Our Affirming Black and Brown Fatherhood Series continues today with divorced dad, David M. Pittman. We asked David about raising young sons, his relationship with his own father, and building a “parenting village” as an only child. To hear more from David, join us tonight, June 12 at 7 pm EST for our Conversation on Minority Single Fatherhood in Google+ Hangouts.
Beyond Baby Mamas: Did you plan when you would become a father or were you caught off guard by the news that you’d soon be one?
Elijah was a bit unexpected, but his mother and I had been planning on marriage for awhile. Ezra was very much planned (hence the five year gap between them). I was 24 when I became a father, fresh out of grad school with a brand new bride. It was, to say the least, tough. But I grew up with him, and it worked.
BBM: How did you prepare for the role? Did you have an immediate idea of the kind of father you’d want to be?
I think I always wanted to be a father. I wanted to be just like my dad, who is an excellent role model. If I could be just a fraction of what he was to me, I’d consider that a success. He’s like Dr. Huxtable, Roc Emerson, and Atticus Finch all rolled up in one.
BBM: It sounds like you two were quite close when you were growing up.
We are very close. My parents were great at co-parenting, and as an only child, they never spoiled me but definitely didn’t want me to feel as if I had two homes. I lived with my dad, and you only realize later when you have your own kids that every moment is a parenting moment. Riding in the car to church, sitting in the barbershop, mowing the lawn, making dinner. Those are all opportunities to teach your children. And interact with them. And love them. And for me, in hindsight, that’s where he excelled. Those in-between moments. Not the punishments or the rewards. He did great with those too. But the little times far exceed those.
BBM: Do you co-parent? If so, what has been your experience with it?
Yeah, I wouldn’t call it co-parenting. My stress level is better when I don’t have to interact with my ex-wife.
My partner and my friends are essential. I don’t have any siblings (not ones I grew up with) so these are like aunts and uncles. My best friend and his wife always are the ones who polish out my rough edges and help my oldest especially cope and deal. My parents live far away, but they always are there for the kids with video chatting or talking or emails. It’s good.
We could do better. We’ve come light years than what it used to be. But there still is this notion that it’s abnormal. And it’s not. When women stop me and say it’s so good to see a young black man with his kids (I am notorious for wrestling or kissing or tickling them in public), I say thank you, but I wonder why. I see black men with their kids all the time. I love going to their schools and helping out.
Also, there’s more support for black moms (especially middle and upper middle class mothers). I remember this group Mocha Moms that my ex-wife used to go to, and it was wonderful, but I thought, why isn’t there a group like this for dads. And I then I didn’t think about it too much after that.
Love them. Be honest with them. Show them affection that is 10 times greater than any punishment you give them. You are not just the enforcer. You can love and nurture as hard as a mother can. Don’t be hard on them (especially sons) but don’t let them think the world is easy. Doing this is like planting a seed and watering it. Eventually your kids will be dying to spend time with you.
BBM: What is one specific way in which fatherhood has changed you?
I am unsure. I’m sure I have. Besides the generic not selfish, forced me to look inside, I really don’t have much. I’ve grown for sure, but I’m still the same person I have been. Now with kids. Which makes me more awesome.
David Pittman is 33 years old and lives in Silver Spring. He’s a project manger with the Department of Homeland Security. Most importantly, he is father to two incredible sons, Elijah, 9, and Ezra, 4.