On this final (belated) entry of #BlackFathersWeek, I am delighted to feature the voice of a father who helped raise a son who was not his by blood. I also was co-raised by my stepfather; it was important to me to include surrogate fatherhood in this collection of narratives. Writer Victor Masoliah shares a poignant story demonstrating the love stepfathers put into child-rearing is no less strong.
What is taught at home doesn’t always stay at home. When you are a first-time parent, one of your main goals is to have a well behaved child in public. The type of child that says, “Please, Thank you, I’m sorry, Excuse me.”
When my ex-wife and I first moved to Georgia, one of the struggles we were having was to get my step-son to be polite around the house and in public. It was painstaking always stopping him mid-stride to at least stop long enough to be polite or courteous. My fatherly pride could not have been more crushed than when friends came to visit and my child would act out, refuse to be polite or show some courtesy.
So my ex-wife and I went back to the drawing board.
We would purpose to use polite words for everything (when we remembered) and hopefully this would rub off on him. The first tentative experiment was at my new job, I brought my son over on my off day. In typical cuteness syndrome, a co-worker offered him some ice-cream; here it was, the moment of truth. Would he just accept it? Would he say, “yes, please, and thank you?” Crushed again: he took it without as much as an acknowledgement to the lady other than a cute smile. I reminded him to say thank you all the while feeling the judgmental eyes on me. I imagined them all wondering: What kind of father can’t teach their 4-year-old to say thank you?
When we got home, I started to put Post It’s with the words “thank you” in the bathroom and kitchen and bedroom. I thanked my son for brushing his teeth, for eating his food, for smiling at me. I said I was sorry for not reading one more bed time story, for being in the bathroom too long, for not buying him a new toy every day. I asked him to excuse me every time I changed the channel, leaned in for a kiss, put him on time out.
One way or another he was going to be the model well behaved child. Success would poke its head out one idyllic summer evening in a park in East Cobb. While my child was on the playground, he bumped into a younger kid. Neither my ex-wife nor I saw this happen; however, the younger child’s father saw the whole thing. So when he approached us asking if this was our son, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Oh God, please don’t let it be a serious issue.” The father in question smiled at us and complimented us for having such a wonderful, well behaved son.
Taken aback and thinking that Punk’D was finally back on air; I looked around for Ashton Kutcher. The father nodded and said that our son had bumped into his son and – get this – he stopped and dusted the playground material off the younger child, apologized and excused himself. What!!?? On top of that, he gave the child a hug before running off again. I couldn’t believe this!!! Yes, yes the gentleman kept saying. Your son was very polite and courteous.
I was so pumped with pride that for about a week, my son could do no wrong. Truly: Teach a child the way they should go, and when they are old they shall not depart from it.
Victor S. Masoliah is a Kenyan-born writer, poet and performance artist. You can read his musings and bits of wisdom on Twitter @vmpoetspeaks.