TheBlackManCan is headed back to the midwest as we focus on Fatherhood this week. The Brother that we bring to you today has an amazing story. This Black Man is doing some positive and remarkable work around Fatherhood in communities across this country. We have the distinct honor and privilege of introducing Colbert Williams. Colbert is the founder of The Evolution of a Son to a Father. Colbert sits down with TheBlackManCan to discuss being a single father of four, developing positive self-identity in Black Boys and advice for young fathers.
TheBlackManCan: You did not meet your father until you were 29 years old. Can you share your own experiences growing up without him and how it felt to meet him? How is your relationship with him now?
CW: Growing up without my father left me with a lack of identity and worth. For many years I questioned everything about me. Who was I? Did I look like him? I even wondered if I sounded like him. The absence of my father’s presence prevented me from seeing my own. I looked for him inside of every second, minute, hour, day, month and year. And most importantly I looked inside of me hoping I would find him. It wouldn’t be until Thanksgiving Day of 2008 that I would meet the man that I now call father, for the first time. That day will forever be imprinted in my mind and heart. I was excited and sick to my stomach all at the same time. I pulled up in the drive way, got out of my car and hugged my father—another first. In that moment I was not a man, but a little boy who had been awaiting his father’s arrival for many years. It is that moment that created ‘The Evolution of a Son to a Father”. My father resides in Kentucky and I in Michigan, so it’s distance that prevents us from seeing each other as often as we would like. I love my dad and he loves me. He calls me and has come to visit me several times. He’s a good man. Now, I no longer have to search for him in me, because I have found him.
TheBlackManCan: You had your first child at 16 and now raise three boys as a single father. How has this experience been for you?
CW: There are days when I ask myself what am I thinking? What in the world made me believe that I had what it took to raise two more? The only answer that keeps coming back to me is purpose. I understand that being a father is an honor and I hold my position with high esteem. The experience of fatherhood for me has been about letting go of fear, of shame, of past hurts and embracing love. That’s what fatherhood forces you to do; it goes against everything that people describe as being a man. I have had to learn how to communicate my feelings. I have learned to talk about my hurt, my fears, and my poor choices. I have even had to learn how to hug more. (I, mistakenly, thought that at a certain age men stop hugging their sons.) The hardest part of this experience has been me looking at me and realizing that I am imperfect, that I make mistakes and I have to be honest about them. That’s what this experience has been for me.
TheBlackManCan: How do you raise boys to have a positive self-identity of themselves?
CW: One, I start by asking questions. Then I become an active listener. The best question to start with when asking about self-identity is to say, “Who are you”? What makes you, you? Or who are you vs. who you want to become? Typically I have received responses of I don’t know! Or what do you mean? These questions arise because now they are starting the critical thinking process. Within that moment of time they are thinking of ways that make them unique. And I help them explore that side of themselves. I am often surprised that many young people have no idea what self-identity means. I challenge my sons to do something different. My role is not to bestow self-identity on them but to expose them to things that they can try that build on their identity. I teach them to feel good about taking action. My goal is to help my sons explore their uniqueness so that they can have a greater impact on the world around them. I often ask this question, How will you impact history?
TheBlackManCan: What are some of the most important lessons a boy needs to learn as he leaves boyhood and enters manhood?
CW: A boy needs many things, however, to enter into manhood these six things are essential:
- Strong identity
- Sense of self
- Sense of community
- Sense of gender
- Awareness of his culture
- Spirituality Base
TheBlackManCan: Can you tell us more about the notion Choose vs. React?
CW: Sure it’s very simple. I have the right to choose how I react. So I first have to acknowledge and accept that I have a choice. So I choose my outcome.
TheBlackManCan: What is Evolution of Son to a Father and why did you choose that name?
CW: The Evolution of a Son to a Father is my journey. It’s my story of growing up without a father, then becoming a father, and how I turn my sadness and grief into my motivation to help young men become great fathers. The name came from my awareness of the son inside of me who wanted to be fathered. Even as a father, there’s this boy inside of me who longs for those lost moments and missed lessons that were never received. When you grow up feeling like you have missed something significant there is an evolution of thought that is required of you in order to grow past it. And in so doing, we have to come to a point where we accept the things we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can.
TheBlackManCan: Can you provide us with a synopsis of the workshops you provide?
CW: My workshops are created for African American males centered on topics and issues that men are currently facing. The workshops and trainings that we cover are Health Disparities in the African American Community, Violence Prevention, Career Exploration, Leadership & Character Building. As well as providing Supportive Tools for Fathers, Adjudicated Youth and Youth aging out of the Foster Care System.
TheBlackManCan: Raising two black boys is a demanding responsibility. Why did you decide to raise two more through adoption?
CW: Well I say why not? If not me then who? I understand the need. I see the destruction of not having anyone who you can count on. There are so many children awaiting adoption and so many children displaced from their siblings because there are not enough families who believe that they can Foster or Adopt. Kids who age out of Foster Care system are likely to end up homeless on drugs or incarcerated without major support. So again I ask myself why not? To be honest with you, it’s my life that has been impacted by these young men. I thought that I was helping them out. I discovered that it was me who needed the help. I have been exposed to every emotion within me. They challenge me, they expose me to myself. And I have learned that being transparent is the key to raising boys to men. There’s nothing I would change because in the end it’s never really been about me. It’s about them. In our house we use a saying, “The more you know the more you owe” I hope that when my son’s become men, they live that mantra, which I believe will make this world an easier place to live in.
TheBlackManCan: What can single mothers do to ensure that their children don’t become a statistic?
CW: That’s a good question. I would have to say that mothers have to be aggressive in their efforts too parent children in every area of their lives. So many of our children are bombarded with images and messages that do not reflect their culture and history in a positive light. So a mother raising children alone must be well equipped for the battle. A mother needs to start with nurturing the gifts and talents of her children, observing and listening to what they love and enjoy doing. Then she must position them. Find places that provide training and support for those gifts and talents. Encourage them to be different. When a child experiences a new opportunity it provides them a new lens to see the world through. But most importantly it allows them to feel good about themselves. Self-confidence, self- worth and self- esteem are all major components to ensuring that children don’t become another statistic. A single mother must create opportunities for her children to engage in cultural events, it provides a sense of identity and pride for one’s history. Children must be equipped with a set of principles (values and morals) so that when they are faced with a difficult choice or road block they can make a sound decision based on their personal beliefs. Mothers need to create a safe and non-judgmental haven. It should be the place a child returns to that allows him/her to express themselves and make mistakes without fear of judgment or retaliation. It is truly my belief that it takes a community to help in the rearing of children so it is very important that a mother finds positive role models for her children. There are three things that I believe parents can do to steer their children toward a successful life. One is having a set of positive principles that your family lives by. Two is making education an important priority in your family. Finally, it is the knowledge that unconditional love is the key to sustaining a loving family.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice can you provide to young fathers?
CW: As I reflect on my experience as a teen father I wish that someone would have told me the following:
- It’s ok to be scared of the unknown. I knew I was going to be a father however I had no idea or image that reflected that word. So I was scared and I masked that fear with shame.
- You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Give yourself permission to make those mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life. Don’t beat yourself up. Mistakes are how we grow.
- Own it. Accept it. Change it. Responsibility is a hard thing to understand when you are a young father. Know that the first step of being a father is first realizing that you are one. The next step is to find a father who you think is a successful one and ask him about his role. I have learned that if you want to be rich you have to do what rich people do. So this method can be applied to everything you want to do or become. Duplication is ok.
- Healthy support- Know the difference between your homeboys giving you advice and people who have been where you’re headed. I learned that just because my friends were also teen fathers didn’t mean that they knew how to be a father. To be honest with you, we all were bonded by one common theme: we all came from homes where mom was the head of house hold. So how could I rely on the advice of my friend who didn’t have a dad nor did he even participate in the rearing of his own child.
- Accountability Friend- Part of being a father is being accountable. Effective fathers have accountability partners in their lives. Often these partners are wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grand-parents etc. Your job will be to identify who that person is and allow them to be your support. Supportive people in your life will give you sound advice and will hold your feet to the fire so to speak when you feel like throwing in the towel.
- You are worth more. Know that you are more than a paycheck. Your child needs support and money helps support the needs of children. However your love, time and presence are the gifts that will ultimately shape the life of your child. My mantra is “The Best Gift a Father can give is his Presence”.
- Stay in school. If you are currently in high school– graduate. If you are attending an Alternative High School– graduate. If you are earning your GED– Get It!! And then go to college. The best way to support your child is through the advancement of your education. Without your education you place your child at risk of living in poverty. Education is the passport to the future, for “tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”. (Malcolm X)
- Remember the old saying “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. That means that our children do what they see us doing. An effective father understands that his behavior plays a role in the way a child sees himself. Children often do what they see and not what you say.
- Watch what you say. Did you know that the best weapon to use against someone is words? The first words that are heard by a child are yours. Words have power and when used out of frustration and anger they can kill self-esteem. An effective father nurtures and develops his children’s self-worth and self-confidence.
- Your Word is your Bond. Never say something you don’t plan to follow. I remember a time when my uncle told me, he would pick me up from home and take me horseback riding. I waited for him all day, with my excitement sitting beside me. My uncle never showed up and I had never felt so disappointed in my life. So imagine being a child waiting for your father, who said he was coming, and then he never showed. An effective father keeps his word.
- Unconditional Love- Your child will always love you. They are the ones who will never judge you, no matter what you do. They will love you unconditionally. An effective father knows that. And will take off his many masks to reflect that love back to his children.
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