, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Noah's birthday cake, Cheesecake Factory Original Cheesecake, adorned with candles, July 30, 2016. (Donald Earl Collins).

Noah’s birthday cake, Cheesecake Factory Original Cheesecake, adorned with candles, July 30, 2016. (Donald Earl Collins).

My son turned thirteen yesterday. That sentence by itself speaks volumes. That I have a son, that he’s reached an age where he’s in the midst of puberty, with a discernible personality, with a set of abilities and potential for developing more talents. Wow! Noah loves art, anime, and apples. He’s a classic contrarian who’s just beginning to realize that he has academic and athletic talents. He’s mostly observant, thoughtful, and independent thinking enough to deal with this crazy world outside our home. That he’s managed to get to this point without me messing him up with my own baggage as his father. To me, that’s not just amazing. That’s a miracle.

As late as the early spring of ’02, a half-year before me and my wife conceived our one and only egg, I had some doubts about ever being a dad. But those small doubts mattered little compared to where I’d been the summer and fall of ’01. I wasn’t dead set against becoming a parent. I just felt that in this dangerous, chaotic, racist, oppressive world, how could I be so selfish as to bring a child into this life?

Daddy Emperor Penguin with baby penguin, accessed July 31, 2016. (National Geographic via http://pinterest.com).

Daddy Emperor Penguin with baby penguin, accessed July 31, 2016. (National Geographic via http://pinterest.com).

I wasn’t just thinking of Amadou Diallo or the aftermath of 9/11. This wasn’t just about the expense of raising a kid. Mostly, it had to do with growing up as the second of six, but with ALL of the responsibilities of a first-born Gen-Xer watching over four siblings ten to fourteen years younger than me, not to mention my wayward older brother. It was the trauma of living through eight years of abject, unrelenting poverty with an abusive asshole of a bully who frequently threatened my and my Mom’s existence. It was having to swallow shit from all of my legal guardians about my lack of observable Black testosterone coursing through my brain cells. Add going through a magnet program from middle school to high school and going to the University of Pittsburgh to this baggage. What I was by twenty was a hopeful but yet emotionally exhausted human being.

So, I was never someone who had this American evangelical desire to get married or have kids (which is also a passion connected to Whiteness, by the way, to propagate their numbers, but not just). Even when it was obvious that me and my wife were heading toward marriage by 1998, I was more against having kids than in favor of the idea. I was still occasionally sending money to my Mom and my siblings to help them out, and taking trips to 616 to put out figurative fires. I had changed enough diapers, made enough bottles, dressed, lunched, dinnered, and laundered enough for my siblings to say “I’m good” when it came to having my own child.

But when my youngest brother Eri beat me to the punch by siring his own kid with his high school girlfriend at seventeen in the spring of ’01, I lost it. I couldn’t sleep soundly for months. I listened to my Mom complain week after week about him and his post-high school dropout future. My brothers Maurice and Yiscoc weren’t doing much better. My family was a cyclone of a disaster, and nothing I had done to blaze a trail for them since 1982 had done much good.

This was when I decided to do my intervention, to go after both my Mom and my siblings. Not so much out of anger, and yes, I had enough anger to keep my current iPhone powered for three days. No, this was a combination of righteous indignation and, well, love. I did my due diligence to dig into my Mom’s life with a few questions that I already knew the answers to, about when and how it all went so wrong for us all. And then I did the intervention, in January ’02, right after the birth of my only nephew.

Only later did I realize the intervention I did was really for me. Only later did I figure out that the 616 intervention had freed me from my self-imposed burden to help lift my family out of poverty. The constant anguish and exhaustion I felt when dealing with my family went away in the weeks after the intervention, and I was able to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in months, maybe years.

Noah in portrait, May 16, 2016. (Donald Earl Collins)

Noah in portrait, May 16, 2016. (Donald Earl Collins)

That’s when I was ready to do my part in the miracle of conception, childbirth, and parenting. Giving myself that permission and then having the recognition of the baggage I carried going in has made fatherhood and parenting much easier (not easy, just much easier) than it would’ve been if I had done like Eri or followed Phil Knight’s “Just Do It” advice.

It’s hard to really be passionate about having a child when nearly all your free time with family between the ages of twelve and thirty-one has been to participate in raising kids. Since my little egg arrived thirteen years ago, though, I’ve reserved my parenting for him. I’m the father penguin in -100°F temps, braving blizzards in eighty-mile-an-hour winds to see my son through. I think it’s paid off so far.