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A Father-to-Be's Promise to Break the Cycle

Headlines might herald the antics of deadbeat dads like Howard Veal, father of 23; but meanwhile, one black father is making a promise to his unborn son.

Topher Sanders

I'm 32 years old, and I'm about to do something that I've never really witnessed. I'm about to be a father. Sure, I've seen other fathers close up. There were a few scattered about in the Montgomery, Ala., neighborhood where I spent my teen years, and there definitely were tons on the Air Force base I lived on with my military mother. But my observations were those of a safari vacationer, jotting down mental notes and wondering if one species' habits were like those of another.

You don't have to go far to see bad examples of black fathers. Just throw a stone in any black neighborhood and you'll hit a house containing children but no father. Just last week, we as a nation collectively smacked our teeth and shook our heads as we read about Howard Veal, the 44-year-old man who fathered 23 children with 14 different women and owed $500,000 in child support. There are great examples of black fathers too, but you'll have to aim carefully with that rock to hit those houses.

My own fatherhood is about two months away. Until now I've managed to distract myself with work, side projects and healthy doses of ESPN. But now, as my beautiful wife's belly balloons with life and we feel our unborn son's kicks, hiccups and squirms against our palms, the reality and weight of fatherhood is sinking in.

My two best friends, like me, were both raised without fathers in their homes. It's a fact that we unconsciously bonded over in our youth.

"I'm always going to be there for my kids," we said to one another when we were 15. We exchanged those words at the same time we talked about the cutest girls in school and the new pair of Jordans each of us wanted.

But unlike my two friends, I haven't seen my father since I was toddler. My two friends have hugged and shaken the hands of their fathers as grown men. Like many of my generation, I could easily have walked by my father on the street yesterday without recognizing him.

He isn't in jail, and I don't think he's dead. No, he's just a dude who jettisoned my mother and me after a divorce. I've spoken with him once by phone in 25 years -- it was a random call after two decades of silence to see if I had been in jail or had any children.

"What's up?" he had said, as if our last conversation hadn't been on the eve of my 6th birthday, with him promising gifts that never arrived.

"Nigga, what's up with you?" I said in my mind. But what came out of my mouth was a dry, "Uh, what's up?"

No kids, no jail, I told him. A journalist, I told him. Shock, he expressed. Yes, my mother is awesome, I said. The conversation lasted five minutes, and he left a number that later didn't work.