The only physical feature I remember about my father was a hat. A hat, a court-room, a hallway full of people and that’s it. I do however remember how he made me feel. He made me feel like yearnings unanswered, like the wind being knocked out of me by an imaginary friend, like my mother wasn’t the sweet lady that I grew to know her to be. How? I would sometimes get so fed up with my mother after whippings that I’d curse her name in my shortness of breath. I would curse her, crying, and I would yell “I wish I was with my daddy.” I actually chuckle now listening to echoes of my childhood cries. I actually thought he would come. I had my uncle though. He was a shrewd business man that I would work for over the summer. I remember moving logs up and down stairs for $14. A $14 that turned to $12 after he deducted money for all the food I ate in his home. I thought it was unfair and vowed to never work for him again. A few years later my uncle died in a house fire. Probably one of the saddest days of my life. Why? Because I could never work for him again.
Just like that, I had no role models. The type of men that I needed to guide me through…those close adult male blood relatives, were gone and some never there. There were of course, bad role models galore. I assume, young adult males that grew up without a positive role model consistent and near, or a father.
“The D-boys, the “hood niggas”, the pimps and players. They were the pillars. They played with us. A part of them was kind.”
I would go to church at Central Holiness Baptist Church and see pews full of deacons who I would assume were good men, but I never saw them in the streets. It’s like the “good” role models never came outside. Maybe there were scared. Maybe they were selfish. Maybe… they didn’t live here. Not to mention I grew up on the South side of Atlanta, Jonesboro Road/Thomasville area. My community wasn’t far from the elementary school nor the federal penitentiary. All too many times I felt that my path was clear. Who and where I would be predetermined… but I said no.
At the age of six I remember living off of Sylvan Road in apartments then called Calibu or “Killa Calibu”. I vowed to myself that I would make sure that my children would have a father and a family. A vow prompted by my mother’s struggles and my sense of being incomplete, and wanting to end a cycle.
I am 30 years old now. My son was born two years ago. He is a fireball of energy, he is extremely intelligent, he is cute as a button, and his mother is a saint. He is two. Two like the number of wheels the bicycle that I ride that does not travel to where he and his mom stay. Two like the years my non-profit organization WeCycle Atlanta would be in November. Two like the age I was when I recall my father’s only physical appearance… a hat. I wonder what my child will remember about me.
“I have only lived up to every stereotype. I have sold drugs. I have been locked up. I was also the “player” who got his mother pregnant, but didn’t want to leave the field.”
I know the struggles of not growing up without a father that many of my young brothers and sisters face. I have lived inside the struggles of a single mother, and now I live that of a single father.
“Why do I struggle?”
Since I do not much believe in excuses, I will try to give you an earnest one so that I don’t make myself out to be a hypocrite. I have sacrificed a great deal of my life to be in the streets and to be the person I needed to see growing up for more youth than just my son. To become a role model that does not only live inside the walls of his church or school. To be a visible example of adult male guidance to navigate youth through the streets.
Where I live now, the community is still by an elementary school, but not a prison. Instead, its by a cemetery. All the more reasons for me to stand on the corner like a d-boy. To know a whole bunch of women from taking their sons and daughters out. To take them on bicycle rides to places of higher education. To be a role model that guides them through the streets.
My son… he has a father. Me. Though I don’t see him as often as I would like. I know that leaving him or his mother is not an option. “He may not know this now, nor be thinking about it, but if or when he begins to notice my absence I hope that his mother tells him that I am out here selling hope. My customers are usually single women and their children. It doesn’t pay like a D-boy, a teacher teaching, or preacher preaching, but it makes me and some youth feel rich.”My son has me, but I am not his alone. I belong to God and I am driven by God’s will. I belong to a community of fatherless children. We walk streets late to various places with our hair nappy and locks long, and when my son understands who I am… he can come along.
About The Author
Shawn Walton is a Morehouse college graduate from Atlanta, Georgia. He is an activist, teacher, non-profit founder and father. His current vocation includes youth development, community building, and resource management.
You can find out more about Shawn’s non-profit, WeCycle Atlanta here.