Dear Medium: I Present to You…Three Sons

Eric Brown | July 29, 2017

I can’t be your son anymore, he said. I asked him why. With a huge smile he said, because I’m a father now.

Being a man is hard. The expectations society has for the male species are strict. A man learns to burry emotion deep. He is expected to be strong. A man is required to work, and make decisions. Sometimes the work is hard, and the decisions are even harder; but he is not allowed to complain or make excuses. It’s hard enough being a man, and throwing in being a father doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, fatherhood is so scary, that many men avoid it at all cost; and when it happens, some skip out on the duty all together. This is one story told from three different persepctives. Three sons. Three genrations. One recourring theme. This story is for the men we call dad, because we’ve learned how hard it is to earn that title.

***

As a young boy, I listened to my father intentionally. His voice was deep and his words were wise. But more importantly, I watched my father. I watched him as he laid cement. I watched him while he drove big rig trucks. I watched him when he smoked weed. I watched him when he fought my mother. Yea, I watched him.

So when my brother and I, were waiting in a barbershop, and my father’s face pixelated on their small TV… I felt prepared. “Turn that up!” one barber said. The news reporter briefly shared the details of his story; and soon, everyone was able to watch my father.

Nobody in the barbershop knew I was his son. And honestly, I didn’t want anyone to know. My brother and I remained silent, as the men in the shop, one by one, began to side with my father’s misfortunate dilemma. “I would’ve done it too,” one man said plainly.

That summer, I watched my father go to prison, and for 8 years, I learned the difference between a father, and a father figure. You never know what you’re capable of until you are put in certain situations.

***

But this story doesn’t begin there. Although, the summer of 1997 was a turning point for me and my family — we learn more when we shift further left of the timeline, and climb a little higher up the family tree. Although I never had a relationship with my father, I was a son before I was a dad. That’s obvious I know, but I find it important to remind people that we are a sum total of our environment and the lessons we learn.

Doing hard time didn’t begin with me. The penitentiary has been sort of a rite of passage for the men in my family. I also watched my father fall prey to the criminal justice system. During the summer of 1965, I was a 16 year old boy in the streets of Cleveland. My father, at the time, was a club owner and drug lord. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Learning how to be a man looked differently for me, than it did for other boys my age. You cant replace the man that shares your DNA. You are him in more ways than you realize when you’re young. Yet, I tried so hard to find someone that could take his place. It couldn’t be my step father, because I disagreed with how much he drank. It couldn’t be any of my teachers, because I didn’t even like going school.

***

The other day, they asked a question to us at work — I work for a large tech company — “What are you afraid of?” Our manager probed. At first, someone quickly admitted to their fear of spiders. Everyone laughed. I too can relate to that. One of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, is Arachnophobia.

But then, someone was brave enough to share a deeper fear. Their fear of speaking in front of a group. And then additionally someone shared their fear of not being financially secure when they’re old. Then another, shared how close he was, to being one of the boys that enter our store wearing mask and running out with expensive merchandise. And as we went around the room, my coworkers revealed their deepest darkest vulnerabilities. Yet I… kept mine to myself.

I find it strange that I feel more comfortable sharing, here on Medium, what I couldn’t share in a room of 15 coworkers. I think this in part due to the fact that although I’m still mistaken to be in my early twenties, I feel like Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in that movie, The Internship. My fears are far deeper and complex than even my 20 something year old connection manager.

What am I afraid of? Well, my biggest fear is that my son won’t ever get to know how awesome of a father he has. Although he lost a lot of time due to prison, my father was good; but I’ve always been obsessed with being the greatest.

In August of 2011, I met a girl name Saki, while we were attending Arizona State University. I couldn’t believe that was her real name. As the usual “when Harry met Sally” story goes, we started spending a lot of time together.

It wasn’t long before we were squinting our eyes at two pink opaque lines, and double checking the instructions on the box of a pregnancy test. After long debate, and a scheduled abortion date, we decided to have the child. We went to every doctor visit. We took the lamaze classes. We followed read books, and followed the diet to the letter of the law.

At the same time, we argued constantly. We isolated ourselves from one another for short periods of time. We learned that we had fundamentally different upbringings and philosophical viewpoints. Major language barriers and cultural ideas began to tear us apart.

We played this game for 9 months before calling it quits. She moved back to Japan approximately 2 weeks before the due date. On September 7, 2012, my son took his first breaths.

They would later return to the states when he was 8 months old. I still remember the first time I was able to hold him. I drove out to Los Angeles to get them. He was tiny and smelled like diaper. He looked at me with his huge eyes as if he already knew who I was. I cannot describe what it felt like to be a dad.

In February of 2014, she decided America wasn’t the place she wanted to live. anymore, so she left. Again. She packed all their things, and I drove them to the airport, and said goodbye.

***

Obasaan says, “To become a man is necessary; replacing your dad is not.” I’m not sure what that means. I don’t actually know what a dad is. The person my mother says is my dad lives in America. I don’t know much about America, except that it’s far away from Tokyo and they speak English. I don’t know much about my dad, but he’s cool, because he owns a car!

Every Christmas and tanjobi, I receive a box full of clothes, toys, and a card with words I can’t read. Mother explains to me that the box is from my dad. She says that someday he will come to Tokyo and visit me. I hope he does.

I remember seeing him on my mother’s phone. His face is dark, and he has hair on his lip and face. He sounds different than the people here, but for some reason, I remember his voice. He makes me laugh a lot, even though I don’t know his words. I showed him some of my favorite toys. He was seemed surprisingly interested in everything I showed him.

***

There’s a sense of sorrow which hides in my tone whenever I talk to my son; because he’s not able to have his son in his life. I recognize this feeling as I was locked away in prison.

I deeply regret the decision I made that landed me there. Not for what I did necessarily, because I still stand by my self defense stance, (no matter what the court system decided).

I took the life I promised to give my boys. I didn’t want them to experience the bullshit I experienced as a young man. Every good parent wants better for their kids. You wish to give them the world.

I never had a college degree, so I was proud when my son graduated with his Masters from Arizona State University. He’s the first and only of my boys to achieve that. I guess he actually listened to me when he was young.

***

Like I said in the beginning, being a man is hard. I never knew that someday I would be reduced to a box relationship with my son. I stem from generations of sons without their dad. The goal of this story was to show how three different generations can produce the same exact story. I’m a sum total of my past, and the lessons I’ve learned. I wanted to break the cycle of fatherless sons in my family, but the cycle seems to be strong as ocean floor.

I’ve changed a lot since my son has been gone. I feel a deep void that can’t be filled. I worry a lot more now. I worry if he’s doing fine. I worry that one day he will think his dad didn’t love him. It’s true what people say. Your mindset changes after having a kid. Literally, everything I see reminds me of him. Therefore he is everything to me.

***

How did I become a box

I just want to be your dad.

But two hearts

Shattered like glass,

Have not made It easy.

Didn’t know my father who

Lived right next to me.

But we’d crowd

Ourselves respectively

In his Buick down to Selma.

He didn’t know his father too

Lost along the way.

But they’d find

Each other in some ol’ cabaret

Dressed just the same.

Sons learn from their father

How to be a dad.

But sometimes

The teacher leaves the class

To help us find the answers.