Since I was little, I wanted to be like my dad. He did all kinds of cool things like wear chaps, drive tractors, and chop wood. I didn’t know why, but I wanted to do those things too. I wanted to be like my dad so much that when I was in eighth grade I decided I would do exactly what he did with his life: go to university on an ROTC scholarship and become a dentist. My life goals are as original as Will Smith’s music.
My upbringing, however, was much different than his, as when I was five years old my parents got divorced. I lived with my mom five days a week and, when I wasn’t participating in baseball or basketball tournaments, I would spend the weekend with my dad. There was a stark contrast between parents as my mom allowed for more play and my dad always seemed to be working, so much so that he ostensibly created a business just to teach my sister and me the value of a good work ethic. The dichotomy of parenting styles created two different expectations of me: while living with my mom I was essentially held to the same standard as my sister. My dad, however, established different expectations for the two of us. For example, if he needed to go work on a stretch of fencing, Connie was given a choice whether or not to participate. I, on the other hand, was not afforded the same opportunity.
My dad’s expectations of me created a drive to prove myself worthy. This was made more difficult by my dad making it clear he didn’t think we should be wasting our time on frivolous extra-curriculars when there was work to be done. Due to this opinion, he hardly came to any of my sporting events as he wouldn’t take time off work. Since my athletic prowess wouldn’t impress him, I found other ways. I remember the first time I carried a fifty-pound bag of grain on my shoulder not because it was a momentous occasion in my life but because he noticed! He didn’t say good job or anything, but I knew he was thinking it. I also remember his compliments any time I made a good point about some aspect of working the ranch. But more than the good, I remember my failures in his eyes.
I remember getting yelled at for stepping on the track of a tractor while it was moving. I remember almost coming to tears because I couldn’t unhook the gooseneck trailer from the truck before my dad got back from a horse ride. My sister and stepmom asked me what was wrong, seemingly not comprehending the fact that, though I was likely around ten years old, I was the man and it was my job to handle such things as unhooking trailers. How could I prove myself worthy if I couldn’t handle such menial tasks as that?!
My dad also has the ability to make me laugh – usually just at how funny he thinks he is, though his dad jokes often come R-rated or politically incorrect. Like when told a movie he had purchased was going to set off the alarm when he left but just to ignore it, he said to the clerk, eyes lighting up like he had been waiting his whole life for this moment, “I’d better let you take this then because I’m a Black man and they’ll shoot me.” He had a gift for making me laugh when I was angry especially when my ire was directed at him. I would fight so hard to keep from laughing thinking, “shut up dad just let me hate you for the next five minutes” but I never could.
As I got older I came to two realizations: chaps really weren’t as cool as I remembered, and I had a long way to go before becoming the man my father was. The former realization needs no explanation, but the latter came to me in two events. First, I witnessed my dad throwing 100-pound bales of hay 6-8 feet over his head into the loft after the hay elevator broke down. At this point he was over forty and not in good shape throwing the most awkward, cumbersome thing over his head. I mean, holy shit.
The second event came when I was seventeen or eighteen. While working one day, he locked our food in the car and took off on a ride with the keys. This meant I had to wait a full hour before eating! When he finally returned I made a snarky, smart-ass comment to him expressing my distress. The world stopped. There became an epic stare-down between man and boy. My dad who grew up dirt poor looked at me, who had the nerve to mouth off about not eating for an hour. I knew behind that steely gaze he was calculating the odds he could get away with beating me in public. Not wanting to blink lest I lose all dignity I stared back, hiding my fear behind a façade of righteous indignation, calculating the best routes of escape. After what seemed like forever, the battle of wills ended when he simply said, “you’d better remember who you’re talking to” and he threw me the keys. As I walked to get my lunch I almost laughed at loud: the laugh of someone who has just survived a near death experience. I realized that not only did I have a lot of room to grow, but my dad could have snatched my head from my shoulders before my life worked up the nerve to flash before my eyes.
My dad clearly impacted the type of man I’ve become. He is not alone fulfilling the fundamental role of father, a title which is becoming more rarely used. As of 2017 24% of homes with children under eighteen are single-mother. A staggering 55.3% of Black mothers fall within this category. There is some hope, as a study highlighted by the New York Times showed that not only is your own father important, but in his absence, male role models in the community can fill the role of father and negate the deleterious effect of a fatherless home. This could mean reducing the numbers of youth suicides, rapists, high school dropouts, and incarcerations. The issue, however, is there are so many fatherless communities that don’t allow for the realization of this benefit.
My dad never sat me down and said, “son, don’t rape people.” In fact, he only gave me direct life instructions once and that was, “if you get a girl pregnant, you’re pregnant.” The reality was he didn’t have to directly define his expectations. By watching him and listening to him talk about movies or shows we watched, I was able to interpret the expectations of a man: provide and protect.
Provide: As a man, you are the provider for your family. This is not to say a woman can’t provide, but a man needs to be in a situation where he is capable of doing so no matter how arduous a job is. My dad demonstrates this by owning two businesses even though he would do fine in his primary career.
Protect: My dad’s catch phrase, “just kill ‘em,” is likely only slight hyperbole. He leaves no doubt that should something happen to my sister, myself, or anyone in the family they will face the wrath of a mad Morgan. There was never a time in my childhood I didn’t feel safe because I knew my dad would take care of anything that came up; witnessing one such occasion myself. And, after watching him throw bales of hay around I think I can objectively say my daddy can kick your daddy’s ass.
Those are the two basic tenets of being a man. My dad showed me how he exemplified them and now it’s up to me to determine my own way. I will never be as physically strong as my dad but because of what he has instilled in me I know there is no excuse to not be able to protect. I am on track for a comfortable career but I am well prepared to work beyond that if necessary and in fact I plan to.
It was not until I grew older that I realized my dad, while fulfilling the tenets as well as most men could hope to, was still flawed. This was not an earth-shattering experience: in fact it seemed only natural. He was human after all and only a human can be a hero.
I cannot explain why fathers are necessary. It’s not difficult for a mother to explain a man’s role to her son. Maybe the need boys experience for dads is scribbled across the Y chromosome. Maybe it’s because boys love their moms and if she picked your dad there must be something worthwhile there to learn. Regardless of your explanation, it is apparent fathers are the most important aspect for the development of boys and their continued absence will have a negative effect on society as a whole. So today, tell your dad happy Father’s Day or be a dad who deserves one.