As a kid, I celebrated Father’s Day by honoring a father who provided a stern, consistent “old school” sense of order to our home. He battled his demons, like we all do, but he did the “dad” thing. And Charles Franklin Coleman didn’t just parent his four kids. He parented the neighbor’s kids, as well.
My friends often referred to my dad as “Mike’s Crazy Father,” as Dad would whip off his belt in a heartbeat and whip any kid who misbehaved in his presence…whether that kid belonged to him or not. Then, he’d walk the crying kid back home to his parents and tell them what the infraction had been — and calmly inform the parent that the same thing would happen again if the kid misbehaved at or around the Coleman house.
It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I appreciated the value of the example that my dad had set for me.
My dad wasn’t the only one who believed in a communal approach to child rearing. Mr. Jones across the street was a role model and looked out for us when my folks were working or momentarily distracted.
I’ll never forget the day Mr. Jones called Dad and told him I was climbing the tall maple tree out front. After I swung down at my father’s request, I got a good one. My dad whipped me not just for climbing the tree after having been repeatedly told not to, but for lying to Mr. Jones and saying that Dad had given me permission to climb it.
Dad whipped me so badly I couldn’t sit for hours. It was a decade before I climbed another tree, as a senior in high school and probably out of defiance. It was also about a decade before I lied to my father again. My behind needed those ten years to heal. To be honest, even today it would take a hell of a lot more than a cat up a tree to get me to climb one.
We lost Dad far too early to a variety of addictions, and he left a lasting impression on his family and everyone who knew him. While I don’t advocate for corporal punishment, I believe we’d benefit from a move back to Dad’s day when we raised our kids as a community.
Today, we aren’t watching boys climbing trees without their parents’ permission. We’re watching them shoot and kill each other at home and in the streets.
We’re watching them disrespect their significant others and abuse them physically, verbally and emotionally.
We’re watching them act out in school — if they’re going to school at all.
We’re watching them walking around in public wearing pants hanging well past their behinds.
And we’re watching our young men grow old in prisons, because we didn’t get them under control long before they became young men.
The operative word in all of that is “watching.” We’re standing by watching, and doing nothing. Or at the very least, we’re not doing enough.
This Father’s Day, let’s commit to being role models for our kids, especially our boys. Maybe we should start with our own children, or maybe we can extend ourselves to someone else’s. If you’re like me, your kids are grown and the die is already cast. But if you’re like me, you’re still young and energetic enough to keep someone else’s boy from winding up in prison — or in a premature, community-inflicted grave.
Happy Father’s Day.