Happy Father’s Day.
If you do not have a father figure in your life, I hope you can say “thank you” and “I love you” to a person who has loved and cared for you.
I am thankful for my two fathers: the one out of the picture and the one in the family; one is biological and one is family; one needed a bond and one created a bond. I love both of them, for they have taught me a few lessons about adulthood, fatherhood, and community livelihood. Although this man taught me how to ride a bike and drive a stick, my step-father had to work and wait almost 23 years to hear the word "Dad."
As a Black boy growing up with only brothers, I had to learn how to carry myself around men.
And before you roll your eyes and utter “toxic masculinity” or “Black men ain’t shit,” I want to state the facts: children need healthy role models of all genders and healthy close relationships around them in order to value self, community, and life itself. From nebulous and nefarious street codes to thoughtless media narratives, it sometimes feels like everyone, including Black boys and Black men, has been taught not to value a Black life. Do you know the life expectancy of a Black male in America?
Consequentially, I also want to say that Black children need healthy relationships with Black adults, especially in the land of white supremacy. Hot take: Black boys need (present, mature, dedicated) Black father figures, biological or not!
Please read these lessons as individual invitations to ponder, plan, and put on for yourself, your family, and your community. While some may be platitudes, I believe these lessons have and hold their value in how we apply them in our lives.
What lessons from my father helped shape me as a teacher?
How exactly do lessons from my fathers translate and transfer to the classroom?
Lesson #1: Believe In Yourself.
From the House: In his 50s, my step-dad is still pursuing his dreams. Well-rounded without a formal college degree, my dad is now studying to be an electrical engineer. My dad has one clear mission (uplift the family), many dreams, and no signs of stopping. He showed me the difference between mission and dreams. A clear mission guides an individual, and dreams make an individual a creator. Both are imbued with faith in self or this belief in one’s inner light. When you are made in the darkness, you sometimes have to be your own light or seek someone else’s brilliance for guidance. And that someone else, in my case, was my step-pops.
To the Classroom: In my classroom, my students and I set goals and write self-evaluations as testaments to that faith in self. Why set goals and engage in reflection if you don’t believe in yourself? Don’t get me wrong, setting goals is one thing and revisiting and following through is another. And one year, I mean eight or nine months together ain’t going to make me and a bunch of teenagers into perfect goal-oriented, self-disciplined individuals who always meet their goals and never procrastinate. I wish. Regardless, more focus on deliberate self-development can offset our modern obsession with frivolous self-aggrandizement (follow me on IG).
So What: If I didn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t be in the classroom to begin with. How do you convince someone to sit in a room with 30 to 40 pairs of eyes on you? Not to mention, in a place that is growing more and more mentally, emotionally, and physically dangerous? If it ain’t the education system (dis)charging teachers, it’s the students doing the discharging. I understand and respect anyone who wants no parts with such a crazy job! Teaching shouldn’t mean life or death. Moreover, do you know how many people call themselves giving me a reality check whenever I say I don’t do it for a check? Do you know how many dates have come to a screeching halt after the question: what do you do for a living? Maybe it was my height or the fact that I rolled up in a 2003 Honda Civic! You can laugh. No matter the noise, I’m still in the classroom — out of a sense of service, fun, and faith in my abilities to make change, make a way, and make a living. My dad never made excuses; instead, he made moves because at the end of the day, he taught me to always bet on the man in the mirror.
Lesson #2: Respect.
From the House: My dad taught me to set boundaries and honor relationships based on respect. By creating, naming, and announcing the lines of respect, all parties involved can hold one another accountable. Many unwritten social contracts are based on respect and other fundamental social values. Setting boundaries also can be an act of (self) love and (self) care, depending on intent. As someone who is accustomed to over-working and over-extending himself, I am still learning how to say “yes” and “no” respectfully in order to respect professional and personal boundaries and relationships.
To the Classroom: In my classroom, I understand that young people will test that line; however, I have to let them know what I will and will not tolerate. I struggle to hold the line because I sometimes let the love for my kids trump that respect factor. As a teacher, I have to create clear structures, routines, and expectations for my students to respect themselves and their work. Also, I want students to set boundaries on what they will allow and what they will not allow in terms of their academic performance and social circles. For some of my students, a “B” ain’t their best or “B’s” mean do better. Self-standards are a sign of self-respect.
So What: It takes patience because many teachers and students, including myself, come from backgrounds of trauma, specifically unresolved trauma, uncertainty, systemic disrespect (an understatement) and miseducation, thus forming and holding expectations takes time, patience, and consistency. And of course, it is hard to gain respect if it ain’t given. And you can’t expect respect if you don’t respect yourself. Students will teach you that lesson real fast. I have been able to lead and learn from my students based on a shared understanding of respect. Once we respect one another, then we can teach each other how we want to be loved.
Lesson #3: Pay Yourself First.
From the House: While my dad did have his little toys (cars, gadgets, etc.), he never bought them first; instead, he put money aside (for savings) and then made sure every bill was paid. Ever since I was a teenager, I invested in myself by putting my energy into my studies (not chasing women or partying), picking up investing books, and earning my Master’s degree and teaching credential. My parents paid thousands for my private school education; I couldn't afford to fail. When folks say, "Show me the money!" my parents present me as their first-generation college graduate.
To the Classroom: In my classroom, I prompt my students to invest in themselves by continually setting goals and requesting feedback. I can tell when students are invested in their academic performance and extracurriculars based on their level of engagement and self-advocacy. My parents always said, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” While students do not get paid directly for their efforts in school, I tell them that they owe it to themselves (and their ancestors) to push themselves, take academic risks, and ultimately grow from such rigorous training. Self-investment pays dividends later. Trust.
So What: After taking care of business, pay yourself first by (re)investing time, energy, and capital in yourself before you give it out to other people and other places. I learned this lesson from watching my father handle the family budget.I would not be able to teach full-time, run this blog, and do consulting on the side simultaneously if I misallocated my assets–those being my time, my money, and my energy. Nobody wants to live check to check; nobody wants to side-hustle forever. For that matter, nobody wants to hustle forever. I make money to have options. Eventually, after making some smart financial moves, let the money work for you.
Lesson #4: Be a Man of Your Word.
From the House: Whenever my dad says he’s going to do something, best believe, he gon’ do it and do it well. Sure, there’s speaking things into existence and then there’s willing things into fruition. Let effort be your forte.
To the Classroom: In my classroom, to manifest desired outcomes, I make sure students grade themselves and write self-evaluations for major assignments. The rubrics and self-evaluations hold folks accountable. I tell kids that I do not give grades; instead, they earn their grades. By engaging in metacognition via self-reflection and self-evaluation, students are called to be conscious and critical of their past, present, and future work. They are called to name their own performance standards, their own strengths (and areas of growth) and make a case for their desired grade.
So What: Can’t expect big pay from a part-time work ethic. You lose all credibility if you are unreliable. I had to be there for my students. I had to follow through with the positive (and negative) phone calls home, return those papers when I said I would, and comb through each and every IEP profile. Yes, these are basic job responsibilities, and it is so easy to cut corners (not necessarily work efficiently) or to simply say you’re going to do it and simply not do it. Don't make promises that you can’t keep or make contracts you can’t honor wholeheartedly. Of course, easier said than done.
Lesson #5: Reach One, Teach One.
From the House: Ya boy ran in the four by one (4 x 100m relay), so I understand my leg in the intergenerational relay race. The torch was lit hundreds of years ago, and I’ve got to keep it going. Though I was raised to be competitive, I have come to learn my father’s underlying message as I’ve matured: I'm in competition with myself and my ancestors in that I must take the family a step further and expect to train my successors to outperform me. And every generation faces its own hurdles. I’m here today because my predecessors never gave up and willingly passed the baton. In fact, they reached out, and I wasn’t afraid to reach back, take it, and run.
To the Classroom: In my classroom, I engage in that exchange daily, watching and doing my part as an (figurative) assistant coach to train my students to stretch themselves and embrace the growing pains and growing power that come with hard work, dedication, and service to self and others.
So What: You can reach one and teach one with your words and your actions. Because there are eyes everywhere, I am mindful of my actions and assume the role of role model, in light of my imperfections and failures. When it’s all said and done, what will your legacy be? Individual greatness or social impact? Would you rather raise a trophy or a child? Would rather put money in the bank or put your folks on? Would you rather follow or lead? Don’t worry, you will do both! See you at the next baton exchange!
I am grateful that my step-father saw greatness in himself first. I am grateful that he took my brother and me in at a young age. I am grateful that he trained and trusted me in this team effort to break intergenerational curses and bring generational wealth to the family.
…Love you, dad.
Please consider supporting with a small donation, subscription to my YouTube channel, or purchase of some JBT merchandise.