There aren’t many situations that make a grown man like me cry, but one of them is when I see the pain of fatherlessness expressed by other men.
Watching men who outwardly appear fine finally feel vulnerable enough to share their emotional turmoil does something to my soul and I can’t help but weep in solidarity.
Recently, I showed my tearful solidarity for a man whom I’ve never met and not too familiar with other than knowing he’s famous and well-accomplished.
A doctor friend of mine from the United Kingdom, who’s well aware of my childhood, sent me a link to Kirk Franklin’s viral video “Father’s Day: A Kirk Franklin Story” where he documented learning who his father is after 53 years.
Although Franklin’s childhood circumstances are different as he was adopted and didn’t know who his father was, I knew exactly how he felt as a boy who grew up lost in manhood and wasn’t advocated for by the most important man in his life.
I knew who my father was but he wasn’t interested in being a regular figure in my life because he had another family with his wife. I was the “other” child since I was created out of infidelity, and was treated with disinterest because my existence interfered with his relationship with his original family.
Not being involved in our lives put a financial burden on my mother, leading us to constantly move from apartment to apartment, and state to state.
Before the age of 18, I’d lived in four states and some of those moves involved us staying with family members so my mother could get support and go back to school.
When things didn’t work out with one family member, we became homeless for the first time when I was around five years old. We stayed in motels and even with a stranger in her trailer as she had a spare room for us to share.
We did all of this while I was going to school every day and suffering emotionally from the instability.
One day I told my mother that I wanted to die and that I planned to get under my bed and hope for it to fall on me. Days later, my mother took me to a facility that I was unfamiliar with and handed me over to strangers, yet I couldn’t understand why.
With recommendations made by medical professionals, I was admitted into a mental hospital at the age of six for expressing suicidality and was held there for three months.
When someone gets sentenced to jail for three months, they can count the days until they are released, but when you’re locked away in a mental health facility, you have no idea when you’re leaving. This uncertainty of my freedom added to the trauma I was already going through as a child.
I still remember my mother coming to visit me and asking her if she was taking me home that day, and she would have to tell me “no”. My sister told me a few years ago how after every visit my mother would cry during the entire drive home because her little boy was stuck there.
Being admitted into that hospital didn’t help me but it taught me that sharing your feelings can get you institutionalized. In hindsight, I didn’t need to be locked away, I needed to be embraced by my father. But throughout that entire ordeal, I never heard from him.
I always felt alone in dealing with whatever I had going on in my head and was tasked to manage my own insecurities without the support of another man who could understand my situation.
When my father would come around, our home was treated like a pitstop as he was typically on his way to get fabric from New York City for his tailoring business in Detroit. I was excited to see him but the feeling never felt mutual and he appeared disinterested in having any emotional bond with me even after years of not seeing me.
What always stuck out to me was that I never said goodbye to my father after each of his visits because he would always leave in the middle of the night. I had no warning about his departure and would disappointingly find out he was gone in the morning.
My father disappearing without notice was symbolic of our relationship and, as I got older, I realized how abnormal our relationship was in comparison to my friends.
My mother got me involved in Little League baseball and Cub Scouts to have me around other boys, but I was always the only child whose father didn’t participate in their activities.
When I would look into the bleachers as I was standing in the batter’s box, never to see the man who created me, I began to ask myself why everyone else’s father cared about them but mine didn’t.
And after a while, I would wrongly conclude that there must be something wrong with me and not him.
Kirk Franklin expressed how no matter how successful he’s been, he’s always been the most insecure person in the room and I completely understand what he means. I was always negatively comparing myself to other people, especially other men because I felt inadequate to them since I was never instructed by a man like they were.
The last time I saw my father was when I was 16 years old and the last time I talked to him on the phone, I was about 22 years old. My son was just born and I wanted to try to see if I could build that connection between us that was never there but, as usual, during that phone call he seemed disinterested in even hearing from me.
From that moment on, I told myself that I wasn’t going to try anymore to have a relationship, but I would never ignore any attempts from him to be the father he should be. However, those calls from him never came.
Having my son at the age of 21, I had no idea how to be a man or a father—but I knew not to be my father. I never wanted my son to feel like he couldn’t talk to me about anything or question if he was loved like how I did as a child.
My son never met his grandfather and never will because he passed away years ago. I found out he died three months after he passed away, which encapsulates the lifetime of disconnect I had with him.
What’s even worse was that I didn’t cry once I found out because I accepted his loss years prior as I knew in my heart that I’d never hear from him again.
Although it took me decades of reflection and seeking therapy, I learned that it’s up to me how I want to interpret the pain I went through. Do I want to use this to victimize myself or should I use my father’s mistakes as teachable moments for my son and others in hopes of preventing another lost child in this world? I chose the latter.
His absence inspired me to become a better man and father than he ever was in hopes that my son becomes even greater than me in all aspects. This new perspective inspired me to write my first book, Black Victim To Black Victim, where I was able to finally talk about how fatherlessness impacted me and it made me proud to dedicate that book to my son.
That institutionalized child who was afraid to share his feelings is no longer afraid to do so and talking about it publicly has helped me and others along the way.
I hold no animosity towards my father and I forgive him for his failures. Despite everything, I’d give just about anything for my father to hug me and genuinely tell me how proud of me he was for the first time in my life.
Kirk Franklin now has the opportunity to hear those words and that is a true blessing.
Adam B. Coleman is an author, and founder of Wrong Speak Publishing.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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