Let’s face it, parenthood can be a tough endeavor. We all should cut ourselves and each other some slack from time to time, and instead of judging one another spend time uplifting each other. Because at the end of the day, probably what our society needs more than anything is empathy. Our children will only develop this trait if they both see it modeled and have the opportunity to practice it themselves.
This is one of the reasons why I enjoy bringing my girls with me on volunteering opportunities. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, several times a year over a series of workshops I engage with a group of teen dads in my community. It honestly is one of the highlights of my spring and fall simply because for a few weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, I feel like I get to see everything in my life come together full circle and serve a unique purpose. And that moment of passions intersecting with strengths + opportunity neither comes often, nor to everyone, so when it happens it’s something to be cherished. So I live it up, and most importantly I bring my family to be a part of these moments because I want my girls to witness so many important things happening at once (but more on that in a bit).
The guys I work with are young dads who literally are teen dads with children ranging from still in utero to 3, the oldest dad is usually 19 (though this recent class had mostly 16 and 17 year olds). And honestly, they inspire me by their choice to be a part of this program. Organized by the county, these dads are provided with food and transportation to the meetings, and for a period of about 9-12 weeks they form a community of support for each other where they learn about what it means to be a father from visiting “experts”. My 4 workshops are on personal leadership and being an educational advocate, two issues that I’m personally passionate about.
When I attend, I usually start by sharing my own story facing somewhat similar statistical odds as a young black boy with an incarcerated father and single mom, but that’s usually where our paths diverge. But that’s ok, because what I’ve found is that what these young men are hungry for isn’t necessarily a “I’ve been where you’ve been” kind of story. They apparently have enough of that. What they’re looking for is a glimpse into what is possible, an aspirational vision for their lives. Which is why it’s so important to them that I bring my family and model healthy, positive, affirming interactions between myself and my wife, and my daughters. I found this out the hard way when for the first time in about 2 years of doing the program I left everyone at home one evening and the young men expressed disappointment at the family being gone (and this was a new group of dads!). Apparently they’d heard from either their peers or the facilitators that during my portion of the program they would get to see a good example of a young black family in action and they were disappointed to miss that opportunity. Don’t worry, message was received and though we had a good time that evening, the following week, I made sure to bring the family back.
I think what I’ve realized though is that there are other benefits besides to the young dads of seeing me with my family. Sure there are the little things, things that I take for granted that the dads seem to be floored by, such as how I speak to my daughters, how they can introduce themselves, how I discipline my children in the moment, the questions I ask, the modeling of the books we read, etc. That’s all highly practical stuff that I’m realizing is a part of the package of what we bring to the table in our modeling. But for my girls, I realized recently that they too are benefiting. Now, when we put Teen Dads on the family calendar, we have a conversation about what it’s for and why it’s so important to be there. The girls (Riley and Olivia, London is still pretty oblivious lol) are excited about going. Some of the dads bring their kids as well and it’s a good mingling opportunity for them. What’s most cool though, is that someone else gets to confirm for my girls lessons I try to affirm in them each day. They see firsthand the value of being able to read when they see grown adults discussing it and praising them for their early development. And they get to see their dad doing something worthwhile and truly meaningful, which to me is priceless. You always want your children to be able to witness you at your best because since they live with you, they see enough of you at your worst.
Which brings me back to my original statement, we all need a little grace (actually a lot of grace if we’re honest). I haven’t yet started to talk with my daughters about why when we leave the recreation center at night meeting with the dads, we get in our car and drive to our nice house, but the dads either walk to a bus station or get into a passenger van to be dropped off at home. We haven’t begun to scratch the surface yet about my deep need to give something back, out of so much that has been given to me. But it’s coming. Because one day, I want my girls to discover that special alignment between where their passions and strengths come together to fulfill a unique need for someone else in this world. And I want them to understand that it’s simply because of grace that they’re afforded the gifts and opportunities to in their lives, and it’s an act of grace to pass it on to others. I hope one day I get to see my girls in action, doing the thing they love, and at the same time extending grace to others.