure to them. I will not lie: This all scared the hell out of me. I was like “Me?”

And what these younger people either did not know or chose to ignore was that I was grappling with who I was, or who I wanted to be. But just as I had in my younger years been on the search for a male mentor I could look up to and learn from, so too were these younger men and women, especially the younger males.

All these years later I am now in my 40s and have accepted being a father. Not in the biological sense because I have no children of my own, nor have I been married. I definitely look forward to marrying a great woman one day and having a child or two. I have survived, experienced, and learned so much that I feel, today, I would be a good father. But what I am speaking of is the fact that I’ve made peace, finally, with one of the roles of my life: that of a mentor and father figure to many people. Because I travel America so much as an activist, public speaker, and writer that means there are younger people in my adopted community of New York City and nationwide who call on me for advice in some form. And I must listen to as many of them as I can because it seems like yesterday that that was me. And what is the point of doing well in one’s own life, of having some measure of progress and success if what is learned is not passed on to those who come behind?

What has especially touched me are the parents, guardians, or various family members who’ve time and again asked me to speak to or work with their son, daughter, brother, sister, nephew, niece, or cousin. I am not going to lie: I have a particular soft spot in my heart for all the single mothers out there raising sons who’ve sought my counsel in person at events, via telephone or email, and even on Twitter and Facebook. I am both humbled and honored by this outreach. But for the grace of God and my mother’s great love and push for me to make something of my life by all available means I would not be writing this blog this very moment.

And I must add, finally, that I came to forgive my father for abandoning my mother and me — many years back — because I had to let that hurt and pain go forever. We cannot change our past experiences, and if we do not ever make peace with those experiences, we become prisoners of those experiences for the rest of our lives. As a man I simply refuse to allow that to happen ever again. And as I wrote in another space years back, I just have to be the man and the father I wanted him, my own biological dad, to be, but could not be. For the rest of my life.

Article Source:

Learn more about Kevin Powell and his new book “The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood”

Kevin Powell book



About Proud Poppas United

A former Youth Division Aide and Mental Health Therapist with the Office of Children and Family Services turned his reduction-in-force experience into a win-win situation, and many are reaping this harvest. When Tyrone “Zire” McCants, who is also a versatile services photographer and visionary in the Phoenix, AZ, lost his job; he took his youthful interest in photography and his prior knowledge from working in a family-centered position into new ventures. He even figured out a way to coincide his two passions into meaningful opportunities to advance his cause. The layoff he faced freed him up to develop his photography business (Zire Photography & Graphics) and to showcase his skills as a prolific artist. One of those ventures that McCants created was an initiative called Proud Poppas United; which is a community-based group designed to strengthen the bonds between fathers & their children. It aims to encourage a tradition of fatherhood and family, increasing the number of active fathers in our community. When McCants isn’t intellectually cultivating his repertoire of talents, he manages to merge his interest in photography with his desire and passion for fatherhood. Using the Proud Poppas Photo Project, as his flagship initiative, he displays images which celebrate and encourage the pride of being an active father. In many minority and ethnic communities, there is a progressive concern of absentee fathers and the devastating effects of this challenge on our children, our families, and community. He also believes that by displaying these images will help to shed light on and celebrate the gift of fatherhood. He hopes that this movement will also become contagious and bring other men closer to their children and families, and encourage a presence of well-being and development in our children, our families, our communities and our people as a whole. McCants quotes that “My scope is capturing the energy between a father and his children” and that’s what he is creating through his community development initiatives. Through, a first look into the reality concerning “Responsible Fathers” many disturbing statistics and contributing factors related to absent fathers. But, to the credit of McCants, he has been able to overlook the negative stereotypes and prejudices that have perpetuated his community and rise to the occasion. Although, he wears many hats that provide guidance and leadership to the infrastructure of his life’s purpose. To all of the fathers out there with the silent victories of triumph and the principle-centered leadership; who fight depression, financial woes, relationship conflicts, the penal system and the racism of our day; McCants say’s “Thank you” for all that you have been able to get accomplished behind your veil of anonymity. You have just endured the last 13 years of this millennium, and you are still here to tell about it. Although some will say that these last few years have been amazing they are still asleep to the fact that; we (The black community) must work with higher ideals versus dollars and cents. We must look within ourselves and see us as being brave, black, accountable, and reliable. The truth of the matter is that you are embracing fatherhood but at a frequency that may not be understood. I am with you as we will not look at the diluted statistics but at the “transformational leadership” that is displayed by all black fathers and role models everywhere. Don’t give up now as our families are leaning on you in these times of difficulty to represent us to the best of your ability as the “Mighty Men of Valor.” You are the man for the job, and now it’s time to come out of hiding and show the world what real black men look like; and we represent as a tribe of Intellectual builders, teachers, warriors, leaders and Kings. “Fatherhood is not a right; it’s a privilege. Your children are the best part of you. I send my love to this new generation of fathers who have learned from the sins of the past and take a very active role in the lives of our children. ~RAPPER TALIB KWELI, FATHER OF TWO


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