Kenneth L. Hardin: Wayward young men need dads not fathers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 21, 2023

I care nothing about celebrities or their lives. I’m not one of those people who wish them a happy birthday, worry how they’ll fare after a divorce, get angry when one is caught in a cheating scandal or get upset when tragedy befalls them. My life is much fuller and more complete than to engage in something so silly and pointless. I limit the people I devote emotional energy to those I can call on a cell phone.

I was watching a sports news program recently where the analyst spoke in an angry and incredulous tone about the behavior of NBA star Ja Morant. He showed no mercy in criticizing him for an irresponsible act that resulted in the pro athlete losing $40 million after flashing a gun in a nightclub back in March. What was even more maddening to the TV talking head was Morant was suspended again last week for the same idiocy. When you don’t have that kind of loot, it doesn’t hit you the same way, so I wasn’t as upset about his financial demise. As a working poor man, I’m more concerned about where his father’s presence in all of this nonsense was.

When I see both regular and young men of fame making mistakes that could cost them their lives and how it negatively impacts their families, it does touch me somewhere deep down in the feet of my soul. As it normally does, music starts immediately bouncing around in my head. I heard rapper and basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal painfully sharing in song how his real father chose the streets over him as a child, “Biological father left me in the cold, when I was a few months old. A father’s child was greater than gold, but I guess not. You brought me into the world but you’re not my dad. Mess around with those drugs makes my moms mad.” The late rapper Tupac Shakur hit his paternal abandonment feelings much harder in song with, “No love from my daddy, cause the coward wasn’t there. He passed away and I didn’t cry, cause my anger wouldn’t let me feel for a stranger. They say I’m wrong and I’m heartless, but all along I was lookin’ for a father, he was gone.” Fortunately, for these two entertainers, their mothers found love with other men who stepped up and provided them the love they needed.

What I don’t understand is the fallacy that some boys of any age believe in that if you lay down with a woman you don’t have to stand up with her and take care of your responsibility. Nowhere in that scenario does it equate to being a man, regardless of how old you are. If you have a baby, take care of the baby. I see so many boys who want to wear the title of father but don’t want to be a real daddy. They will pontificate, strut about, and puff their chest out about their virility. They brag about how they care for their kids without realizing financial support is not helping them grow into manhood. Comedian Chris Rock had the best response to those who engage in this kind of braggadocious false bravado. He said he was tired of men who always wanted credit for something they were expected to do, like caring for their kids. He excoriated them profanely saying, “What do you want, a cookie? You low expectation having #%&#@’s!”

I look back on my upbringing and appreciate being raised in a strict environment where we had rules governing speech, dress and who we associated with. At the time, I wanted to call Child Protective Services every other day. But as an adult, I see that having such a structured and disciplined life back then prepared me for the challenges I would face as a man today. I recall on my 12th birthday, I just knew a brand new 10-speed bicycle was waiting for me as a present. My dad walked me out to the front porch and there sat a shiny new push lawnmower, hedge clippers and a gas can. That was my allowance money. I never purchased lawn equipment for my three kids, but I did ensure they never had one minute of idle time. They were heavily involved in sports, the arts, cultural activities and volunteered at hospitals nearly 40 hours a week. They were required to read three newspapers a day, and during the summer, read two books and write book reports. Although I traveled to other states for work, I would catch a plane to Charlotte, rent a car and show up for PTA meetings, teacher conferences and sports games.

We need fewer fathers and more involved daddies. As I munch on my cookie, I’m happy to know I was one

Kenneth L. (Kenny Hardin) is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.