Cory Maxson (Jovan Adepo) and his Father Troy (Denzel Washington) share tension-filled stare-down in this scene from the critically acclaimed movie “Fences”

Meeting My Father For The First Time

Navigating identity and growth in my relationship with my father.

I turned 21 in January, and just two days after celebrating another year of life I decided to stop being afraid. It was on that day I finally met my dad. Until today, he was just “my dad”, never more than that 5 letter phrase I used to label the man that biologically allowed me to exist. The possessive “my” only used specifically to denote this particular individual’s relation to me. See, he is other “dads” as well, and I believe that all of us born of his desires, but not necessarily through them ,each have our unique meaning behind that five-letter phrase.

But today he has become more: the silhouetted figure I’ve “known” for the last 20 years of my life took shape for the first time, forming first eyes and smile when I said “I want us to start over”. It was a “smile” that I’ve seen many times before in different situations and one of I’ve grown accustomed to relating with my mother’s pain and disappointment; but this time was different. When he smiled at me, the truth that I, now 21 years old and a senior at a top college, am everything done right despite his wrongs, made this act the physical embodiment of his regret. He could no longer hide behind years of ignorance and dependence on others for I now sit across from him, stroking beard in one hand and holding a corona in another. For the truth in asking if we could “start over” was that it was out of kindness; he had long made the realization that we have never really begun.

Seasoned by the sprinkles of father/son time over marinated feelings of shame and humiliation, I was finally real to him and it was about time he became real for me. In those three hours he continued to take shape like each word was an instruction to a 3-D printer, molding a body to the stories and emotions from our conversation. I learned of his history of struggle, his anger for his father, his necessity to run the streets, and his regret of never learning what it really meant to father a son. “In doing all this time was flying” he tells me, “and I didn’t realize how little time I had”. Though I knew what I was getting was finally some “truth”, I couldn’t shake my old habits of denial. With each sentence I pressed for more detail to catch him in a lie, to catch his slick Harlem talk he’s been known for; but that would’ve been too easy for me. Too often I accepted false words and for so long I lingered in his shadow. Not because he was some momentous figure to me, but because it was the closest thing to his embrace. The only part of him that I didn’t feel detached from. I’ve always “known” my dad but I never knew him and through fear of being pushed further away, I never asked too many questions because I desperately wanted some time, even if that time was more of a suspension sorts until I was reunited with my mother (and actual father), it was something. But today, I sat clear-headed and poised and now it was my time which was desired. I had left his shadow some time ago, and now caste one of my own.

The question then, is why did I decide to seek this relationship? Because too often we are robbed of the things we want without our say. As black children of America we are forced to settle for the scraps left by mainstream institutions and governing bodies as they devour our culture, our family, and our essence. My dad never “knew” his father, and his father before him, in part to their own actions but also to the powers that be which dictate the life chances of black men. I wanted to take my choice back. I wanted to choose, this time, to have what I wanted and choose whether or not I wanted to keep it. Many black boys don’t have the opportunity to choose to know their father and I would be remiss if I did not make use of mine.

So I sat with my dad, so that I may take back those lost years and lay the foundation for new beginnings on equal ground. He may not be able to be my “dad” anymore, but I believe he could still be my friend.