When fathers are away, grief will stay | Nandell Palmer

Recently, I attend a high school graduation for a young man I had only met once.

His mother, with whom my wife and I have made acquaintance for the past four months, invited us.

This occasion was one of the most bittersweet moments I have ever experienced. For one, graduations are traditionally bittersweet moments: Students missing their friends, yet are quite eager to climb higher heights.

Nevertheless, the one I am referring to bordered on the extreme. Eight years ago, this mother literally went into debt to send her son to a private school. Forgoing college for herself, she took out a loan with an exorbitant interest rate in order to give this boy a good education.

She became homeless for a brief period last year, and the family was temporarily split up. This middle son of three boys refused to stay in touch with his mother after he moved in with one of his classmates’ parents — well, that’s how it was told to me by the mom.

“Stop talking to me...Go away, mom, you are embarrassing me!” the boy would tell his mother whenever she visited him at the school and engaged him in conversations to see how he was doing.

Hearing her son say those words was like a dagger to her heart. After shedding oceans of tears, she braved herself to attend his graduation.

Midway through the program, a burly gentleman sidled up beside the mother and her two other sons. He soon stretched out his hand to the youngest boy: “Hi, I am...your dad.”

At 14 years old, this boy had never seen his father. In fact, the man left the family when his baby boy was still in diapers, and relocated to Minnesota, where he started a new family.

This brusque introduction was so emotionally charged that it had the poor boy wailing publicly for all to see. The mother had no choice but to send the “sperm donor” packing in order to bring back the moment to a celebratory occasion.

While graduates eagerly awaited their two parents to escort them from the stage, I started to say a prayer for this boy and his mother. To make matters worse, he was the last one to leave the stage, based on the names being called in alphabetical order.

I fought hard to stay seated. How I longed to be a surrogate dad for this boy — even for just one minute — to assuage the hurt he must have felt! I am glad that I kept my seat because the proud mother couldn’t wait her turn to walk up to that stage and escort her boy, all by her lone self.

It was time for the graduates to show off their respective tables to loved ones and friends, boasting collages with family photos and other mementos hitherto.

Again, the festive atmosphere soon came to a lull when the mother asked her son for the family photos she gave him for his display table.

It was as if this boy had no antecedents. All the other tables had photos of a mother, father, siblings and other loved ones. But those relations did not exist for this young man.

She choked back tears, telling her boy, “You need to know where you are coming from in order to know where you are going!”

No doubt she was still mewling from the statement this brilliant and athletic African-American boy told her over the telephone a few months ago: “I would be crazy to date somebody of my own race as black women have no brains.”

Now, something is radically wrong here. A college-bound 18-year-old man espousing such a sentiment! Who do you question first? Do you blame his absentee dad or his school? What is true education, by the way?

It is nobody’s business if a person marries somebody from another ethnic group. In fact, I think that it should be celebrated. But for an individual to be so self-hating?

There has to be some major gap in his education. And I cannot wait for this to be ameliorated at college.

How I wish that this young man could meet Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt face to face — three prominent African-American doctors in their mid-30s who all grew up without fathers in Newark, N.J., America’s number-one ghetto.

If that is not possible, I look forward to buying him copies of their New York Times’ bestsellers, “The Pact” and “The Bond,” before he heads off to college.

As for the mother telling the father to leave the graduation ceremonies, that one is up for debate. Some would argue that the father was trying to give the olive branch, while others may see him as a deadbeat dad trying to steal the spotlight from the mom who worked so hard for such a moment as this.

When I questioned the boys, the graduate told me that his father had no place there since he was never a part of the son’s life. “Why should he come and get all this glory when he didn’t do anything for me?” he said.

“I would prefer if he could get to know me first, but not like this,” the misty-eyed youngest son averred. “I don’t know him.”

From what you have read so far, this is nothing but a network of confusion. And bringing remedy to this situation will not only take a lot of professional help, but lots of forgiveness on all sides for long-term healing to take root.

While I cannot blame all of society’s shortcomings on deadbeat dads, having caring fathers around could soften the blows of psychological pain like what the aforementioned family is going through.

In the spirit of Father’s Day, I will say that all children need their fathers. Dads, understand that it doesn’t take much for your small children to be happy. If you don’t have the money to buy them video games, then ice cream cones will do. A walk in the park will do. It doesn’t cost you anything but your time.

I was talking with a friend the other day when he told me about the days when he and his siblings would wait on their father’s morsels of food after dinner, even though they, too, had food on their plates and were not hungry. And those were some of the happiest moments for them — not silver and gold.

Create your happy moments. Leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren. In the meantime, Happy Father’s Day to all deserving fathers — and yes, mothers!

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