Tuesday, August 16, 2011



By Robert Ellington –“Papa Robbie”

My life changed forever at 9:32 a.m. on Valentine’s Day 2009, when I became a father.

My wife delivered a healthy baby boy, and we named him Elijah Paul Ellington, after his paternal and maternal great-grandfathers, respectively. Since Elijah was a few weeks early and delivered by Caesarean section, we spent a few days in the hospital so the doctors could monitor him and make sure my wife, Erica, was OK. Everything seemed to be going well.

About two days after coming home, Erica complained of fatigue, but we thought nothing of it because, after all, she just had just given birth. When she started having trouble breathing, I left Elijah in the care of my parents and took her to the emergency room. My mother is a retired nurse who specialized in newborn babies. Talk about a blessing! As it turned out, Erica had developed some complications that weren’t detected during her initial hospital stay.

Erica spent close to a month in the hospital, and, while she was recovering, I had a few days and nights with Elijah. I had to learn a whole lot on the fly; I must say, it was like baby boot camp. I learned what each cry meant and how to hold him just right. I figured out what sounds would soothe him and how to swaddle him to help him sleep longer. My mother helped me so much by taking care of him and showing me what I should do. My father also changed Elijah’s diapers and looked after him. It was a stressful time for sure, but it gave me a better understanding of how difficult single parenting must be.

My experience also brought me closer to my son. I believe I’m more in tune with him than I ever would have been if we hadn’t had that time together. If things had worked out otherwise, I probably would have been the occasional diaper changer and once-in-a-while formula mixer. But before I realized it, I was doing things I had never imagined I would do. Changing diapers became second nature and consoling him wasn’t the daunting task it once appeared to be. And when Erica returned home, I had to step back and let her figure out what I already had learned. I gave her hints here and there, but I allowed her to get a little boot camp action as well.

I’m not a fan of men who brag about taking care of their own children. In my eyes, that’s equivalent to someone boasting about bathing every day – it’s what you’re supposed to do! You don’t deserve an award for being responsible. There’s a misconception that a man’s responsibility where his child is concerned is all about monetary support so that the baby has food, clothing and diapers. But fatherhood is so much more. Elijah is two years old, and he’s already imitating my behavior. It is my responsibility to guide him from maleness to manhood.

A male is a biological entity whose essence is described by no more and no less than his biology. Beyond maleness is boyhood, a stage of life that comes with discipline. When he is able to say to himself, “I will not do this because it is bad,” he has a basic level of discipline.

After boyhood, we move into manhood. What separates the boy from the man is a higher level of discipline that frees the boy from being driven by impulses tied to “maleness.” The boy takes his budding rationality and is able to expand his consciousness. Dr. Na’im Akbar writes in his book, “Visions For Black Men”: “In fact, it is critical that he should be guided in the use of his yet immature reasoning so that it doesn’t get entrapped in the form of boyishness. …”

Some members of our communities are legally adults, but mentally they are stuck in the boyhood stage. My role models weren’t on TV; they were in my house. My father, mother and older sister combined to provide me with an awesome blueprint. My father is a tall man with a big presence. Genetics didn’t give me his height, but people tell me that, like him, I have a large presence. He was my guide and, before I realized it, I sounded and acted just like him. My mother gave me her gift of patience. My sister taught me the importance of respecting womanhood.

I was paying attention. Some young people suffer from “daddy damage” because of a bad or nonexistent relationship with their father. Boys learn how to treat women by watching their fathers or a father figure. Girls learn about relationships by watching the men in their lives, which can be difficult if there is no positive male role model around. The youngsters in some of our communities are paying attention, as well, but, unfortunately, they aren’t always getting the information they need from a solid family unit. Fatherhood isn’t about being a DNA donor; it’s about shaping the lives of your offspring.

Chuck D summed it up best for me in the song “Rise N Shine”:

“Make no mistake, we don't shake or stutter
So heed the word of the brothers
Who makes a boy into a man
It's the job of another man
Who knows his role as a father
He bothers to give his son his soul
And pass it on, to never front
Cause papa don't raise no punks
Got to make it known and to pass it down
Yeah, sounds like a job for the brother man now
Got to help a mother for me
Each one teach one, if you can't find one
Talk to the little ones
And you'll see they'll listen
To fill the missin’

Peace, to rise and shine.”

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