Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Baby Boy Legacy




I was going to jump back into political discussion but I have to get this one off my chest. I wish I was making this story up. I wish.

So yesterday I'm walking through my neighborhood (Harlem) to go to the barber shop. Ah, the barber shop; one of the great bastions of contemporary discussion in the black community. You can always count on an interesting discussion in the barber shop. This day proved to be no exception.

So I get there, check with my barber to see how many heads he has in front of me, and then I take my seat and listen to my iPod while I wait. A few minutes later, a 50-something year old man comes and sits down beside me, and another younger brother, who turns out to be his 31 year old son, sits down beside him. The reason why I knew that he was 31 is because he constantly referred back to this fact during their conversation. Even though he said he was 31, his face looked much older, like he was 41...I took this to mean that the brother must have had a rough life.

They sit down and have a long silence until the 31 year old says something to the effect of "now that I got you here there's so many things I wanna ask you but now I can't think of anything." This, coupled with their general awkward body language led me to suspect that this was probably one of the few times in life that they had actually ever met.

So the son breaks the ice and starts off by talking about his "baby mama" who doesn't speak to him anymore, and the dad is chimes in with some random advice on baby mama's that I didn't quite pick up b/c I was trying to block them out. I turn up my iPod, but I can still hear them talking loud and clear right next to me over the music. So finally I say screw it and just turn my iPod off since apparently I was supposed to hear this convo.

So the dad says to the son with a straight face regarding baby mamas "when your mom told me about you I told her don't be coming to me with that kid shit. I ain't got no kids. I was a young single man out there playin the field. I had a nice ride, had all the ladies, I didn't have time for that kid nonsense."

And then the son, hearing this, actually gets excited and says "yeah I bet you had all the ladies, huh pop? You was knockin 'em down right?"

And then the dad, fueled by the son's recognition of his pimp-dom says "Oh yeah I was knockin 'em down. Hell I still got it..." and then proceeds to talk about how he was the man, he had this, he had that, blah blah blah. The son is eating all this up, like he's listening to a prophet or something. And then the son says something that made me look over at the dad sideways...the son says:

"Yeah, when I was 15 I ran in to uncle [name I can't remember] and gave him mom's number and told him to give it to you so you could call me. And then mom said 'don't hold your breathe' but I didn't wanna hear that...and every time the phone rang I would run to see if it was you calling, but then after a while I realized you wasn't trying to call so I quit trippin on that." You would think that for a son to tell his dad this, the son would be really emotional about this, but no so here. He said it nonchalantly as if he were describing what he had for breakfast.

The dad's response to this was some kind of down-playish type comment that showed no real type of remorse or even the faintest hint of recognition that his own son just told him that he waited for a call from him that never came.

Then the son says "so after that is when I started selling crack out on the corner...mom was trying to told me to quit but I was bigger than her then so she couldn't say much...then I caught my case and got locked up for 7 years and when I came out that's when Tisha (baby mama) was there lookin out for me, takin care of me, cookin for me, doin my clothes, but then after she had my son she picked up weight and I lost interest and started messsin with Tiana (current girlfriend) and she do whatever I need done, took out her 401k to pay for my car, let me stay at her crib when I lost my apartment..."

And the dad then starts chiming in with enormous adulation for his son upon hearing the characteristics of these women and the situations that the son has created for himself with them.

Then the son says "and you know, I'm 31 now, I'm thinking, you know, I'm gettin up there, gotta good clean legal job now, I'm stayin out of trouble with probation, doing my thang, got this young dip now taking care of a brother, so I'm thinking about getting married."

The dad instantly jumps in with an emphatic "nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Don't get married, son. They change on you. Look, she takin care of you now right? Let her keep takin care of you then. You don't wanna mess that up. You put a ring on that finger and she'll start trippin like the rest of 'em."

And then the dad proceeded to tell about his many stories with his many women and how he is dating some lady currently who doesn't trust him (wonder why?) and all this jazz, and continues to give his son life advice on what appears to be a life that he has been absent from for most of his son's 31 years of life.


Maybe 7 or 8 years ago John Singleton made this movie entitled Baby Boy which explores the phenomenon of how young black men grow up today often without the benefit of a father in their lives and wind up becoming apathetic the point of dependency, thereby requiring women to take them in and do all of the things that they could do for themselves if they were so inclined to do so. Singleton aptly named this the "Baby Boy" phenomenon, because a grown man is acting like a baby.

So as I'm sitting there waiting to get my head cut, I am just shaking my head in disgust at the father-son transference of Baby Boy syndrome that will likely be handed down from the 31 year old to his new born son who still lives with the baby mama who he is no longer attracted to or on speaking terms with. This kind of thing gets under my skin to no end. I had the benefit of being raised by my father but I recognize that so many of our brothers our there have not. And it seems like the cycle keeps going. Seeing something like this actually motivates me to be a better big brother to my 17 year old brother who's still at home and also motivates me to make a conscious effort to really be there for my kids should the good Lord see fit to put any in my life at some point in the future.

I don't know if an example of the Obama's will have any more of an effect today than the Cosby's had in the 80's but it seems as if there is a serious disconnect here with our brothers out there and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

So my questions are:

*Why is this baby boy legacy still being handed down from father to son in record numbers in 2009?

*Do women also play a role in facilitating the baby boy legacy?

*What can we do (if anything) to end it?

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