My father was a provider and a disciplinarian. He was old school. He worked multiple jobs, fixed the cars, the plumbing and the electricity in the house. He worked weekends and couldn’t always make games and events, but food was on the table, clothes were on our backs. Like I said, he was old school and was not shy to give a beating with his hand or the belt when he deemed necessary. He was 20 years old when he had me and I was thoroughly afraid of my father. We didn’t talk much. I didn’t share with him how I felt or my emotional needs. He was an old school model like the T800 or straight out of the James Evans Sr. camp of fatherhood.
When I got married I wanted to be a “new age” father- more of an open book father. The one who was always around, saw all of the events, was intricate in final decisions on the kids schools and extracurricular activities. I wanted my kids to be able to talk to me and feel comfortable doing it. I wanted to give hugs and provide a number of things that might not have been considered essential to James Evans Sr. I wanted to be the “new age” dad that was a cross of the Dad in “Family Ties” and Doctor Cosby. My father’s sacrifices allowed me this perspective and opportunity. So when my ex and I had kids she was already more established in her career than I was. It was then that I started making the mistakes that would haunt me in the future. I started caring about being around for my daughter. I started coming home by 7 and feeling guilty and getting guilted when I was not. I blame Chris Rock, because I didn’t want her to end up on a pole. When my ex was pregnant with our first son, and we considered where we were going to raise our family permanently we wanted a good cultural base with an excellent support system around us. So I left a rising career in the programming department at ESPN so my children could have more options in Brooklyn as opposed to Connecticut. I thought that our relationship was a lasting partnership and eventually we would switch course and I would take up the financial heavy lifting eventually. I mean I had two Ivy League degrees and a wealth of good experience so it wasn’t completely out of consideration.
Then our son died. He was part of the reason we moved to New York. Better doctors, better facilities and a better chance for him to live a normal life. But he died at three months old instead. So I switched my focus to being present for my oldest daughter since she had to see her sibling die. So I got a flexible job. One where I could bring her to school and pick her up and make the family dinner (I am a wonderful cook) and let us try to be normal. One where I applied to all the private schools and maintained the appointments and the play dates and birthday parties. But I was not a provider. My ex felt the pressure of being the main bread winner and I know now that is not what she signed up for. But I have learned that you can’t be the provider dad and the available “new age” dad at the same time. Something has to give. Seneca’s death took a toll on me and our marriage. Tragedy makes some relationships stronger, his death and the circumstances leading up to his birth destroyed ours. We put on a brave front and poured our energy into our daughter – not our relationship- and continued as a couple but truly we were parents that lived together. Tanya was the provider and I was the available parent who made the meals, the playdates, the schedule. But our marriage was unraveling. We had Hendrix, not for us but for Gabrielle, to take away some of the sting of losing a brother. He has been amazing and a blessing and we never compare him to his older deceased brother but he could not save our marriage. And there it was, we were done and first we got separated and then quickly and amicably divorced.
As a black father I wanted to be present for my kids after the divorce. There’s that words again… present. I did not want them to feel like I abandoned them. As an educated man I read the statistics concerning children of divorce. I was not going to allow them to suffer because their mother and I could not make it work. So I worked hard to be super, ever present dad. It was a mistake. I needed to concentrate on my well being, my survival. I searched for a job that made more money because I had to take care of myself, but I didn’t fully consider all the ramifications of that or the environment I was going to. I wasn’t present enough to allow my single, untethered with children coworkers and employees to relate to my circumstances as a recently divorced father of two who didn’t want to look like I abandoned my children. Those who know me know that I take my kids to every cultural event and sign them up for karate, tennis, science camp, cooking camp, read them books, watch movies with them, etcetera. They know that I arrange the neighborhood Halloween Safe house tour and play Santa Claus for the kids. I made poor career decisions that centered on me being present and my career started to unravel. I currently feel like the wife who is trying to get back into the workforce like Julianne Margulius but without the Governors name or ex boyfriend from law school to prop me up. But she was smart and made sure she got a nanny/caretaker for her older kids so she could be a provider and be present for her job,
So now I am forty years old and decided I can no longer be the present dad. I can’t bring them to the dentist or the doctor. I can no longer bring them to tennis or karate. No more being home with them for dinner or make them pancakes for breakfast. I can no longer waste my brain, my experience or my education by being present. Being present is something that neither me nor my kids have the luxury of having anymore. I now need to be what I should have always been, a provider. It might have saved my marriage, and maybe my life would be better. As a provider I could have just paid someone to be present for my kids. Make the meals, go to the events, arrange the calendar and activities. And yes, it wouldn’t have been their father, but at least their father would not be struggling today. Because I have now realized that being a “new age” dad or a present father pales in comparison to being a provider. And that by not being a provider I have done a disservice to my marriage and my children.