I’m About to Be a Father to a Black Boy and I’m Scared to Death for Him (and Me)

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My wife and I had gone to the doctor’s for a routine appointment. We weren’t married then; in fact, we weren’t even engaged, but we were ready for a baby. We had a name. We’d gone to Target and purchased a pair of crocheted bunny ears and a rubber duck that can tell the bath water’s temperature. A week before, we’d heard the baby’s heartbeat. A week later, the heartbeat was gone. She’d miscarried. I crumbled onto the floor. My wife was inconsolable.

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The world doesn’t prepare black men for emotion. I wasn’t handling any of this right. I used to get beaten for crying too much. My two sisters teased me once for crying during Muppets Take Manhattan—which, to this day, I will argue was completely morbid considering that Kermit deals with a heavy case of amnesia and forgets who his real friends are. Don’t even get me started on the Peanuts franchise, which might be some of the saddest shit I’ve ever seen.

My cousins affectionately called me “Ralph,” short for Ralph Tresvant, who at one point had the hit “Sensitivity,” in which he sang, “You need a man with sensitivity, a man like me.”

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In short, I was a unicorn, a highly teased unicorn—a black boy full of sensitive emotions. The world isn’t kind to men who cry. The world isn’t kind to black boys. The world isn’t kind to black boys who cry. And I was a cerebral kid, in my head all the time. I was frustrated when people couldn’t see my side. I was a black boy who cried because it always felt like the world wasn’t getting me and I couldn’t communicate my feelings.

In fact, writing this now makes me mad uncomfortable. Because crying meant weakness, or softness: commodities that don’t trade where I’m from. Somewhere stepping into the ring of adolescence, I stopped crying. Sad things didn’t register the way they should have. In fact, during really difficult conversations with my now-wife, I’ve had to explain that I don’t cry, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling things.

I didn’t notice it then, but around the time that I stopped crying, I started throwing up. Not gagging myself to vomit—I literally would get sick at least three times a day. With counseling, I worked through the vomiting, but I still don’t cry often. It’s like the mechanisms inside me, the ones that process difficult feelings, got all turned around. Somewhere in the space between hurting for Kermit’s amnesia and shadowboxing myself into manhood, I lost a lot of things. Things that I found in the doctor’s office that day. Things that my now-wife had never seen, and in that moment, I realized that I had to pull it together because she was grieving, too.

Because I, like many black men, am not comfortable with emotions, I didn’t know what to do. My lady needed me, and not only was I falling apart; I didn’t know how to do both of these—grieving and comforting—separately, much less at the same time. We limped out of the office that day. I don’t know how we made it home.

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Speed up some years later and life is much better. We are married now, I still don’t cry very much, she’s been pregnant for nine months and now, in just days, I will be raising a black boy.

And. I’m. Losing. My. Shit.

I can’t get the image of little 12-year-old Tamir Rice out of my head. I can’t believe that I’m bringing a black boy into a world that not only doesn’t value black life but openly hates black boys. If I could, I would cry for him already and he isn’t here. I want to scream that he’s mine and as such, all of the putrid stink of this country must not touch him. I never felt this exposed and vulnerable in my life, and I can feel the vomiting coming back. I don’t understand the level of callousness that argues for the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir.

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I hate you, America. And I’m realizing that I’ve hated you for some time. There’s black blood all over that flag that you incestuously love. These black men that you abhor were once boys, baby boys, innocent children who became mythical black bodies of imposed violence even when they were only selling loosies, or walking home with Skittles and iced tea, or playing with a toy gun.

It pains me to think that my first fault as a father is having a son in a country that doesn’t value him from birth. But despite my inability to feel on a deep level, the sound of my son’s tears will warm my heart. I will wake to his crying unafraid because I know that even in darkness, he’s perfectly complete. His tears confirm that. I will encourage his emotional growth. He will not be clowned in this family for feeling deeply because I need him to be what I’m not.

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My declaration to my black boy as his father is that I will protect his innocence for as long as I can, knowing that the world doesn’t value what he brings. I am naming my son after me to ensure that we both push each other to be better, and he’s already working on me, even in the womb. Because I just started crying as I was writing this.

I’m growing, too.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.

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DISCUSSION

Black man with a black son here. I’m gonna need you to dig deep and suck it up, brother.

I have 3 girls but my 16 year old son is the youngest and he’s my DUDE!!!

He only recalls having a black president so the racial thing was kind of confusing (Black President, no problem, right?) I try to explain the crap in the world by relating it to my personal experiences. When something happens on the news we talk about how he would have handled it and how it should be handled. He’s 6'1" 235lbs and he understands people see a grown man instead of a teen so he is very deliberate about his actions. We’ve also had “The Talk” (not birds and bees, the police talk).

I don’t have an adgenda, we discuss things as they come up but I try to be as thorough as possible and let him know there are no dumb questions.

He knows if he disrespects his mother he’s entering Grown-Ass Man Territory and punishment will be swift and terrible.

As a former Marine, I taught my son how to use firearms. He also knows defending himself with a weapon means all peaceful options have failed spectacularly and he may be forced to take the life of someone’s father, brother, husband or child.

We live in sort of a rural area so 85% of his friends are white and sometimes he does redneck shit. A few years ago he and his friends would swing over a pond from a rope in a tree. I had to explain the optics of disappearing into the woods with 5 white guys to tie a rope to a tree.

He also knows he’s nobody’s “nigga”.

Kiss your wife in front of him as much as you can. He’ll think it’s gross but he will see what a loving relationship looks like (I call our bedroom The Magic Kingdom because it’s the place where dreams come true. Like I said, gross).

I have noticed my behavior sets the tone for the entire household. My Dad died when my son was 9 and I cried for a week. He sat next to me and cried for a week, too. When I’m getting my praise on at church I weep openly. I don’t burst into tears over random stuff. It tends to freak the family out.

Sometimes I’ll spot a man across the room and for a few seconds I don’t realize it’s my son. Tonight I’m nervous because my son is team captain and they’re battling for a playoff spot in this crazy ass Florida Varsity high school football. He broke up with a cheerleader and now his girlfriend is one of the team equipment managers that he found out has liked him secretly for 3 years. He plays guitar every night to her on IG before she goes to bed.

That’s the type of shit that makes me cry.

I’m excited for you, Stephen! Stop worrying and get excited as well.