Views & Opinion at Philadelphia Front Page News, Bob Cross
Fighting The Good Fight
It is easier to build boys than it is to fix men.
From an early age I recall being told that it was on a June 15 Sunday evening that I made my debut onto the grand stage of planet earth. Like you and the overwhelming majority of the rest of us I arrived totally uninhibitted, buck naked and yelling as loud as I could, with absolute disregard for the opinions of those around me. No one suggested that I tone it down. It would not have mattered to me if they had.
My mother, grandmother and a female second cousin were present. I would not see my dad to know who he was til I was an early teen. One Saturday on our segregated strip of my little southern downtown someone pointed him out to me on the opposite side of the street. Other than nothing I can't describe what I felt at the moment of that distant accidental almost abstract introduction to my biological father. However, from that day to this I've never forgotten what I saw the day I fixed my eyes on that man. I saw me and what I could mean to someone like me some day. Immediately and forever I did not want to be my dad.
Being like him never occurred to me. I had no idea what he was like. How could I? Being him was what I never wanted another me to meet this way. From the other side of the street. He wasn't looking for me. Instantly all the times I had questioned and answered myself about who and where and what and how he could be and I be and we never even say hello. We never make each other angry or glad, and the women in my life never speak good or bad about him. Maybe I felt curious? Maybe I trained me not to think of him often.
For sure there were no negative emotions raging inside me, primarily because of the absence of a lot of mama drama. I never heard, "you just like yo no good lo down daddy."
The one profound memory I have of my father being mentioned was the day my grandmother told a welfare application bearing social worker, "John W. Cross is this young man's daddy, and if he doesn't take care of him - I will. she continued, I will take your form but I doubt if I will be turning it in. Thank you and have a nice day."
With that I was denied a monthly ADC check and other welfare benefits, and Momma grew ten feet tall. That day also marks the beginning of my understanding, in a real way, what all is involved in fighting the good fight. Momma fore ran . Momma's wisdom had sent my mother to live with relatives up north, shortly after my birth, to heal from the wounds and woes of a broken heart. You see, the tall, dark handsome and smooth 19 year old who was my dad was telling two other unsophicticated young ladies in the county the same thing he told my mother. One of them would give birth to a daughter and the other a son. All three of us were close enough in age to attend the only high school for Black students in a three county area at the same time. Like the 12 sons of Jacob in the Bible, we had three mothers and we all had the same last name. Our dad married the girl's mom and they had five other children.
From about age three I have clear remembrance of my soft spoken young mother growing into young adulthood as a devoted single parent. It wasn't easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? My mother was fortunate and grateful to have the positive force and support her mother provided. I was fortunate to have my grandmother's unconditional love, Although at about age 4 we moved from the farm where I was born my grandfather continued to work as a share croper. He built a third room onto our shotgun house and I slept in the new room. During the winter some nights there was no heat in the added room. During hard times a lot of other relatives shared that room too. Sometime my grandfather stayed on whatever farm he was working and came home on the week end. Sometime he trained and groomed race horses.
Being seven years younger than the sixth and last of my grandparents children I would be the first to experience the most city life in the growing small town where I would grow up and graduate from high school as senior class president and become the first member of our family to be sent off to college. And then the U.S. Army. Another story for another day.
During those growing up years my grandfather, who I called daddy, would work himself to death just short of my tenth birthday, and I would welcome a brother named Joe into my little world. Joe's dad was the brother of one of my mother's co-workers at the laundry where she worked very hard for very low wages. That relationship went nowhere either and the bright side is although my mother was disappointed that she could not follow in her mother's steps and be a wife, a mother and home maker - she was not hopelessly in love with this guy like she had been with my dad. Someone has said the first cut is the deepest. I was now old enough to feel sorry for mom and little Joe.
I knew that my mom deserved a good man, a real man; but where was he? Where were they? After she became pregnant a third time mother held onto and married her third son's dad. Another pitiful Black victim of early 20th century Americana became my mother's lawfully wedded husband. They had seven children and stayed together until her death in 1990. I never lived with my mother or my dad. My grandmother saved me from a less rich environment that would have been mine in either "step parent" situation. At least that's my take on it.
I count it a huge blessing that I was thoroughly rooted in Momma's house and governance. Going to school, working, learning about life101 and becoming familiar by the hour with street life. Later, forgiving my father and understanding my mother would be a much easier task for me than I think it will be for babies being conceived and born today like I was 70 years ago. For the most part today's opportunities were non existent for turn of the century Black people. In their day there were few radios, no TV or video games. Basically all they had was each other and limited carnal knowledge. Mobility was limited.
Black people who are not confined to rural farm life observing mostly animal husbandry and the sexy cyclical nature of soil, seed, rain, sun and crop rotation are also a Black people no longer limited to non physical constraints except those that are self imposed and media driven. Therefore, girls like my teenage mother and guys like my teenage dad living in such changed and vastly different worlds are not limited to just having each other til there is nothing left to have but a baby and another reason to move on to another fertile field to plant another seed like we were forced to do way back yonder down on the farm. Classism and racism applied tremendous downward pressure on Black America in the name of Jim Crow, during the first half of the 20th century.
As my knowledge of history, politics, sociology, etc. grew the more I questioned the roles and relationships of victim and victimizers. My inquiry became especially acute in matters of Fatherhood. And after what had come to seem like an eternity of lying about why my parents weren't at the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) metting, and being ridiculed for calling my grandparents momma and daddy I arrived at a very definite colusion; "I will never subject a child to this horror." Children can be cruel to other children when they are too dumb to be anything other than the dumb children they are. And child inflicted cuts go deepest when father's wisdom is absent and coping methods aren't modeled.
So I deferred fathering children and marriage until I was almost twice 21 years old. Because I was so sure of my commitment to fatherhood marriage didn't bother me nearly as much as the thought of divorce. Divorce like the ones I witnessed all my life must never happen to my children. Divorce usually damages children far more than being raised by a good single parent or non blood related caring, mature, guardian.
In 2004 when the divorce, which had lasted for two years, was finally final the youngest of our six sons was not yet 14. His next older brothers were 17 and 19. The 19 year old was one year out of high school. Mom was given the brand new house, fully furnished, and the young men and I moved into a two bedroom apartment where we remained until we moved into a four bedroom house the end of the following year. The previous year son number 5 graduated from high school and started college. He is now a college senior. Last Saturday night as I sat purposefully alone to observe the Dublin Scioto High School class of 2008 receive their diplomas, of all of the uncertainty in that space concerning the futures of the nearly four hundred graduates I was absolutly sure of one thing about one of them. He knew how to fight the good fight and win.
In that happy energetic sea of green and white gowns and mortar boards and tassels one six foot two, dark, handsome graduating senior is graduating with strong science, math and music aptitude. He has been accepted at several universities. He has enrolled at one. He does not walk on water and his feces does not smell like a flower garden. I am no more sure of the details of his future than I was of my own at age 18. I am however, absolutely confident that he knows what fighting the good fight looks like up close and personal. He knows that the only fight that is a good fight is the one we win. He has been right here with me every blow by blow step as this one was won. It was my fight but the victory belongs to him and his brothers. If my son should meet and marry your daughter then she and our grandchildren will share the victory of this good fight. The FATHERHOOD fight.
"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or how the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who serves valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory or defeat." -
As men and as fathers I pray that we all disengage our brains from the voice of government propaganda. May we lose our willingness to sacrafice our children to go warring in foreign lands to enrich wealthy people who despise poor and working class people. Rich people who question our best and brightest children's fitness to replace a wealthy unfit incompetent, even an incompetent as demonstrably incompetent as George W. Bush. May we commit to fight the good fight of imparting the principles of FATHERHOOD to our own flesh and blood, no matter what. FATHERHOOD is the fight we can always WIN if we will dare to fight it. The Victory of FATHERHOOD is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
When asked to teach a class on prayer Jesus began thusly: "say Our Father........"
Just before He died Jesus said, "Father, into your hands......"
Prior to that He had said, "Father forgive them, they do not know."
Before my biological father died we developed a great relationship. We do share DNA. Why wouldn't I forgive him. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the one who you think wronged you to drop dead.
Fathers, your children need you.