By Shawn Robles
In order to understand fatherhood one must understand the progression from boy to man to gentleman. It is my belief that to be father a man must become a gentleman. A dad is NOT always a father, but a father is always a dad. The difference between being a dad and being a father is a dad is product of biology and legality while a father is product of the experiences and development of his children. A father is not bound by genetics nor the law, but by responsibility and duty.
Fatherhood is a matter of integrity, commitment and pride. Fathers are the honor guard of gentlemen, charged with nurturing, educating and defending the next generation. It’s why a man’s journey, as well as how it shaped him, is important not only to his ascension into becoming a gentleman, but also as the foundation of their fatherhood. A boy who has a dad or men in his life who are dishonest, unable to commit and/or disrespectful has an unstable foundation since kids tend to emulate what they see and hear. It’s the same for a boy who has an absentee father.
One saving grace is the possibility of these boys having a father figure at some point in their lives to help heal their wounds. Male pride can make this a tricky thing to detect and mend. It’s not a matter of those boys, young men and even grown men who are hurt not wanting help; it’s that they do not know something is not right or how to ask for help. Furthermore, even if they get help it does not erase what happened; it simply serves as a reminder of what not to pass to the next generation.
I layout fatherhood not based case studies or hypothetical situations, but based on my life. My dad was not a gentleman and that remains so to this day. His only good deed in my view is giving me siblings. While my dad was not present much, others, who without deliberation, took up the task of ushering me out of boyhood. Chief amongst them was my maternal grandfather, whom I knew as Pa. Pa was a World War II veteran who preached the value of a college education even though in his day the highest valued education was 8th grade. In addition to Pa, there was his brother, my great uncle Alphonso, who always knew someone who knew someone else who could help. It took me awhile to understand that over time my uncle had helped a lot of people and in turn they wanted to help him. Even with Pa and my Uncle Alphonso guiding me, I did not want to be a dad or a father. That all changed when I met my wife’s Uncle Lucky.
Lucky had 13 kids of his own plus the ones he took in and those he mentored. All his kids knew where he was and he was able to see them whenever. Lucky was not rich in material ways, but his children, by blood or not, were his regardless of what anyone said. This helped me to rationalize adopting my wife’s sister, Jennifer, as much as you could rationalize being 23 and adopting a 14 year old.
My wife, Jessica, was going to adopt Jennifer with or without me, but I felt this was something I had to be a part of officially. When she asked if I was in on the adoption, it was like a hypnotist snapping their fingers. The answer was clearly yes. I had to be her father. I wish I could tell you it was all peaches and cream, but it wasn’t. Yet we never gave up on each other. One thing I promised Jennifer is no matter what I said, I would explain myself. This is the integrity of a father. Five years later, our son Terrence was born with Cerebral Palsy. Try imagining a doctor telling you to make arrangements cause your son will not make it. Forget the weight of the world, existence itself is dropped on our shoulders. Despite the anger, tears and frustration, there was no running for me. My son needed his father. This is the commitment of a father. Our daughter, Marlena has only been on this Earth a short time, but she is an amazing kid — the cutest kid ever, happy as can be and surprises me everyday. It’s hard not smile around her. This is the pride of father.
Born and raised on the island of St. Croix, Shawn’s mother named him after Sean Connery (she didn’t like the spelling) after seeing him in several James Bond movies. Growing up Shawn lived with his mother, grandmother, an aunt, and two brothers in the house his grandmother owned. They never wanted for much. His grandmother and mother instilled in them that they should always make due with what they had, and what they always had was family. After finishing high school, Shawn attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology where he met Jessica, his wife and dearest friend. They will be celebrating 10 years of marriage in August 2014. At the age of 23, Jessica and Shawn adopted her sister, Jennifer. Five years later they welcomed their son, Terrence and this year they were blessed with their daughter, Marlena.