Choosing the Journey of Fatherhood
I am 63-years old, a minister and head of a national organization. I have years of community, political and professional experience too lengthy to describe. Yet I am still growing into the most rewarding and challenging role I have ever chosen to undertake -- that of fatherhood. This role is especially challenging because my son has had a drug problem for 18 years.
Every day I think about my son. I no longer have a sense of guilt, but I have asked if I could have done anything differently. My own response to the question is no. I did my best, I did all I could do.
I grew up in a patriarchal, Southern family. A father was a good provider and I was that. My children had everything they wanted, but they didn't have me. At one point I had three jobs and the weight of a mistake many men today make - giving things and not giving of themselves. Many times I have said if I had it to do over, I'd make sure they had what they needed and what they needed was me.
While I bear the burden of my child's addiction, that burden has made me a better servant. He has helped me to realize those things that are out of our control as parents I can preach and counsel to people who have similar problems with a greater understanding. I now say we have to allow our children to find their own way; but, not alone, and not without our love and support. My son was blessed to have two parents and a wise mother. She taught me that we were both responsible for a loving and supportive home for all our children. Consequently, my years of experience as a father, husband, and Pastor, confirmed this.
My journey with my children has touched every aspect of my life, including my work as president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. For most of us fatherhood really is a choice. When one makes that choice, he must choose to be responsible for the choices he's made. Fatherhood is being more than one who participates in procreation. It is a deep appreciation for life, a giving of oneself, and helping another individual to grow, to mature, to take on values you feel are important. Fatherhood is from conception to birth to adulthood. And fatherhood is also about a responsibility to make sure that the women in our lives have access to adequate reproductive health care that includes, but is not limited, to access to a safe, affordable abortion.
Fathers need to make sure they provide their children with a healthy image of a man that is beyond companionship. "Real men" don't wait for an organization to convince them that they need to be connected to the lives of their babies. "Real men" do much more than sire children to bolster their self-esteem. The projects of the Black Church Initiative are sensitive to the needs of young men and male participation in sexuality education. At the National Black Religious Summit III on Sexuality in Washington, D.C. July 7-9, we are inviting and encouraging men and boys to be fully aware of the great responsibility they have in all their relationships. We will continue to bring young men in the classrooms at religious institutions who are opened and desirous of conversations about these issues, conversations that are in the presence of peers, clergy, and young women. We are helping to create opportunities for wholesome relationships when both young men and women, youth and elder, have the opportunity to dialogue openly about sexuality in a faith context.
As a father, minister and politically active citizen listening to young people, I stand at the vanguard. I must continue to make sure the assumptions of our youth, especially our young men, are based in reality. I must continue to ensure they have events like the Summit at Howard University School of Divinity, where they can gather to discuss the impact on their lives of unplanned teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, substance abuse and sexuality education. I must work so that there are settings to talk about being strong, being male, being partners, being brothers, being uncles, husbands, friends. These are times to talk about men who make responsible reproductive choices.
Places of worship are appropriate for faith based dialogue about sexuality. Faith communities must continue to open its doors to the youth on his way to manhood, and the substance abuser trying to turn the corner to accept his rightful place as contributing, responsible community members. It must make the connection between spirituality and sexuality, a valuable gift from God. The Summit is another place where those who have been lost and crying in the wilderness, can be found. It is a place to come "to love thyself". It wasn't there for my son, it is, in its third year, however, there for yours.
As for me, this work is an extension of the constantly maturing love I have for my children, and now my grandchildren and the children of the village. Every day I feel blessed that I am a father to all my children, that I'm still on this journey, and that I am faithfully, prayerfully, pro-choice.
The Reverend Carlton W. Veazey is a Minster of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Veazey is President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, founded in 1973 as a national organization of denomination and faith groups that support reproductive choice. The Religious Coalition launched the Black Church Initiative in 1997 to assist African American clergy and laity in addressing teen pregnancy and other sexuality issues within the context of African American culture and religion.
Published in In Motion Magazine July 22, 1999.
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