Since My Biological Didn’t Bother » VSB

Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Since My Biological Didn’t Bother



Last year, my father sent me a “Happy Father’s Day” text message. It might have been the funniest, yet most ironic text message that I’ve ever received. I didn’t reply. I couldn’t think of an adequate response; that “Eat a dick” response was waiting in the draft folder though. If it’s not obvious by now, my father wasn’t really around while I was a kid.

Of course you know how the story goes;  moms made due. Since he wasn’t around he wasn’t kicking up any dollars either so it’s safe to assume I missed a few pairs of Air Jordan’s growing up. I wasn’t rocking Payless sneakers but the air bubble on my Nike’s were way less prominent than the ones my classmates were wearing. Somehow, someway, I managed to get Christmas and birthday presents every year. There was always food in the fridge and we never had to make tomato soup out of old McDonald’s ketchup packets or eat mayo sandwiches. My jeans always touched my shoes and my feet never managed to bust out of a pair those Nike’s. I wasn’t really lacking financial support as a kid so I can’t say because my dad wasn’t around I was missing meals or wearing hand me downs. It still would have been nice to say that I had a few pairs of these retro J’s when they first came out too, though.

Now, I’m not one of those guys that can’t point out my father in a room full of Black men. I know exactly what he looks like. I have about 3 (maybe 4) concrete physical memories of this guy prior to my 18th birthday. Mostly, he bullshitted me over the phone talking about how my mother was keeping him from me and how he couldn’t wait until I was 18 to make my own choices and move in with him. The funny thing about my mother “keeping me away from him” was that he knew where I lived and went to school. And to top it off he had free reign to call the house. Honest to God, if Martin Lynch’s name popped up on the caller ID my mother would hand me the phone. Remember those stories of the kid sitting on the front steps waiting for a dad who never came? Yep, he got me with that one a few times.

Because of my upbringing, I’d never say that a woman can’t raise a man because here I am as a product of a single parent household. Make no doubt about it; I am a grown ass man. With that being said, there are still things that can’t be conveyed to a boy coming up the way another man can. The local drug dealers taught me how to go about talking to women. Real talk, if it wasn’t for the niggas dealing death in my community I’d probably still be handing out “Do you like me? check yes or no” notes. Well… most likely not, but I have to credit a good share of the cheeks I acquired from the ages of 15 thru 19 to the dudes repping 11th and Girard. My Uncle Glen gave me my first beer and taught me how to ride a bike. My Uncle Rennie showed me how to drive then years later taught me how to drive a stick. The Mini Page in the Washington Post taught me how to tie a Windsor knot so I pretty much picked up my manly lessons where I could.

For instance, I remember growing up watching shaving commercials with the white men using razors; it’s very rare to see a black man in a Gillette ad. Those white men led me astray with those Mach 3 razors because my face was leaking like a faucet and that white shaving cream was pink when it hit the sink. My first few shaving experiences were like slap boxing with Edward Scissorhands. And speaking of fighting, since pops wasn’t around to show me the “old one two” all my training was on the job. Shouts out to fight club, better known as Eugene Meyer Elementary. A few busted lips and bloody noses got my hands all the way together so no worries, pops.

I have a little girl and I can’t see being away from her. She drives me up a fucking wall most days and costs me a small fortune but I couldn’t see it any other way. I couldn’t live with my daughter feeling about me the same way I feel about my father. I don’t hate the dude or wish him ill will; I just give zero fucks about him. If I got the “Your dad passed away” call I’m almost 100% sure my response would be “Welp” and if my daughter didn’t care if I was breathing or not it would kill me. Now that I think about I’m kind of glad he wasn’t around; I think I’m just that much better of a father because I know exactly what not to do.

Thanks for busting the nut though.

Jean DeGrate

Jean DeGrate is an Uptown DC native. Like most great thinkers of our time, he got his start writing on MySpace enlightening strippers and ratchets before they were a "thing". You can find him on the streets of DC looking fresh as hell in the case the feds are watching and clowning folks who think that means being Gucci down to the socks. And if you're looking for him on social media, the name's always the same - @JeanDeGrate.

  • Rachmo

    This was a good post. My mom’s Dad wasn’t around and she and her brother was always very #shruglife about it which I couldn’t grasp bc I have a great Dad. Her brother is also a great Dad. This puts it into perspective.

    • menajeanmaehightower

      I’ve had people question how i could not care at all about my dad. Like, they are seriously confused. I just keep saying that i don’t know him so why would i care about someone i don’t know.

      • LMNOP

        My daughter’s very #shruglife about not seeing her dad, and I always wonder if she’ll grow up and change her mind, but this makes a lot of sense.

        • menajeanmaehightower

          Just don’t pressure her. She’ll make the best decision for herself when the time comes.

  • She Who Reads

    Kudos to you for learning how to be a great father by not being the man your father was to you. I wonder if studies have ever been done about successful Black men from single-parent homes. I always see the negative stories, but not the positive, and I know a lot of Black men who overcame the so-called “odds.” Do you also return the favor to your community? I’m not saying you have to do it, but I’m just wondering if it’s something you’ve ever thought about. Black guys need men like you.

    (Sidebar: I just finished watching the entire series of The Wire—having watched all of season five yesterday—so maybe I’m just spinning here. I know it made me decide to adopt a Black baby boy.)

    Also: People make tomato soup out of ketchup packets? There’s a whole world about which I’m unfamiliar.

    • we talk a lot about the negative when it comes to black community and parenting.

      not all single blk moms are hoodrats who don’t know who the father is. or use child support to get their hair did. not all black dads are deadbeats who don’t know what their kids look like. people get married and then divorced. people die. people make bad decisions. people turn out to be vicious a$$holes. there are so many ways our community got here.

      and from it, like phoenix from ashes – many have risen above it and superseded the stats.

      but like in any conversation, it’s the loudest and most obnoxious that get the most attention. even if they don’t represent the majority.

      • She Who Reads

        Sometimes, I don’t even want to talk about how great my dad is because I’m afraid of someone else feeling slighted. However, most of my friends know their fathers, but I have one in particular whose dad has a drug problem. My friend is probably one of the most successful, respectful, and focused guys I know. I wonder how much of his achievement is directly linked to the absence of his father.

        • camilleblu

          I understand, but rep yo daddy! The media and certain naysayers would have folks believe that every black father AIN’T ish, so I say scream it from the mountaintops if your daddy was THE ish :)

        • I think you should.

          One of the most healing experiences I had was being around an amazing father. It gives you hope. It makes you realize that your life isn’t “normal” and you don’t have to “just deal”. You can be hurt. And by acknowledging that it hurt and not faking the funk like “I’m aight, this happens to everyone, no biggie, brush the dirt off”, you can also begin to heal. You can stop assuming everyone is capable of being like your missing parent and cutting people off before they cut you off. You can stop the internal dialogue of “everyone goes away”. It does help.

        • miss t-lee

          I feel the same way about my Pops at times too.
          However, he has pretty much adopted my friends whose fathers aren’t around.

        • I felt that way growing up, especially since my pops wasn’t really the dude that “adopted” our friends, especially mine who he rather i stayed away from.

    • Wild Cougar

      There’s a lot of patriarchy and racism in that missing Black fathers narrative. And it’s mostly a lie. Black men are present in their children’s lives more than any other race.

      There are endless numbers of things that cause a child to go wrong, perhaps the economic neglect of his community should be looked at first. But it will always be easier to dump the ills of society in the lap of single Black mothers and the missing father who could solve everything if only he were around.

      • She Who Reads

        So instead of blaming the real culprit: structural and institutional racism, the white delegation decided to lay the blame at the feet of Black parents? Yep, that makes perfect sense.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Great post. My pops wasn’t around and I was pissed that it appeared that he chose his other kids over me. It took me having kids to let that go so my kids could have a grandpa.

    • Heavens2Murgatroid

      Kudos to you for turning the other cheek

    • camilleblu

      you and me are >>>>>here<<<<< on that sigma.

  • Great post. I have similar experiences with my father… I’ve actually told exes and potentials that I know exactly what I WON’T put up with because my father already put me through it. He was much more like a sometimey, self-absorbed boyfriend than a father at all (no creep-o).

    Thank you for addressing the #notalldeadbeats point that your mother didn’t “keep your father away.” That excuses always gets dragged up and it’s useless. I’ve told my father that even if a woman is trying to actively keep him from his kid (which my mom never did, never spoke ill of him either), he as a man really has no excuse to give up and let her.

  • Agatha Guilluame

    …so I pretty much picked up my manly lessons where I could.

    For instance, I remember growing up watching shaving commercials with the white men using razors; it’s very rare to see a black man in a Gillette ad. Those white men led me astray with those Mach 3 razors because my face was leaking like a faucet and that white shaving cream was pink when it hit the sink.

    This struck a chord with me. I remember my ex (reluctantly) seeking shaving advice from my dad. Like you, my ex had been using razors and shaving creams meant for white men and it had wreaked havoc on his skin, causing razor bumps and scarring. But his own dad had left when he was only 6 and although he had uncles and then later a stepdad, who he wasn’t close to, there were still these little (or big) things, these gaps in his “man” knowledge. Things he had questions about but hesitated to source his guy friends or uncles about as if he was embarrassed, as if he felt asking certain things marked him as “fatherless”.

    • $hit like this is why i don’t do the happy mothers day on fathers day thing.
      i am not a man. and no amount of books and great influences will help me raise my son to be one.
      i CAN raise him to be a good PERSON and hopefully with less scars, bumps and the like – he’ll become a good man.

      and i say that to say that i will never ever ever be the mom that force feeds relationships just for the sake of having a man in the house. that never ends well for anyone and isn’t worth it. my sole job is to protect my son at all costs.

    • Man…I remember working a job where I had to interact with a lot of guys that were younger than I and for a lot them, I tied their first tie ever. I still remember their faces. Wooo…

      • cakes_and_pies

        I dated a man who didn’t know how to tie his own tie until he got to college, he was use to his Mom doing it. He never untied the knot, just loosened it.

        • A good Windsor knot is a terrible thing to waste

          • CamCamtheGreat

            Damn, that’s kinda true.

        • AlwaysCC

          my brother did that, too….and our father was in the house with us lol i think he may have learned how to tie a tie when he was in college, too.

          ETA: my father or mother would tie my brother’s tie – whoever was around. they both tried to teach him but he was just lazy lol

  • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

    This was poignant. And so real. Thanks for sharing.

  • whew. this post. is just. was just…

    i have one of the toughest jobs on the planet: to raise a kid (period. full stop).
    the added extra of being a black woman to raise a boy by myself.. knowing what i know, reading what i read…this hits my heart hard.

    i may come back to comment later. i need a moment…

    • Soula Powa

      Take your time, Miss.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      I always got faith that no matter what, you will rise like a phoenix

  • I’m going to measure my words carefully, because I know it can be taken all sorts of ways on such a touchy subject. First, shouts to your mom for making do with what she had and keeping you alive to learn something from men, even if was those dudes on the corner. The grind of being a parent is not easy, and not everyone can keep up. That you were always clothed and fed is a Good Thing.

    That said, I wish we as individuals and as Black Men could look out for our young brothers, for those things little and big. Things like the whole shaving thing, for example. I don’t shave like my dad now, but at least I had a routine to build off of. It’s not like a sister doesn’t care, but I doubt she really knows the totality of what she doesn’t know, or how to go about getting that support. As much as brothers don’t want to raise some other brother’s kid, we eventually are going to have to live with the impact of leaving our brothers adrift. I see the impact of brothers ignoring our youth every day, and it doesn’t end well.

    • Agatha Guilluame

      but I doubt she really knows the totality of what she doesn’t know

      This right here.

      This made me think about the categories of lessons to make a man a good man.

      For example, my dad always made my mom and I walk on the inside of the street. Trips to the city, or strolls around the neighborhood would find him gently guiding us to the inside of him. Always. It was never anything he said explicitly…it was just one of those things…that to me makes a man a “gentleman”…(this is an example of something that would entail it’s own category of lessons to a younger male).

      So I was raised with this and never thought of it. And most of the men I dated also did it but not my ex though, initially, he never did. At first I didn’t notice and then I did and then I obsessed about it. Wondering if it was an indication of his lack of regard. Then I addressed it. And in our conversation, I realized it was something, no one had ever told him. It was nothing he’d ever seen. Another “gap”.

      • Reemo

        I had a girl tell me I was such a gentleman when I told her to switch sides with me so I could be near the street. It just something my mother always told me to do. I had no idea moms was trying to make me a better man and put me up on some game.

        • Agatha Guilluame

          I love this.

          And I wanna say that I understand that my ex’s dad being an active parent still might have left him with certain gaps. Things his dad himself didn’t do or know to do so couldn’t pass on…

          I see this with my mom and I. She was a very active parent. Very involved with me but she herself lost both of her parents by the age of 2 and was raised by her maternal grandmother. And there’s certain things (not a lot, but certain things) that she herself was never taught and so didn’t teach me. Like how to properly apply makeup. When I got older I found myself teaching her. And more fundamental things like how does one “fight fair” in a relationship. Something she never had an example of and is still learning how to do.

          • LMNOP

            Every parent is going to have gaps in their knowledge, for whatever reason. That’s just part of being human, we don’t know everything.

            You can learn a lot of this kind of stuff, like tie tying and makeup from youtube.

            • AlwaysCC

              just the other day my husband asked why i always made my son take off his hat when he came inside. no one had ever told him that before – and he grew up with both parents…gaps DEFINITELY exist – with everyone.

          • V

            Thanks so much for sharing all of these stories, especially about gaps. My parents divorced when I was 5 or so and my dad was minimally involved. As a result, I didn’t necessarily have alot of positive male figures in my life although my mother was an active parent. So, when I started dating, I didn’t really have an idea of how I should act in a relationship or how to be treated with with respect (or to know I was being treated poorly) by a man. My mother dated but love, sex, and respect wasn’t a concrete conversation so I didn’t know and picked up cues from media and my friends. As people, we have to remember, some people truly DON’T KNOW. Each one, teach one.

        • Rawtid

          sad but true. can count on my hand how often this happens but i always notice and appreciate

      • Kim

        My older brother taught me that one, so whenever I meet a guy who doesn’t do it initially I’ll put them on. Most times they’ll already know, they just aren’t used to actually doing it because most females they’ve come across don’t know or require them to do so.

    • menajeanmaehightower

      If i could like this comment 10,000 times, i would.

    • Kema

      “I doubt she really knows the totality of what she doesn’t know, or how to go about getting that support.”

      This reminds me of when my son was about 11 or 12. He asked “does puberty hurt?” I was dumbfounded for a second. I had never thought about boys and puberty. I ended up getting a book for him.

  • Baronessa Bonano

    Wow..In many ways I share those same sentiments, minus the pink shaving cream stories. However, I did have the luxury of being draped up dripped out in black nondescript Payless sneakers with the white rubber. And although I haven’t experienced the pleasure of raising a child, I’ve said to myself “choose better.”

    Through all of the pain, of not having my father around to demonstrate the love that I now know I’m deserving of, I’ve found that being GRATEFUL for his absence along with the hardships endured as a result, was the most constructive and healthiest route I could have ever taken.

    Unlike you, I received that phone call saying “He’s not going to make it.” I was 24 and it had been 14 years since we had seen one another but I found the strength to hop my ass on that plane from Fort Lauderdale to Oklahoma City, by myself, to look him dead in his eyes and say “I love you” as I gazed upon a frail 5’9′ frame debilitated by years of drug and alcohol abuse.

    I forgave him that day.

    Ultimately, it taught me one of the greatest lessons of life. Love conquers all, and forgiveness will set you free. My father wasn’t perfect and neither am I. But, today I stand tall, confident of the woman I’ve become and even more excited about the woman I will be. And above all thankful for that nut as well.

    Thank you for sharing Jean.

  • 15 years ago this would have been my post. Everyone’s journey is different and while my age-and my fcuk-ups -have brought an empathy and peace to the way I view my sire, I am well aware a few life-decisions have been effected by what I don’t want my children to go through.

    I will also say-and like Todd I don’t want to get this misconstrued-there is an enormous pressure being a man. Being a parent. Walking around daily with the knowledge that you are not doing well at either. Having the proof look you in the eyes whenever you visit. Being paralyzed by your own inadequacy. Having no clue where to even begin to make it right. And for the ones skilled at compartmentalizing, out of sight is out of mind. Some just choose scorched earth. I’m not saying it’s right, or wrong. I’m not saying it isn’t enormously effed up for the parental figures that have no choice but to do the work because they can’t walk away. I’m just is. And my heart hurts for everyone involved.

    • mochazina

      “Being paralyzed by your own inadequacy. Having no clue where to even begin to make it right.”

      THIS. I honestly think we need to put lots of community efforts, or teffort if you will, into resolving this point. letting our brethren have some grace to know they can jump in ANYWHERE and try and that that effort by them will be appreciated by somebody now and likely those who actually matter eventually.

      • LMNOP

        I don’t know though… that’s not really how kids work.

        You really CAN’T just “jump in anywhere and try.”

        • mochazina

          i disagree. simply because there’s not one particular place to start unraveling the knots of pain, abandonment, betrayal, and worthlessness. i’m not saying they should have free reign to jump in and out and heap more pain upon their babies with inconsistencies, but there’s no real right way to rectify the situation other than to simply start somewhere and consistently work towards being there. and i say anywhere because every kid is different. not all will be drawn in by the “basketball in the park” thing or the “video games” thing or the “shopping trip” thing. but try something that involves parent & child. and then keep being there till it works.

          • LMNOP

            At the moment I’m dealing with my daughter’s dead beat dad suddenly feeling guilty and allegedly wanting to “try” to be a father.

            I feel like there is a very real chance that this will end badly for my daughter, and I guess I am just not in the most sympathetic of places for non-parenting fathers right now.

            • Speaking from the experience of a kid…I’d say give him a chance..but NOT at the “fun” stuff like I spoke on below. It’s REAL easy to come in after they start talking and they’re all cute and you can walk around with them and play and take them to parks and **aawww**…

              NOPE. You wanna start “trying”? You’re not starting by being an “uncle”. “Uncles” get the parks, and the parties, and the roller-coasters and the ice cream. The first thing my mom handed over for “father duties” involved school and paperwork. It…didn’t go well.

              • LMNOP

                She’s 8 and has met him once, which didn’t go that well, and doesn’t have much interest in getting to know him at this point. She asked me just last week if I could block his number. And he sent her a card about a month ago (I first suggested this about 5 years ago). It said “I love you and I’ll see you real soon. I promise…” and she just looked at me kind of scared and said “what does that mean?” and I said “I think it means he wants to come visit soon.” She said “Oh. Well, not to be rude or anything, but I have a lot of TV shows I want to watch, so I don’t know if I’m going to have time for that.”

                • Yeah…I don’t understand why parents try “hanging out” as a means to repair the relationship. Most kids don’t enjoy the company of adults they KNOW let alone ones they don’t..Also, kids are protective. A lot of times the snark against the estranged parent is a veneer to keep the custodial parent “safe”.
                  I’m always in the camp of “show me you can be a consistent reliable adult” before “show me you can be an awesome parent” but that’s me. And again, why some life choices I have avoided.

                  • LMNOP

                    Hmm. I never even thought of the protective thing. I bet that’s a lot of what’s going on with my daughter. The one time she met him, he got angry and was yelling and later she told a few people that she didn’t like her dad because when she met him he yelled at me and pushed me. And now that I type this out I realize that is a terrible way to make a first impression on a kid.

                    • RewindingtonMaximus

                      I think he is ruled by fear at this point and fear greatly influences stupidity. But that’s not on you to think about. That’s his burden. As it is, he did his part, which was the physical. When he realizes life moves on without him, his chance at redemption will be in his hands and either he gets it or he doesn’t. Until then, raise that girl to be better than anything he could have imagined.

              • That last paragraph though…sigh…you can figure out what I’m thinking, especially after a few cheap drinks. LOL

                • Lissen, NOBODY wants to get me started on these “Uncle Parents”. I know some guys that are ADAMANT they are ready to be a dad but NOT a hubby…but have NO plans for the child to live with them full-time (I am also aware this is not solely a “man” issue). You ask them how they think they’ll be great and it’s “I love kids, I can play with them for hours..” Oh EYEM not finna be the bad cop parent while you get to take Timmy to the amusement park and feed him sugar!! You better come back here and deal with this ear infection!

                  • I so feel your pain on that, and I do side-eye fathers who do that stuff. From time to time, I run into them in the park talmbout they can’t wait to drop their kid home after this. (Though at least they bother to talk, but that’s another post.) I am jealous as f*ck of those dads, though I’m typing this as my youngin’ is spending 2 weeks with her grandparents. That said, this is all I wanna say to those dudes…


                  • Uncle parents, that’s a good one.

                    • “Uncle Parents”, “Instagram Parents”, #ParentsForTheTimeline, I have NO country for… cause they’re the type that asks, “what’s so hard about this?”
                      **fights air**
                      I have a friend with a daughter who gets TONS of play. She lives out of state, so he gets her for vaycay (as in, NO bedtime, schedule or homecooked food). As he dates a LOT he always said her mom had “no excuse not to” & shouldn’t be mad. Fast forward, mom had to relocate abruptly for work so he had to take her for a year. I checked-in and asked about his love life and he yelled, “I don’t have time for that ish! I’m a FAHVAH!!” #StillFunny
                      Lissen, I know because of my age there’s a 70% chance I’m dating a parent but best BELIEVE I’m asking questions about the manner of your involvement. Nope, nope.

                    • menajeanmaehightower

                      I will not date a man who uses the phrase “i have to babysit my kids this weekend.” N!gg@ what?

                    • Rawtid

                      omg yes! i hate this! how do you babysit your own kid

                    • KKay

                      When my sister talks to someone she is considering dating, she asked pointed questions if they say they have kids. How old are they? How often do you talk to them? What do they like to do?

                      If they don’t answer sufficiently, they are immediately crossed off.

                    • menajeanmaehightower

                      As they should be.

                    • Man…LISSEN! I schedule my dating time around those visitations. I feel like a slave who finally got papers to visit his family when those times come. Now that I’m living with my mom now (thanks to my landlord doing renovations), I can squeeze out a bit more time, but it isn’t like I’m running the streets hard.

                      Jesus can be an unlimited text plan so daughter doesn’t notice Daddy trying to chat up women. I don’t even want her seeing or hearing some other random broads name until they get that call-up. And right now, the phone line to the farm team is under repairs. :)

        • You are correct. You can’t just jump in anywhere and “try”.

          But you CAN jump in there and WORK. CONSISTENTLY. I’m not talking about trying to get your child to love or even like you, that’s some high-school ish. It’s also where a LOT of parents trying to jump back in fail. They see their kid give them a bit of pushback, not call them “dad” the second they walk back in the door and it’s all throwing hands in the air talmbout “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to DOOOO”

          Shut up and be a damn parent, that’s what. Understand you can’t just waltz in there after half a decade off and expect to be respected, loved or even liked. Understand that children psychologically respond best to consistent routines and be consistently PRESENT before you start “laying down the law”. Stop trying to coordinate playdates and cute trips and start being around for parent-teacher conferences. Stop getting upset you can’t partake in the “fun parent” ish and get in the dirty work of the every day stuff. WATCH what happens. Believe me.

          • I understand completely. Parenting is mostly about being there day in and day out. If you’re there long enough, you’ll get in. The thing is that it’s a lot harder to start from some point after, say, toilet training.

More Like This