Learning the Dos and Don’ts of Manhood

by Derek Williams
Also Featured on NPR

Learning the Dos and Don’ts of Manhood

by Derek Williams
Also Featured on NPR
07.07.14
07.07.14

Though my mom and dad often were on the outs, I’m not one of those kids whose dad was absent from their life.

My dad was there for graduations, to teach me how to ride a bike, to see me make accomplishments. My dad was there as a sounding board, as more of a disciplinarian. But my mom was the one who was the breadwinner that I saw — who I consistently saw get up in the morning and go to work. She spent a lot of time telling me how men are supposed to be respectful and they’re the providers of the family.

My dad always received government assistance, which contributed to the family, but he didn’t have to work for that money. I just knew it kind of came every month. At ten years old, I realized that I had started to surpass my dad academically. We would go to the doctor and instead of him filling out the paperwork, he would make a joke and say “Why don’t you read this, and you fill it out?” but that was really him saying, “I can’t read. I need you to do this for yourself, because I can’t do it for you.”

I remember being younger and me and my brothers and we would be with my dad and we’d be riding. we would see a girl, my dad would hoot and holler, and my brothers would join in. I would sheepishly sit in the back seat, like, “I’m gonna tell mom!” I’ve always been different from my brothers in that sense. In reverse, how my dad would spend extra time making sure my brothers did those “manly” things around the house, my mom taught me how to cook. She taught me which cleanser you use to clean the bathroom. I know the birthdays, I know when rents due, I know how to make a money order. My mom, from an early age, taught me how to keep the house in those kind of ways. I grew up resenting my dad a lot because he wasn’t this stereotypical dad and my mom was that.

My mom was this incredible woman who provided for us, made sure we ate, made sure we always had a roof over our head and clothes on our back. She busted her rump to do that. And in 2009 when she died, me and my two older brothers and my dad were forced, by circumstances, to move in with one another again… live under the same roof. We just couldn’t afford the house my mom had got for us before she passed.

I’m being a brat, and I’m telling my dad, “I don’t wanna move,” and I being real nasty with him. And he gets real loud and says “You have to understand  — I’m not your mom! I’m not your mom. The things that used to fly with your mom don’t fly with me. So this is a new page.”

In a way, he was saying, “I really hope you paid attention to those lessons your mom was giving you. I really hope you that you really know how to be independent.”

Because I’ve had to learn how to become a man in such a roller coaster way, I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose from the correct way my mom was trying to raise me into this man, and curate information from the way my dad wasn’t being a man.

It has made me stronger. 

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