Do you read Leonard Pitts’s columns? Is he too focused on the subject of race for you to be comfortable with his words. A person I know declares, “Race is all he writes about.”
My response is, “That’s what he knows. As an African American writer, of course, he writes about what impacts him, and this is one of the factors.
I read Pitts’s column every week in the Dayton Daily News. Almost invariably, I agree with everything he says. It’s Father’s day tomorrow, and I want to share with you a subject about which he wrote in his May 11, 2014, column.
An example he used to support a thesis of the importance of fathers in children’s lives was Kevin Durant’s acceptance speech following his winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award the week before the column was published.
The touching tribute Durant made to his mother had many in the audience in tears, including Durant and his mother. His father abandoned the family when Durant was one year old because he maintained in a 2010 interview that he was “immature, selfish; I was young.”
What is it with some men who provide sperm and little or nothing else to their biological children? Research studies conclude again and again that children with absent fathers are more likely to experience a host of problems: educational achievement, psychological development and social behavior.
The subjects I interviewed for my column today are Dr. Thomas Martinez and his son, Chantz, who just turned 17. I told them that I wanted a candid interview and was not interested in discussing the perfect father-son combo but rather one where there were/are challenges.
Matinez’s mother has been married six times, and Martinez is the surname of husband number two, a nineteen-year-old whom Thomas refers to as Dad. Dad came into Thomas’ life when Thomas was nine years old and whipped him every day with a belt until he was 17 when he kicked him out of the house. When Thomas is proud of himself (He is a professor of anatomy and physiology at Edison State Community College and the coach of the very successful college baseball team there), he thinks of himself as a Martinez. Using that name connects him with his brothers with whom he can share his successes.
His biological father whom Thomas refers to as Father is a man with the surname of Jones. When Thomas does not succeed, he refers to himself internally as Jones. His biological father taught him to avoid hard work, to be spontaneous and to use charisma, often to get over on others. His work included a variety of locations from jewelry stores to night clubs and race tracks where he “skirted the law.”
Why this difference in feeling about these two men? Thomas’ adopted father taught him to throw a curve ball and instilled in him the importance of a strong work ethic. He also concedes that when Humberto Martinez threw him out of the house when he was 17, he was drinking beer, staying out late, and being disrespectful.
Thomas went to live with Dale Whiteside, a high school business teacher. For providing this home until Thomas was 19, Whiteside required that he had to practice baseball after school, and baseball was his connection with Whiteside.
After his time with Whiteside, it was a short time in Las Vegas where he lived with his biological father and attended the University of Nevada/ Las Vegas, a short stint with a professional baseball team before he was cut, some semi-pro baseball and performing in rodeos.
But this is not about Dr Martinez’s career trajectory: this is background to give you a sense of his life and his lack of preparation to be a father when his son Chantz was born 17 years ago. Thomas divorced Chantz’s mother, remarried, and almost two years ago divorced his second wife, “She was pulling mine and Chantz’s relationship apart. Chantz didn’t feel welcome in his own home. He felt like an outsider, and I rectified the situation.”
Now Thomas tells Chantz, “I’ll always be here for you,” and Chantz says, “I think every parent should be there for their kid.”
Thomas says if he had it to do over, under no circumstance would he ever have left his son. In his absence Chantz was “doing everything he could to not be like me: wearing skinny jeans, skateboarding, dyeing his hair, making poor grades in school. Now, he’s becoming a great young man. He has direction.” He also indicates that, as Chantz’s father, he has learned to be supportive, to listen, to “know when to speak up and when to stand back and let Chantz make his own decisions- even if it means he might screw up at times.”
Chantz is a senior in high school, plays on the school baseball team, and plans to attend the college where his dad teaches and go into law enforcement. He says, “I’m really close to my dad. He knows I’m honest with him , for the most part, and I used to lie all the time. It makes me feel better as a person to be honest. And I don’t get grounded now. Before I just didn’t care about grades.”
Their conflicts now are the typical ones: Chantz’s failure to keep his room clean and that both of them, like many of us, always want to be right.
Thomas was 28 when Chantz was born 17 years ago, and he says, “I want him to be successful, to be a stand-up guy, to do what he says he will do.”
Are fathers important? You bet. Is it easy to be a good father? No. Can you do it? Yes. Should you do it? Yes. Does it mean putting your self interests aside? Most definitely.
“But I don’t have a clue” is a common response. You can learn. To start, check out these web sites: Fatherhood Initiatives (www.fatherhood.org) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://fatherhood.hhs.gov/index.shtml).
If you don’t want to go online, just ask yourself if you do the following, regularly, from time to time, or not at all: (1) spend time with your children, (2) listen, (3) show affection/caring/love with words and deeds, (4) work to support your children financially, (5) verify their health and wellness, (6) attend their events, (7) eliminate your bad habits, (8) never drink and/or do drugs and drive, (9) know their friends, (10) encourage their work in school. The first criterion, if it’s not too late, is to select the mother of your children wisely and then respect and love her.
Send comments or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.