The legacy of fatherhood
Sunday, June 01, 2003
Decade two of being a dad By Bennie Currie
Photos by Frank Pinc / Chicago Parent
Bennie and Martin Currie
Come this January, I will celebrate my 10th anniversary of shock and awe, I mean fatherhood. And as the end of my first decade of being a daddy approaches, I am more than a little nervous about the decade that is to come, what it will mean for my children and what it will demand of me. This is not a new anxiety, mind you. A look back at the past 10 years shows that I've been more than a little nervous about being a father from Day One. When my son greeted the world on that cold, pre-dawn January morning, he was full of the same boundless energy he has today--an 8-pound, 14-ounce ball of perpetual motion. I could barely hold him because I was still weak-kneed from sitting through a good part of the Caesarean section my wife had to undergo during delivery. My knees went wobbly again when I watched her deliver our daughter via another Caesarean less than 19 months later. Now the shakiness in my knees is the result of too much running around the soccer field with my fleet-footed children. Sports are a big part of the goings-on in my household because they enable me to cherish the as-yet carefree world of my children. For now, my kids are being raised in a highly diverse community and the fact that they are black has so far been only a minimal aspect of their lives. It makes me smile to hear them speak of themselves as "brown-skinned" and of whites as "light-skinned." They know that they are descendants of African slaves and displaced Native Americans, but they have not yet had to deal with ethnic labels, or whether they ought to choose one. These days, the biggest challenges confronting my kids are tied to the dynamics of our family of four--plus one neurotic dog and two cats. We live a normal life with a dizzying mix of parental sleep-deprivation, daily drop-off drama, play dates as de facto day care on no-school days thanks to two parents juggling jobs and frenzied soccer Saturdays. But every time I gush when one of them makes a clever play on the field, I am reminded my kids are growing up; their days of innocence soon will give way to the real world. The latest jolt to my senses was my son's quest for knowledge on reproduction. He wanted to know the clinical, physical and anatomical specifics about how babies come into being. Then came the question about the night he wandered into our bedroom and caught his parents in the dark and in the, uh, raw. "What were you doing ...?" he asked. My wife choked, dumping the onus of a response on me. I managed to delicately tell the truth, but nearly pulled a muscle while trying to suppress the urge to laugh from embarrassment. Thanks to both of my kids, laughter lurks close to the surface of almost every situation. You can bet I'll be looking for levity in the coming decade because I imagine it's going to be tough to smile with two teenagers in the house. The realization that driving lessons, dating, college entrance exams and pubescent angst are heading my way struck me hard during the annual gym show at my kids' school in March. While watching a group of teenage girls gyrate to a thumping techno-pop beat, I muttered to my wife: "I feel sorry for their fathers." I envisioned the challenge these men will face in fending off sex-hungry adolescent boys, not realizing--until my wife quickly pointed it out--this is my not-too-distant-future dilemma. Then there is that other reality: that by the time adolescent boys begin to pursue my daughter, my son will be in the throes of adolescence--young and black and male in a society that is still evolving when it comes to race. By the time he's able to dunk a basketball or borrow my car keys, my son may be thrust into a spotlight. He doesn't deserve it, but like so many of us he will nonetheless have to deal. People he has never met will find his mere presence intimidating. Others, in positions of authority, may treat him as a potential wrongdoer and introduce him to racial profiling and that despicable form of discrimination known as DWB or "driving while black". It's my job to prepare him for that. My son also will need to know about incarceration rates, which--according to a new federal government report--show about 12 percent of all black American men between ages 20 and 39 were behind bars last year. How many of them were wrongfully convicted is unclear, but it is alarming to listen to recent news reports about inmates who were exonerated after revelations of false forensic evidence, coerced confessions and prosecutorial misconduct. Yes, the numbers also show 90 percent of the men in that age group are not convicted criminals, but the specter of being wrongfully locked up is something my son--and I--cannot ignore. I would much prefer to just stick with the three Rs over the next decade as opposed to the three Ds (dating, "doing it" and DWB), or that other D (drugs). But I know better. My parents too often were too little and too late in providing the emotional support and counsel I needed while growing up. Instead of engaging me in discussion about issues such as Hollywood's exploitation of blacks, my father would resort to his trademark frown and yell at me to turn off a buffoonish TV show such as the cop-drama "Get Christie Love." When that didn't work, he'd simply flip the channel to something more straight-laced, such as "Wild Kingdom." To say that my father's communication skills were problematic is an understatement, though I'm pretty sure he did the best he could. While it may not have been his intent, he certainly taught me that the strong and sometimes silent approach is hardly the best way to bond with your kids. Does this mean I'll do better? I'm trying. And in about 10 years, I guess I'll find out.Bennie Currie is a father, writer and reporter who lives in Chicago with his family.