Finding Fathers

Over a casual lunch with an oldhead, a father learns what he's been missing.

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Writer Keith Reed, with his youngest son, Elijah.

The lunch was supposed to be about politics.

I had just moved to town and sitting across from me was a 50-something former Cincinnati city councilman and preacher who was helping to run down the lay of the land.

Earlier, when he showed me his church's new recreation room, I lamented that I wished I had my 8-year-old and 11-year-old boys living with me.

Now, the topic of fatherhood came back up at lunch. He told me about his effort to get black males my age to show up on Sunday. The conversation had completely strayed from politics, but I was curious—why us?

"Well, if you look at it, that's the group still looking for their fathers. Your generation [is] the sons of the Baby Boomers like me, and black fatherhood fell off right around the 1970s," he said.

It was one of the rare times I'd heard an older brother admit that black fatherlessness didn't appear out of nowhere in the last decade. I was cool with that but bugged out about the first part of his statement. I'm a grown-ass man with two sons but have never had an adult conversation with my own father. I needed answers about being Daddy: how to manage being a father from a state away, how to effectively parent when you don't get along with the boys' mother—questions I rarely get to ask any oldhead.

Now, sitting across from me was a brother 20-some years my senior, a father himself, and he was making sense of what I was going through. I latched on. It was the first time we'd met in person, and we had no blood ties whatsoever, but he was still a figurative representation of a father I never knew.

At 31, I realized I might still be looking for my own Daddy.

The illpart was that I'd never considered how my own father's absence affected me. I had a mother and a crew of aunts and uncles who raised me, and I was cool with that. It was just a fact of life that the man wasn't around. Not a positive, not a negative.