Willie’s father left the family when Willie was only 2. As far as I know, he never saw him again. His mom moved back home with her parents and went to work. All I know about Willie’s pops is that he showed up in town from Haiti, married Willie’s mom, had Willie, and then disappeared.
That makes the odds of Willie’s success small. In fact, in today’s world, it increases the likelihood of resentment leading to jail time. Psychologists call this “father absence,” and it’s a bitch.
We don’t like to talk about it, sometimes because of the pain- and brothers don’t talk about their “stuff”– and sometimes because of guilt over being absent fathers ourselves. But the feelings are there…and you know it.
Some types of father absence are obvious. Willie’s father just left. Some fathers are doing bids that keep them away from home. Other fathers lie in the grave, victims of lifestyle choices, accidents, revenge or a sick system. Psychologist Vincent Calloway expands the “father absence” list to include fathers who were so busy working they didn’t have time for their kids, fathers who were so troubled that they were physically present but emotionally absent, and fathers whose addictions to drugs and/or alcohol got in the way of being fully present to their kids. I know a lot about that last one, because I was one of them. My sons played high school ball, and I was determined to be at their games. I didn’t know that when they saw me in the stands, they were more scared that I was drunk and would show my ass than happy that I was there.
Not having a father around is not a life sentence, however. “Father absence” can be overcome. My nephew, a journalist (and digital content curator for Don Diva Magazine), wrote about overcoming the stigma of father absence for Ebony’s online magazine. He said:
My mother did the best she could and there is no shame in how she tried to raise her children. Tragically, her father died in a car accident right before she was born, so she didn’t grow up with a father either, but she gave us her all. We were both in the gifted program at school and have degrees. She taught us how to throw and catch before signing us up for every sport. She taught us how to tie a tie and got us ready for the prom. She taught us how to mow the lawn. She taught us to ride bikes. We learned how to be courteous to women from her. Every birthday and Christmas was a happy one for both of us. The best lesson she taught was one of loyalty.
My barber, Will Latif Little runs a mentoring program for young men and boys whose fathers are not present. He recruits by looking at young boys who come to the barber shop with their moms. He reasons (rightly) that if a father is present in his son’s life, that the one place he will take him is the barber shop. If moms takes you to get a haircut, pops ain’t nowhere around. Will steps in to help prevent the Willie’s of the world from self-destructing.
It takes two things to overcome “father absence.” First is believing in yourself that you are worth something, no matter what others say, no matter what society does, no matter what school counselor tells you that you won’t make it, no matter how many cells they build for you and your boys.
The second is to surround yourself with positive reinforcements, a network of people who believe in you and your potential as well; no matter what you’ve done, how many bids you’ve pulled, how absent of a father YOU have been, you can start over with the right support. Willie’s grandfather stepped in to where his father should have been. Willie’s church saw how smart he was, and took up a collection to send him to college. He went to Fisk, did well, then Harvard, then Germany, then back to Harvard to become the first Black man to get a doctorate from Harvard in history. When he was a kid, he was Willie without a father. When he graduated from Harvard, he was Dr. William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois (pictured above). When he died in 1963, at age 95, on the eve of the March on Washington, it was announced the next day that he had made the whole Civil Rights Movement possible.
I’m not saying that you’re heading for Harvard. I’m just saying that, like Willie, not having a father around does not automatically mean you will fail. You can start today by lining up some people who can help you overcome it. It doesn’t mean you are going to change the world, like W.E.B. DuBois, but you can change your world. It doesn’t mean you’ll become a scholar, co-founder of the NAACP or or a professor at Wilberforce or Atlanta U. But despite not having a father, you can succeed- succeed as a father yourself, a husband and a friend. You can get a job, keep a job, create jobs. There is something out there for you, even if your pops wasn’t around. If you don’t believe me, ask Barack Obama.