Friday, December 31, 2010

2011: A Continuation...

I am feeling an odd amount of pressure to do a New Year's Post. The reason, is that I do not want to post my other post I've been working on and have it lost among the NYE countdowns, and year-end review posts. I feel that is is a good post, and want it to be remembered in the series I am working on, and I do not want to omit posting today.

Moving into 2011

I do not feel a great sense of renewal as the change in the calendar year approaches. There are two other times of the year that give this inherent feeling of renewal without the pomp and circumstance. One is the Spring season itself. There is something refreshing about the return of life in the form of animals and flowers. The rain that falls is less of traffic story and more of a source of life to new environment. Spring marks a return, and emergence. It is when bears wake from hibernation, and when cabin fever gets cured by long walks with the family without taking an hour to get properly bundled up.
The other is the beginning of the school year. I recognize this time since I am a teacher, and it mark a return of hope, ambitions, faith, and determination. Wardrobes and supplies are replaced and replenished, and student minds walk into school ready and willing to prove that they can do better than before.

I am looking forward to 2011. Not because it marks a new beginning, but because it marks a continuance of the path i chose many years ago. It means that I have been headed in the right direction, and I am still committed to that path, and to who is on that path with me. So welcome 2011, I have been waiting for you.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blood or Water - Part 2: Broken Cycle

Normally, when I start a post, I know what I want to say and how I want to say it before beginning. That is not the case here. Perhaps it is because it is a difficult topic to me, or that I have so much I think I want to say that I can't figure out just what I should say. So I have decided to just start typing, and post whatever comes out right now.

In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned the emotionally abusive nature of my brother. Something that is never considered when you are a victim of any kind of abuse, is that you have a propensity to do what happened to you. Abused children may become violent, the sexually abused can become the abusers, and on, and on. As someone who grew up in a house with abuse in it, I was subjected to emotional abuse, but it hasn't been until recently (I'm almost 30) that I realized it even was abuse. How did this kind of a childhood make me a different person today?

Detachment for Survival
As someone who experience emotional abuse, I realize that the abusers use your own emotions to control you. As long as you continue to react to them, and display these emotions, they are able to continue to control you. This is dangerous in a family setting, because how is someone supposed to remove themselves from what appears to be a loving and supportive family setting at a young age? Emotions that were stirred in me were anger, guilt, insignificance, and selfishness. Even though I did not understand why I was made to feel this way, or how I could be called any of these, I believed them and I reacted, because it was family telling me this. It wasn't until I began to detach from these emotions and refused to react that I began to see the frustration in my brother. The less I said, and the less I gave them (the more apathetic I appeared), the more i was able to ignore their attempts at controlling me through my emotions.

What this Means, is that by high school, I was increasingly becoming detached from my emotions. Instead of going through them in order to understand them, I pushed them down and ignored them, which anyone will tell you is not a healthy thing to do. I became someone who did not delve deep into my own or others' emotions, and only went as deep as the surface; I became superficial. I did not have relationships that went very deep, and I did not, nor did I know how to, invest into other people.

Me Now... What's Changed?
The only way I have been able to come to these realizations about myself, is because I have been blessed to have someone come into my life who has turned me around completely. My wife has been a catalyst for personal change (which is possibly the topic I will address next). Her example and encouragement coupled with the unconditional love of my children has created a childhood for them that I can enjoy in spite of the one from my own memory. I get to become the father that is engaged, and loving, and encouraging, and I get to be a parent who actually encourages love among siblings rather than competition and a chain-of-command. I get to share in the new memories that we are creating, and let to past remain in the past. This reality means that the emotional abuse I dealt with will not be passed on to my children, and will not be passed onto theirs. The cycle of manipulation and control has ended, and the more i grow as a husband and father, the less I understand why I had the childhood I did.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blood or Water - Part 1: Surviving The Brotherhood

When I started drafting this blog post, I did not know it was going to be as long as it has been turning out. That is why I decided to split it up and turn it into a series that looks at only one family relationship I have had trouble with; my brother. This series will focus on a subject I don't want to hold in, and can't hold in any longer. However, these are things that I do not want to verbally talk about, or maybe I just can't get myself to physically form the words with my mouth. In any case, I'm gonna try to let this confusion in my head become something coherent for you to read and discuss.

From The Cosby Show to The Simpsons
The house I grew up in was ideal, but the house I look back on in my memories has become tainted and the characters are almost unrecognizable to me anymore. I grew up the youngest of 7 in a blended household that I grew up believing was a very safe and loving place. My closest sibling is my brother. In fact, of the 4 brothers I have, he is the only fully biological brother I have; meaning, I have a step-brother and 2 half-brothers. I looked up to my brother, and he was very, very protective.

As it turns out, this relationship with my brother has been the best and worst relationship I have ever had with anyone... EVER! I never knew it was the worst relationship until recently. If I examine my own thoughts at different occurrences, then I have the mentality of someone who experienced emotional abuse, and he has the characteristics of someone who is emotionally abusive. He was very protective of me, but it was with the mindset that No one messes with my little brother... except me! I remember him keeping others from taking advantage of my youthful willingness to please, but then he exploited that much worse.

Forgotten Example
I have endless stories of the things I experienced at my brother's whim growing up, but I'll limit them in this post to only 1:

In my brother's senior year of high school, I was in 7th grade. I was not dumb to how intense he was. While watching the TV one afternoon, he asks me if I want to walk down the street on a hot sunny day and shoot some hoops. I knew I shouldn't have, and I tried to resist. I told him that I didn't want to because I didn't want it to turn into a basketball lesson from him. He assured me it wouldn't he said he just wanted to shoot around, and wanted me to go with him. As a little brother who wanted to shoot as well as his older brother I was enticed, but still reluctant. Only shoot around, nothing else? I asked hoping for the best. He, of course, assured me that we would only shoot around, and I agreed.

Soon after arriving, the shoot-around turned into him barking out orders and yelling while I was stuck listening and trying to perform a left-handed hook shot. There came a point, when I was practicing free throw shots, and when I missed one, I had to do push-ups on the black asphalt. Why didn't I say no, and leave? Why did I stay and take the punishment? We were being raised in a militaristic household with a chain-of-command, and I was not allowed to say NO to my older siblings (it would be like disobeying a direct order from a commanding officer), and he exploited this. By the end of this boot camp-like practice session with Sargent Brother, I had blisters on my palms from doing push-ups on asphalt that you could see the heat rising from.

Conveniently, my brother has no recollection of this event, but you can see why I remember it so vividly. It was not a sad day for me when he graduated and moved out. This is not the only thing that I experienced from my brother that he has forgotten, and he tries to imply that I'm making them up, like they never happened. Like these meant nothing to him, and aren't even worth remembering.

My brother believes that the ends justify the means, and he is a great manipulator. So when I excelled at basketball, he suggested that he had a hand in it.

Part 1 Wrap-Up
My family has done more to hold me back than to help me succeed, and I don't know how I made it out with a decent head on my shoulders. I do have deeply-ingrained defense mechanisms that keep life at arm's length. But after coming to realization that this relationship was emotionally abusive, I have been able to start letting go of some of the anger I hold towards him; anger towards someone means that they control you, and I'm done being controlled.

Thanks for checking this out, I'll have the next part of the series up sometime this weekend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Legacy of the Superman

I was looking to feed my geek side today on by looking through some of the interpretive works on some of my favorite comic characters. When I was looking through the Superman pictures, I noticed that hardcore fans of the character have a hard time letting go of their favorites. Now, it's not so much the character of Superman whose legacy I want to talk about as it is Christopher Reeve's embodiment of the character that has left a lasting impression on our culture.

There are countless iterations of Superman with the likeness of Reeves. Why is that? Superman has already returned to the big screen with Brandon Routh taking his shot at the icon. How did he not stack up to a movie and special effects that were decades in the past? Why is it, that every Superman that comes after wards will have to be compared to the original big screen Supes? It is more than the ability to act the part, to show the powers, and to be the secret identity. It is a high expectation that were shown. This icon was cemented into culture, because when watching the movie, we forgot about Reeves, and were watching Superman. Superman Returns was a disappointment because we found ourselves in the theaters watching a soap opera actor try, and fail to become the character. The legacy of Superman has become tarnished because the bar was set so high, and we as fans will not tolerate a mediocre showing when we know what is possible.

What does this have to do with manhood or fatherhood? That's a good question, and I'll talk about it on two issues. First of all, I have somewhat alluded to my own examples of fatherhood growing up. Well, I have the pleasure of being married to a woman whose father was a Christopher Reeves, and I'm Brandon Routh trying to fill shoes I don't fully understand. My wife is a missionary's kids, her dad is now the associate pastor at the church. When you talk about a man being a spiritual head of a house, he IS it. There are things she became accustomed to growing up that I don't even know how to do for her. The bar for being the man of the house was set very high for me, and I'm still trying to reach it. Her dad has created a legacy and an example of what she expects that makes me continue to strive to be a better and better husband and father.

On the second issue... Superman is a perfect analogy of Manhood vs. Dadhood. What is it that Superman did for the citizens of Earth? He provided security, stability, enforcement, and the respect and awe that no matter what, he would be there for us. Superman is the Dadhood side! In apparent opposition is Clark Kent, his humanity, the frailty of his relationships, his childhood, his past, his attachments... his Manhood. These two sides of the character are both parts of the whole, and both necessary for creating a complete person. Without one, the other is unnecessary.

So now, the question for me is not what happened to my examples of Superman and Clark Kent? Where is the legacy that I'm supposed to look to? Instead, I'm asking myself how to be Supes and Clark for my kids. How I will show them strength and vulnerability. How I will show them how to fail and try again, and be that stable security they need. How to enforce the rules, and break them with them on occasion. I love my kids... and it only takes one lifetime to build a legacy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Biggest Room in the World...

As I continue to lay the groundwork for the discussion of being a dad while searching for manhood, I want to explain some assumptions I will be making.

The number one assumption is that fatherhood is relative. As a father to our kids, and as a friend and husband to our wives, what we do is relative to expectations. The fatherless just want someone around, and those with fathers seek their approval. Single-parent homes want stability, and nuclear families search for excitement. What one father struggles to do for his family, another sees as a minimal requirement.

All that to say this: No matter what you're doing as a father, you can always do more, or be better. After high school football games where my team won 40-0, my step-dad would ask, "What's the biggest room in the world?" The answer to this question is simply, "The room for improvement." Regardless of how much you think you're doing, you can always be doing more.

I don't mean this to imply that no father is ever doing enough. However, the moment we become complacent, we stagnate. How do we expect to help our children grow when we stop growing ourselves? I will not engage in discussions of details. I will not try to determine who does more, or comparative arguments. I strongly believe that we can always do more, not matter what place we are at in life.

Thanks for taking amoment to read this. Please follow along and join the discussion.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Manhood vs. Dadhood Mission Statement

It took me a few hours to come up with a name for a personal online identity that I felt would help me to create a positive personal online community.  As I reflected on my life, I have been known as many things.  I was a good student, I was a high school football star and a college athlete, I am married for 6 years now, I have 2 kids (one and four), and as a special education teacher I already have a Professional Learning Community through my @EmeraldCitySpEd identity.  It is my role as the Man of the House and father to my son and daughter that I wanted to be known for.  Now, I do not fall into the normal Young Black Male stereotypes as growing up without a father-figure in a broken home... or at least I thought I didn't.  It wasn't until I was 19 years old that I had a revelation that I was fatherless, and that has had a deep effect on me since then. 

Back when I had the real possibility of getting married in my early twenties, I had my reservations.  My hesitation did not stem from my now wife of 6 years, but from my family history.  My mother was with her third husband, my step-dad, who was on his second marriage.  Without a clear, or positive, example of what marriage is supposed to look like, how could I be able to have a successful one myself?

My reservations didn't stop with marriage, but with raising kids.  I was very anxious when we were pregnant with our first child.  Thankfully, our first was a girl, and my step-dad set the bar pretty low for raising a well-adjusted young woman.  On the other hand,  my son is about to have his first birthday, and my concern is going to be how to turn this boy into a man when I barely found the way myself.  I though I grew p with a good example in my step-dad, but it is difficult to listen to someone's teachings and ignore the decisions they make in their personal life.  Some things are just unforgivable by man. 

All this to say that I'm trying to come into my own as a man and as a dad, while trying to figure out how to take this baby that will grow into a boy, and make him a man someday. 

So why do I have Manhood in opposition to Dadhood? 
Quite simply, they are viewed as conflicting by society.  I want to examine what it takes to be a man, and what it takes to be a dad (and a husband when necessary), and discover why the two do not always mesh.  So the title of the blog, and my Twitter name @ManvDadhood, are just the ice-breakers to a social discussion I hope to start.

Please feel free to follow me on my journey, and join in with comments. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MvD Mission Statement [coming soon]

A clear explanation of why I named this blog what I did is coming sometime this week.  Please check back soon!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The “Kept Man” or Mr. Mom

I was listening to the local Seattle talk radio this morning, and the guest host was talking about a recent study he read where it stated how men who are not the primary bread-winners in a household have a tendency to cheat on their partners.  This brings up several thoughts on the ideas of roles in the household, and it is also something I can relate to.

Mr. Mom
For the last two summers, since I work as an educator, I do not work in the summertime.  Last summer my wife was pregnant with our second child, and I stayed home with our older child instead of picking up any part-time or seasonal job.  The hours I would have been working would have meant more time needed for childcare.  The same thing has happened this summer in that I am staying home with both kids now as my wife is the one who leaves for work.  This has led to me doing activities with the kids where I am one of the only guys around.  My 8-month old child has grown super-attached to me, which I like, because he has become my little buddy.  I am able to be involved with my kids and they get to see a stable, solid, and engaged father-figure.

Kept Man
My wife and I were married in 2004, and at the time I was working two jobs from 6 in the morning until 11 at night.  In 2005 I went back to school to finish my undergrad degree and went straight into a Master’s in Education, which I finished in June 2010.  During that time, I worked in several school districts as an aide and a paraprofessional.  This allowed me to gain an immense amount of experience as  I am now a new teacher, but I was not bringing home the bacon… more like the bread crumbs.  When we got married, my wife found a paid internship with a local hospital, and she is now a lead in her department.  The pay has been enough for us, and the hours have made the need for childcare minimal.  I love her for this sacrifice, because she is very maternal.  Granted this situation is not that of a “sugar mama”, but there is the idea of a kept man.

Chauvinistic Insecurities
So what was the point of this post? Well, there are definite positives to being home and not on the daily grind; whether it’s connecting with your kids, or letting the burden of bread-winning fall on your partner’s shoulders.  But I find myself caught between ideals.  On one hand, I want to think I an a forward-thinking man of the new era, and that I am not living in the 1950s.  However, I find that I feel this burden should be mine as the man of the house, and that by not doing this, I am less of a man.  Add children into the situation, and you have a scenario where someone can feel even more emasculated.  Not only is he not making the money, but he’s doing the woman’s work of raising the kids.  Where manhood and dadhood intersect in our society is a horrible mix of immaturity, recklessness, cluelessness, and a non-instinctual lack of backbone.

What we praise as a real man, is just an old boy, but what is manliness is often overlooked.

Youthful Aspirations

As a boy, we often want to become MEN. I knew I was a family-oriented person, but I did not think of it as becoming a Dad, but a Man. In all reality, there should be no distinction between manhood and dadhood, but there is. Now, rather than blame society, which would be to easy and has become cliche, I want to think about how I can rectify that distinction in my own son.

There is a stigma about the road men take through life.  The more independent, adventurous, spontaneous, and reckless we are, the more “manly” we are.  Now I know that people say it takes a real man to raise their children, and i agree with that, but no child says he wants to be a dad when he grows up?

Hmmm….  Maybe this is not the right way to explain what I’m trying to say.  I think that the conflict comes when there is an implication that you are less of a man because you are a good dad; that you are less of a man because you are smitten by your wife; that you are not a “Real Black Man” because you have not walked out on your kids and you are planning to pay for them to go to college and not get a “contract” and buy you a house.  As if I’m doing something wrong by letting my children’s dreams hinge on my actions instead of my dreams hinge on their successes.  This is where the conflict lies.  Maybe these are all common insecurities, but if I had a DAD of my own, I could talk to him about it.  But I don’t.  I was told that a father is never done raising his children; that he will always be available to help them out, well, I lost that when I was still in my teens.  So who is supposed to help me continue my growth into manhood and dadhood?

A Quick Background

This is my first post. I’m taking a minute to say hello while one child sleeps and the other is outside playing.

I was raised by my mom and my step-dad who, it turns out, dropped the ball to the point that I cannot look to him for an example of dadhood. I met my bio-dad about 7 years ago, and he’s been out of the picture so long that he doesn’t know how to pick up the ball to even drop it. So how do I make sure I won’t screw my own kids up in my efforts to try and raise them without any lasting damage? I don’t know how to answer this question, but maybe you can help me as I start this venture.