Girl Dad & Losing A Father: One Man’s Journey to Fatherhood
Losing a father is a different kind of pain that only those who have experienced it can hold words for. Demetrius Brown, a 35-year-old recording artist from Hollywood, Florida, sat down with me to discuss losing his father as well as his own journey in becoming one.
As my brother-in-law, I’ve watched him as a father over the years, and his dedication to his children has been an echoing hallmark of the strong characteristic in many black fathers around the globe. It was truly an honor to sit down with this black father and hear what milestones in his journey have instilled in him the pillars that have shaped his parenting.
Demetrius, can you tell me what it was like losing your dad?
I lost my father when I was about 20 or 21. And him being gone shifted everything. Because having him there was definitely…it completed the whole package. That two-parent household…I wish every kid could experience that. You learn to deal with certain situations better and having my dad in the household growing up when I did was perfect to me because there are certain things little boys wouldn’t feel comfortable going to your mom about.
For instance, I loved football and my mom shut that conversation down. She didn’t want to hear about it but my dad snuck me away when I was 6 years old to sign up for football and that was something I pursued all the way into college – it actually ended up paying for college!
But losing my dad was devastating. It took us all a while to get over that as he was a big part of us. It’s definitely still a void not having him.
I just wish he was here to see his grandkids. I knew if he was here, I’d be jealous though because my daughters would be in love with him and I can’t take that competition.
What did you learn from his parenting?
I think it’s how to have a balance of this whole parenting thing. You know, having a friendship with your kids but also being the parent.
I hear a lot of parents say “I’m not friends with my kids”. But with my girls, I want them to feel as open as possible with me. So I try to have a balance of playing and talking with them as much as possible so that they feel as comfortable as possible with me to have conversations with me but that they also know where I draw the line on certain things.
And I definitely got that from him. I felt like I could talk to him [my dad] about anything; no judgment or feeling like I would get in trouble about it. He would let me know his thoughts and although I may get punished, I knew I would get his honest opinion as a friend first followed by his parenting.
It seems as though parenting came effortlessly, to you. What was it like becoming a father? Were you ready?
Becoming a father was overwhelming, when my first child, Zuri, was born I was still trying to get myself together. But when I started to see her mother’s stomach growing, that’s when I kinda fell in love. And when I first saw her [Zuri] it was love at first sight.
Did you always want to be a Girl Dad?
No [laughs], I wanted a boy – I wanted a junior so bad; but now that i have a girl, I don’t regret it at all because that love you get from a girl is unconditional.
What’s it like being a Girl Dad?
It’s scary raising girls because this world is so scary. I do everything in my power to prepare them though. They always say that a father is a girl’s first love and with that in mind, I try to set the expectations for when they do get older, you know when they turn 35 and get their first boyfriend [laughs] so that they look for the characteristics their dad had and the way I treated them in their partners.
Mental Health (especially in young women) is so important. Is that something you prioritize with your own daughters?
Absolutely. I show them unconditional love and give them affirmations daily to build their confidence because people will try and tear you down.
So my main thing with them is building their confidence – and teaching them not to fall for anything.
Focus on your books and you could worry about boys later on down the line.
I also try to keep lines of communication open so that we can always feel like we can talk to each other about anything and that I can slip in some advice where I can. For instance, if I see something on tv, I may call the girls in and ask them how they’d handle a situation. I don’t say “this is directed towards your mental health” but I try to instill different things in them that will pay off in the long run that will help their mental health.
And when they’re older, they’ll be able to notice and say “oooo that’s why dad did that” etc.
That’s a very clever way of opening that dialogue! Is this something else you took on from your own parents? Was mental health a priority in your household growing up?
Not necessarily. It wasn’t brought up in a “let’s talk about mental health” way, but certain things like confidence, and carrying yourself definitely was. There’s a lot of things he [my dad] taught us that helped us in the world.
There are people who once they leave their parent’s home, that don’t know where to go or how to carry themselves in the world and they end up getting mixed up in some bad stuff. Which can be a lot and that often makes people lean on drugs or alcohol.
But I feel my father taught us a lot of things that helped our mental health and helped us be able to confidently go out into the world.
It sounds like he definitely illuminated your fatherhood path. What have been some highlights of fatherhood for you thus far?:
Man, it’s the little moments. I remember picking my eldest from school and her running to me and screaming “daddy, daddy”.
Even now she randomly says things like “you’re the best dad in the world”.
They catch you off guard with things like that. It’s the small things, you know. Going to their recital. Seeing them perform.
It’s the small things.
It really is. I think your love and commitment for your daughters speaks so much to the dedication of black fathers and yet the narrative out there is so distorted. What do you think about the narrative on black fathers and how can it change?
It’s funny you know. We always hear “the black father is never there. We’re not taking care of our kids”… and yet everybody I hang around are excellent fathers.
I couldn’t pinpoint anyone in my circle that isn’t taking care of their kids.
I will say though that the government is a big issue in perpetuating this narrative. With things like housing and section 8, these systems are designed to keep the black man out of the family – they don’t allow the man to be in the household. They give the mom and the kids a place to stay only if you keep the father out. Why take one of the main roles out of the house? That creates more problems and that’s one main thing I think needs to be addressed.
But as far as fixing it, I think social media has begun to allow everyone to see the true narrative. I follow a lot of IG accounts that celebrate the black father. You’re seeing them truly enjoying their kids and spending time with them and that’s what I’m about as well as my circle. That’s what most black fathers are about.
So things are changing and the narrative will change and I believe social media will continue to be helpful with that.
Is there anything you feel you’re doing to change that narrative or strengthen the community of black fathers?
Yeah, community means a lot to me actually. Where I come from, my dad is a legend. What made him stand out was – he would cut hair in an alley where we lived right under a tree. He would help kids for free so that they could be ready for school if their mom didn’t have the funds to pay for it. And that community remembers that. I wish I had half the impact he had but he inspired me to really show up for my community by doing something I love and pouring back into them.
So I feel like I’m doing that by being the best dad I can be while also showing that we can follow our passions. There’s nothing like doing something you love and have passion for and I feel like that’ll pour back into our kids.
What advice would you tell new black fathers? Keeping mental health in mind as well.
It can be tough, but just be strong and realize that you have somebody depending on you. It’s not just you anymore. Do what you got to do to be in your child’s life. Let’s make it easier on these strong black women. You don’t have to be in a relationship to be there for your kid.
And when it comes to mental health, don’t hold stuff in.
As black men, so many of us were taught or raised with the idea that boys are not supposed to cry and we’re supposed to be tough but then when we get older we end up holding a lot of stuff in; but if you keep doing that, you’ll eventually explode and break down.
So find someone you’re comfortable with to confide in and actually talk to. Everyone needs to talk and vent at some point. Everyone needs to be able to release. You never know what you’re going to go through. You’re not weak for sharing. Holding it in only bleeds into your household. So talk more. Whether with your friend, therapist etc.
Just talk more.
Whew! That’s some heavy advice that I can only hope people will take! I can certainly feel how much your journey has shaped you and after speaking with you, I have such a clearer understanding on how your father shaped that. Which makes me have to ask!
If you could write a short letter to your father, starting with “Dear, father” what would it say?
Dear father, I hope that you’re proud of me and my brothers. I wish you were here to see your grandkids that you haven’t seen. We miss you, we love you and you will forever live through us.
Demetrius is a recording artist in Hollywood, Florida. To hear some of his work (or learn more about him) visit him on IG at: @Marleypicasso1k