Name: Derrick Gilmore City: Tuscaloosa, Alabama | @dgilmore496
What does being a father mean to you?
Being a father, specifically, a Black father denotes the willingness and ability to untether yourself from the bounds of our understanding and knowing, free from the global notion of manhood. Preparing my son Jabbar for his journey has taught me that the important exercise of life is not the canonization of models based on hypermasculinity, but love, patience, and nurturing. Fatherhood has also taught me that I have a duty and responsibility to extend my efforts, to share my experiences with those who deserve the same mitochondrial elements that support moral and ethical growth. This compels me to actively seek out mentoring opportunities in my role as an educator, step out of my comfort zone to meet young people where they are, and speak up to dispel the misnomers that serve to polarize the relationships between fathers and sons, fathers and mothers, and families and community.
Describe your experience with your father growing up and how that impacted you today.
Being reared by a single mother, who never spoke ill of my father, yet longed for me to have the support systems and lessons she knew I needed to grow confidently into manhood was difficult, to say the least. The few episodes I had with my father, promises unkept, love unreturned, and admiration for someone that showed no concern nor care is part of my internal drive and ambition. It fueled my interest in making my father proud and aware of my academic and athletic endeavors. However, the network of father figures in my family, community, and school more than filled the voids of absenteeism and allowed me to see beyond my circumstance, I found the pieces of clay I needed to mold myself into what I envisioned a father should be and do.
What things did you take from your experience growing up into your own fatherhood journey?
The most important lesson I have learned on my fatherhood journey that I learned from my experience is the mitochondrial impact of womanhood. My mother, my grandmother, and aunts taught me to love and to live. Through my range of experiences with joy, pain, frustration, thoughts of inadequacy, thoughts of inferiority, and the blunt force of the double consciousness that W.E.B. Dubious discussed, I am better prepared to be a Black husband and father in America. So, as I paraphrase the great Maya Angelou, “I dip my wings…and dare to claim the sky…I know why the caged bird sings. These powerful women in my life allow me to open my throat and sing of love and empowerment so my son has unclipped wings.
Have you had any obstacles on your fatherhood journey?
The largest obstacle I have had to overcome in my fatherhood journey was my son being diagnosed at the age of three of being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. He was none verbal, the doctors told us that boys sometimes matured slower. We went through many stages of denying and understanding what Autism meant. The frustration that my wife and I endured was gut-wrenching, the uncertainty of not knowing the extent of the support systems he would need throughout his life, the prospects for his future, would the paradigm of life shift and allow me to be present to cheer and celebrate his accomplishments. Our extended families have been his and our greatest support in navigating the trials that life put before us. My wife Karla and I were determined to provide him with the necessary advocacy in school, so she forwent her career to dedicate time to ensure that he received the attention and education that would serve as the bedrock for the future, for her sacrifice, I am truly grateful. My mother always says that “God gives special children to special people”, he is growing into a responsible young man with the world ahead of him. He has changed my perspective on the limitations of expectations and dreams, as he prepares for college I know he has the moral and ethical basis that will support his maturation to manhood and be a gem for the world.
What advice would you give others new on their fatherhood journey?
Fatherhood has taught me that I can endure more than I ever thought possible, that I have walked faithfully and trust more than my mind allows or conceives, I can love without reservation, and fatherhood is not bound by chemical or molecular structure. I would advise Black men and fathers alike, your presence and place in nurturing and support is paramount for all who share this bit of earth.
If you could write a quick letter to your father, starting with “Dear Father,” what would you say?
My biological father passed away in the spring of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was summoned to attend a graveside ceremony that memorialized his life and passing. During the ceremony, I stood alone and lonely, not connected to his name, life, or family. I could not draw a tear to skin, shirt, nor soil, yet my mind wandered on the words below.
Dear Father, I thank you for my being and your existence, I carry no burden, I carry no malice for the absence of your known concern or care. Rest well and know that I hope to carry the best of you forward and pass those qualities on to my son who bears the residuals of your being. Walk kindly into your next journey with the knowledge that the ripples of life we create become mighty waves, despite our aim.
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