Instead, you gave me fishing on sunny days, an interest in sports, and help with science fair projects about friction and plants. And when I got straight As, you gave me handshakes. After all, that was what you expected.

Growing up in the majority-black public school system of Prince George’s County, Maryland, I never had a full-time black male teacher in an academic subject in elementary, middle, or high school, but I had you, a PhD in biochemistry who embraced three other letters even more closely: ‘Dad.’  I know that I was lucky to have a father who was actually put on a school-to-lab pipeline rather than the school-to-prison pipeline which can be so viscerally heart-wrenching as to separate even loving fathers from their own DNA.

Thanks to you, I can’t fully imagine what it’s like to be one of the many black children who are starving for concrete evidence that people who look like them can excel in school or praying for personal counterweights to the idea that academic success is bleach, i.e., the better you do in school, the whiter you become. Before I had ever heard of stereotype threat, I subconsciously learned from your example that I could do well in school because of — not despite — my blackness.

Thank you for putting up with me as well.

I remember when you were helping me with a science fair project in elementary school and you wanted me to pose for a picture, which would eventually be placed on my science fair project backboard. I think I was getting antsy, so I said, “This isn’t a fashion show.”  You had to raise your voice at me, but I posed for the picture and I learned my lesson. Or at least I thought I did.

It’s not until I really think about it now as I write this essay that I recognize how foolish I was to complain about your fatherly photography when far too many dads act as if their kids are Medusa’s strange clones; as if one look at their children would turn them to stone, stop them dead in their tracks and force them to reflect on the true meaning of their manhood. There I was, grumbling about taking a science fair picture under your guidance when many kids never actually get a chance to see eye-to-eye with their fathers at all.

Several children might even feel that their fathers are experimenting on them to see what happens when you plant a seed, give it plenty of time to water itself with the tears of loneliness, and, with clinical precision, deprive it of the beaming pride of a father. Granted, with a superhuman mother, grandparent, and/or community’s touch, some resilient seeds are able to thrive like roses that grow from concrete. However, the absentee scientists in these trials often fail to realize that just as one needs to take care of a plant in order to benefit from the essential oxygen that it produces, fathers must nurture their children if they really want to be within breathing distance of vital respect from outside and within.    

Unlike other men, you didn’t run away from your planted nation like a slave wearing track shoes. You did not view me as something that would restrict your freedom.  To the contrary, you treated me as a crucial part of life. And for that, I thank you today and always.  

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