Why I don’t want to be “Fat Dad” anymore

The reality is that I am not happy being fat. I don’t like the way I look in the mirror when my clothes are missing in action. I don’t like getting winded when I do regular tasks like walking up stairs, picking up my kids, or moving in general. I don’t like hating how I look in every picture I take, because my face, or stomach, or side, or legs look huge.

With my kids, I am notorious for saying that I am “fat” nonchalantly in a funny, self-deprecating way. I often tell them “Don’t be fat like daddy!” as a warning of what can happen if they eat too much and don’t exercise. I do all of this, but I can see I am sending mixed messages. I often say this with a smile and a confidence not befitting someone who actually regrets his life choices.

The reality is that I am not happy being fat. I don’t like the way I look in the mirror when my clothes are missing in action. I don’t like getting winded when I do regular tasks like walking up stairs, picking up my kids, or moving in general. I don’t like hating how I look in every picture I take, because my face, or stomach, or side, or legs look huge. Mostly, I hate this feeling that this is how I am supposed to look since I am getting older.

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“My greatest fear is that my sons listen to me, look at me and decide that it is perfectly normal to grow increasingly unhealthy when they get older.”

My greatest fear is that my sons listen to me, look at me and decide that it is perfectly normal to grow increasingly unhealthy when they get older. They will just jokingly tell their kids what I tell them and think that being overweight and making terrible eating choices is their right and privilege as a man. I think about what James Baldwin said about children being terrible listeners but never failing to do exactly what their parents show them. I can honestly say I have been a terrible example regarding health, eating and fitness. I know that continuing down this path is a death sentence at worst and a life of health complications and burden upon my family at best.

Black men develop diabetes at rates eighty percent higher than white men and are almost twice as likely as white men to die from heart disease.  The rates of cancers and kidney disease are also astronomical when compared to the broader population.  While there are socio-economic factors that contribute to our negative health statistics, I believe the major factors at play are poor eating habits and lack of meaningful daily exercise.  We can control what we consume. I can control what healthy foods I eat and what poisonous processed foods I avoid.  I have allowed myself to establish a dangerous pattern of not caring about the nutritional value of my food, as long as it satisfies my taste buds, while I sit and mindlessly eat and drink.

“Black men develop diabetes at rates eighty percent higher than white men and are almost twice as likely as white men to die from heart disease.  The rates of cancers and kidney disease are also astronomical when compared to the broader population.”

My father passed away suddenly last year of a heart attack.  He was just 61 years old.  He had been overweight for years, but was in great shape most of his youth going into early adulthood.  It was after he became a father that he started to gain weight and eventually stopped working out like he used to.  The thing I think about over and over is the fact that when my father was my age he was not as close to how heavy I currently am.  He gained weight over time, but not as drastically or in the dimensions that I have.  If I don’t make a significant change in my habits then I may not even make it to the age he was and I know that would deeply affect my family and would not be a way to truly honor his memory.

So I have decided to make a change. I am committing to losing 100 pounds by Thanksgiving Day (November 23 this year). To do this I am going to cut out sodas, processed fruit juices, junk food of all kinds and processed foods in general. I will commit to drinking large amounts of water weekly, working out at least 20 minutes per day, walking everyday as a routine, and consistently eating healthy throughout the months. This is my #ThanksgivingChallenge and I am excited to start this! This is for me, my sons, my wife, and for anyone else who needs to make a change but is afraid to start. Walk with me on this journey and let’s see where we end up on the other side!

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter and Instagram @RealRickMcCray.

Let’s Talk Activism! A Conversation with Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU Pennsylvania

As protestors evacuate Standing Rock, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturns the phasing out of private prisons and Trump orders mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, I knew there was no one better to help dissect our role in this changing society than Reggie Shuford, the Executive Director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania.

I met Reggie Shuford as an intern at the National Legal Department of the American Civil Liberties Union when I was 23 years old. At the time, he was the Senior Staff Counsel in the Racial Justice Program, and I was a summer intern. Prior to taking the job, I courted another offer from the National Legal Department of the NAACP.  It was a hard decision but I chose the ACLU because of their broad base of representation.  At the time, they were evaluating Patriot Act challenges and just gaining momentum in the fight for marriage equality. I wanted to be part of that think tank, no matter how small.

I had the privilege of being paired with Reggie as my mentor.  What struck me about Reggie was his depth and thoughtfulness.  You could have a discussion with Reggie and see his wheels turning. Like most great legal minds, he had the ability to dissect an argument from all angles and reach conclusions based in knowledge and compassion.  During my time, I learned a great deal from Reggie. Most importantly, I learned the significance of calculated actions and reactions.

As protestors evacuate Standing Rock, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturns the phasing out of private prisons and Trump orders mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, I knew there was no one better to help dissect our role in this changing society than Reggie Shuford, the Executive Director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania.

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Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?  Where do you currently reside?

I was born and raised in Wilmington, NC. I currently reside in Philadelphia, PA. Before moving to Philadelphia in August 2011, I lived in Oakland, CA, Brooklyn, NY, and in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, NC where I attended college [and] law school.

Q. Have you always known you wanted to devote your career to social justice? Was there an impetus in your life that propelled you in that direction? 

I decided I would become a lawyer around age six. I was an inquisitive child. Whenever we received visitors at home, I would ask them lots of questions about themselves – their likes and dislikes, hobbies, favorite color, books, relationships with relatives, etc. More than one suggested that I sounded like a lawyer. It dawned on me that, if one could ask questions for a living, then I would do that. Of course, asking questions is just one part of being a lawyer! Representing clients and advocating on their behalf is another. I also grew up in a very poor, racially segregated environment. Although I did not know it at the time, Wilmington, NC, had been home to a race riot in 1898. That legacy persisted, even if it was unspoken. It also impacted one’s opportunities, or lack thereof. Given the social, economic and racial disparities I observed growing up, I decided I would commit myself [and] my legal career to one of social justice, with Thurgood Marshall as my primary inspiration.

Q. What has been your greatest victory?

Surviving a childhood of poverty and limited opportunity with my spirit and dreams intact and having been able to achieve many of my personal and professional goals, which involve advocating on behalf of the marginalized or mistreated.

“I… grew up in a very poor, racially segregated environment. Although I did not know it at the time, Wilmington, NC, had been home to a race riot in 1898. That legacy persisted, even if it was unspoken. It also impacted one’s opportunities, or lack thereof. Given the social, economic and racial disparities I observed growing up, I decided I would commit myself and my legal career to one of social justice, with Thurgood Marshall as my primary inspiration.”

Q. What has been your most difficult defeat?

I have felt defeated whenever I have represented clients, particularly in race discrimination cases, and not been able to achieve the outcome they deserved. That said, I try not to let any one defeat define me and, on balance, I think I have had far more victories than defeats.

Q. What motivates you to keep going?

Need. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I see my job as a civil rights lawyer to help bend the arc towards justice. Until America becomes a truly equal and just country, for ALL of its residents, I will continue to do what I do.

Q. Aside from the legal profession, what profession/professions do you feel best serve issues of social and political injustice?

I think so many professions play a role in advancing social justice. The political system, when it is functioning well, plays an important role. The media, when it performs its role as an objective arbiter of facts, is also crucial. Teachers are critical in teaching us the skills and bestowing upon us the knowledge we need to be informed, productive, civically engaged citizens. Non-profit organizations often fill the gap in services between government and for-profit corporations. And so many more! Really, no matter what we do for a living, I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure our country lives up to its founding ideals.

Q. In today’s climate, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of injustice. Especially if you lack a legal education or formal means to fight injustice. How do you suggest the average person participates in effectuating change?

The first thing we should do is know our history. Think back to the Civil Rights Movement and before, where many activists did not have a legal education. Most activists still don’t. A legal education is just one of many tools to combat injustice. We all need to recognize what tools we do have – a voice, a network, a job, a car, an idea, a blog, an email account, a bank account, legs, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the ability to sing, dance, draw or make art, the right to vote. Those are just a few of the tools most of us have at our disposal to use to fight injustice. Many of us have a lot more.

Q. Rallying and protesting are often depicted as a dangerous way to participate politically. Protestors are categorized as rioters and police often resort to violent means of subduing discourse. In your experience, is protesting appropriate for children? As parents, how do you suggest we teach our children to be socially and politically engaged?

I love a good protest and have been heartened by all of those I have seen in recent months, reinvigorated in part by Black Lives Matter, to send a message about the importance of equality, justice and human rights. In fact, the organization where I work, the ACLU, was founded in 1920 in the wake of the so-called Palmer Raids, when the federal government, fearing the rise of communism, began detaining and deporting alleged radical leftists. The very earliest strategy recognized the importance of protests: “Rights can be maintained only by insisting upon them  — by organization, protest, demonstrations, test cases in the courts, and publicity.” Whether a protest is appropriate for children will depend on the nature of the protest. While most protests are probably appropriate for children, parents should use their best judgment to make sure that is the case. Likewise, parents can lead by example in terms of teaching children to be socially and politically engaged. I think it’s both a responsibility and a gift to do so.

“A legal education is just one of many tools to combat injustice. We all need to recognize what tools we do have – a voice, a network, a job, a car, an idea, a blog, an email account, a bank account, legs, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the ability to sing, dance, draw or make art, the right to vote. Those are just a few of the tools most of us have at our disposal to use to fight injustice. Many of us have a lot more.”

Q. Since Donald Trump took office in January, he has signed a number of executive orders that have had a direct impact on the national and international community. First, what impact does an executive order have? Can our system of checks and balances prevent presidential overreach? As a community, which of his orders do you think we should be paying the most attention to?

The authority of a president to issue an executive order derives either from the Constitution or statutory enactment by Congress. In order to be legal, an executive order must not exceed a president’s authority and must comport with the Constitution or statute. The judicial branch can review an executive order to determine its legality. So, for example, the executive order issued by Donald Trump related to immigration – what some have deemed a ban on Muslims – was put on hold by a few federal judges and struck down by a judge in Washington state, which was ultimately upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump has said he will not appeal the court’s decision and plans to issue another order. We will look to see what the new one involves once it is issued. In terms of which other executive orders to pay attention to, I think all of them. There is reason to be concerned about the impact of existing or potential executive orders on many people – federal government workers and contractors, members of the LGBT community, women and their right to make decisions about their bodies and families, those who engage in dissent, communities that have had a fraught relationship with the police, and so forth.

Q. There is a current vacancy on the Supreme Court as the result of the sudden death of Justice Anton Scalia in February 2016. President Trump recently nominated Hon. Neil Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge from Colorado, who has been likened to Scalia. Gorsuch’s confirmation seems like an inevitability.  Are you concerned about Gorsuch changing the current court? How likely is it that the new court will reverse prior decisions that seemed to be settled law? Can the average person impact the decisions of the court?

If Judge Gorsuch models his career on Scalia’s, I do believe there is cause for concern, both in terms of future cases and for certain decisions that are considered fairly settled law, like Roe v. Wade. Reversing prior decisions does not happen often, but it does and can happen. Generally speaking, Justice Scalia was no friend to women and minorities, and was opposed to abortion and affirmative action and supported the death penalty. The primary way for people to impact a Supreme Court nomination is to vote for presidents and representatives who reflect their values. Once the president nominates someone, the Senate will ultimately vote on that person.

Q. Comedian Steve Harvey met with President Trump and received a great deal of criticism. He explained he felt as though “we” needed a seat at the table. In your opinion, is there room for cooperation with the current administration?

It depends on the agenda and/or specific policy proposal. Is the goal of the meeting sincerely to help people? If so, cooperation may be possible.  Or is the goal to harm, marginalize, or stereotype certain people? Or is it self-serving, to provide an appearance of interest and concern, with the true, unstated goal of deflecting criticism? Also, who is being offered a seat at the table? Friends and those who agree with Trump or those with subject matter expertise or someone who might offer a perspective different than his?

“Whether or not a child – or anyone, for that matter – engages in civic unrest, everyone should know their rights when attending a protest or interacting with the police. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way.”

Q. Many of our readers have children who are tweens or teens with some autonomy and they may be eager to participate in the civil unrest. This can be particularly concerning for parents in our community because our children are often targeted and profiled by police. What advice would you recommend a parent give a child eager to get involved?

Parents have to make these calls for themselves, knowing their children, the current political environment in which we live, and the long history of police brutality in our country. They should also be mindful of anarchists who attend protests specifically to cause disruption and commotion. Their activity often puts peaceful protestors in a bad light, when they are unfairly painted with a broad brush, and can lead to violence. Whether or not a child – or anyone, for that matter – engages in civic unrest, everyone should know their rights when attending a protest or interacting with the police. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. Visit your local ACLU website for relevant and helpful know-your-rights information!

Q. Any final words of wisdom/advice?

Know your value and never settle for less than you deserve. Dream big and follow your dreams until you achieve them! Be nice! Others tend to remember how you made them feel, more than they remember your job title or how much money you earn.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye is also the author of I am loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children available in paperback and on Kindle here. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Finding Inspiration for Our Children in Trump’s America

While distraction would be easy in trying times, I think it is crucial to teach our children to lean in. You may not be raising the next Maya Angelou but it’s still important to teach our children to think and learn outside of their perspectives and process the world in terms of solutions, not just problems. Here are a few tips to get your children thinking creatively.

Donald Trump was elected President of the United States the day after my third son was born. I have to admit, my husband and I were happy to be in our little bubble. In some ways, it seemed like the whole world disintegrated into mass hysteria and it would have been easy to join in except… we had this perfect little bundle in front of us with head full of hair and perfect peachy lips.  While to so many the future seemed bleak, for us, the future seemed blindly bright.

Unfortunately, reality caught up with us. When we got home, our sons had questions. They had trouble processing the outcome of the election. We live in a fairly liberal community. To them, Trump’s election meant the world was about to become a really scary place. We wanted to maintain their optimism for the world they are growing in while at the same time keeping them firmly rooted in reality.  The fact is, historically, this country has overcome greater division and our people have survived greater turmoil.  Not only have we survived, we have thrived.  For instance, the Harlem Renaissance was birthed in the early years of the Great Migration when millions of our people (including my grandparents ) were fleeing the Jim Crow south for a better way of life. The movement included Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington.  The Black Arts Movement grew in response to the Black Power Movement in the Civil Rights era following the assassinations of notable black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Fred Hampton. Without it, we would have never known the work of Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Nina Simone and Maya Angelou.  In response to the crack cocaine epidemic in the eighties and draconian drug laws that fueled mass incarceration, we birthed Hip Hop. While there is certainly a great deal to fear, the beauty in our resilience is something I am looking forward to.

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While distraction would be easy in trying times, I think it is crucial to teach our children to lean in. You may not be raising the next Maya Angelou but it’s still important to teach our children to think and learn outside of their perspectives and process the world in terms of solutions, not just problems.  Here are a few tips to get your children thinking creatively.

1. Travel

Traveling is life changing.  It shifts perspectives on life and introduces you to people and places that force you out of your comfort zone. While opportunities for international travel may not always be financially feasible, traveling can be accomplished just by leaving your home. Which, lets face it, as parents is sometimes an accomplishment all its own.  Visit local museums, cultural festivals and events. Take your children to see live music and plays. Take road trips around your state.  Give your children opportunities to diversify their perspective through experiences.

2. Walks and Hiking

I love a good walk or bike ride through the park. It wasn’t until a few complications from pregnancy grounded me that I realized how therapeutic it was. I missed the silence, the feeling of the wind on my face, and the rush of energy.  When possible, I loved sharing that experience with my kids. After my brother passed away unexpectedly in 2009, I was seeing a therapist who used to encourage me to take time to be silent. When I informed her that “silence” was an impossibility as a mom of then-two kids, she said, they need to learn to be silent too.  She was right. In an age of instant gratification and feedback, it’s hard to quiet the world around you to process your own thoughts and feelings. Kicking it old school and taking a long walk or hike gives you an opportunity to be comfortable in the silence of your own thoughts.  You learn to exercise your ability to think critically and empathetically and grow as a human being.

3. Writing and Art Prompts

My kids are very schedule oriented. They love to know what’s coming. If they don’t, mayhem ensues. On cold or rainy days when we can’t explore the great outdoors, we have a great deal of “art” time where we direct them to piles of paper and art supplies and encourage them to create. While during more frustrating moments, the directions are usually “Go write something,” when we have our stuff together, we create writing and art prompts to drive their creativity. Prompts can include anything from story starters to discussion topics.  Art prompts can include giving them an object to draw or directing them to depict a memorable experience in their life. While you can consult the Googles and find tons of ideas, you can also create your own. Writing and art create wonderful opportunities for discussion and meditation.

4. Reading

James Baldwin wrote, “[y]ou think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” Reading connects us. You may never meet a 10 year old homeschooled kid from New York City living with a facial deformity but then you read R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” and you know him. Reading introduces your children to worlds beyond their own which is an important part of building empathy.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Tears for Jordan*

One mom’s emotional reflection on parenting in the era of increased gun violence.

Featured Photo (c) Faye McCray 2016 All rights reserved.

He’s up from nap.

He stretches his long legs out over his blue and green sheets, snuggling his curly hair into his pillow.  He opens his big brown eyes and looks at me, a soft smile on his face, then he closes his eyes again, turning so his chubby golden cheeks nestle deep into his pillow.  He curls in a ball, drawing his knees to his chest and breathing softly.  He looks so tiny in his new big boy bed.  His three-year-old frame only making up a third of its length.  The rest crowded with his stuffed animal friends and fluffy comforter.

Are you up, baby?

I whisper it, kneeling beside his bed and breathing in his smell.  He smells like cookies and clay.  From the morning of playtime and the snack he just had to have.  I kiss his nose and he wipes it away, sitting up slowly.  His bare feet dangling over the edge of his bed and his eyes still hanging low from sleep.  I watch as a soft yawn escapes his tiny pink lips.  I remember him as the colorless baby, swaddled and content, nestled in my arms as I dreamed for him, wondering what his new life would bring.  Fresh steps, new soul.

Now, he reaches his arms out for me and I lift him.  Letting him nestle his head into that soft dip near my collarbone, and wrap his little legs around my waist.  I feel his body release a heavy sigh.

He is safe and he feels it.  I run my hand over his warm back, and I do too.

He fills me.  My soul forever pregnant.  Giving birth to thoughts and plans of his life and his brother’s, mine, ours and theirs.  I remember the love that made them.  The love that sustains them.  I nourish it so we witness them hand-in-hand.  I nourish my mind so I don’t miss a moment.  I dream of being silver-haired and watching the children they make, play off a country porch, their shadows dancing at sunset in a lake.  Smiling to myself, content.  Lived and full.

But now I cry.

My tears are puddles at my feet.  Joining in the streams that fill the rivers, staining the Diaspora.  For Lucia and Sybrina.  For Emmett, Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole and Denise’s Mommies.  For Hadiya’s Mommy.  For Baltimore’s Mommies.  For Chicago’s.  For Detroit’s.  For New York City’s.  For all the dreams halted by bullets.  The joy buried in caskets.  The Mommy’s whose babies they were helpless to protect.  Guns loaded with worthlessness both mandated by a careless society and perpetuated needlessly by its victims.

It’s all hate crimes.

I once again lower my head beneath a stream of water and wash a festering sore.  Hoping to rinse away the virus infecting my dreams.  The virus that worries about the evil in others, the criminalization of the beautiful brown skin love made, and the lowered expectations of every teacher under a brainwashed spell.  That virus that caused me to worry when my sons grew out of their toddler clothes because I knew it was only a matter of time before the world stopped seeing the beauty I did.  Before those kind smiles and waves from strangers, became purse clutching, eye-avoiding fear, nurtured and fostered by an unkind media and an unfair justice system.

I place a Band-Aid on the festering sore and dream awake.  The lullaby of lies is only comforting to the unconscious.

My eyes are open now.

He’s awake.

 

*In 2012, after an argument over loud music, Michael Dunn, a 47-yr old white Floridian fired ten shots into a carful of unarmed black teenagers, killing Jordan Davis, a seventeen year old boy.  Yesterday, after more than thirty hours of deliberation, a jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted second degree murder and one count of firing into an occupied car.  A mistrial was declared on the first-degree murder charge.

This post originally appeared on http://www.fayemccray.com.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Let’s Talk About Discipline

I am constantly questioning my discipling decisions. I want to raise strong men and in doing so, it is important to me they understand the consequences of poor decisions. Here are five things I have learned to ask myself when deciding whether I made the right choice.

I am constantly questioning my discipling decisions.  I want to raise strong men and in doing so, it is important to me they understand the consequences of poor decisions.  I want to get it right so I can prepare them to make better choices in the future. Here are five things I have learned to ask myself when deciding whether I made the right choice:

1. Was my decision made in love?

My father passed away this year and at his funeral I told a story about the last whooping he gave me.  It began after my sister dared me to stick my head in between the iron bars on a staircase in our childhood home and stupidly, I accepted.  To make a long story short, it involved Herculean strength from my father, Country Crock butter, screaming from my mother, lots of crying (mostly from me), and finally, a spanking.  

While I remember very little about the pain of the spanking,  I remember how scared everyone was around me, including my father.  Although my father could have chosen a different approach to disciplining me, the spanking was calculated.  He wanted me to understand the severity of my actions and never do it again.  He acted out of fear but he also acted out of love.  Sometimes we react emotionally to our children’s behavior.  That is okay.  As long as we take a moment to make sure they understand the action we are taking is also in love.  

2. Did I include my co-parent in my decision?

When my eldest son was younger, I would get upset with him for talking to his mother about “man” things.  I felt certain conversations were not appropriate for him to have with his mom, and I would tell him as much when we were in private.  My wife hated this because she wants our sons to feel like there is nothing they can not speak to her about.  By making it seem wrong to talk to their mother about certain subjects, I was limiting their relationship with their mom.

Everyone disagrees at some point while raising kids.  However, in most situations, it is safe to assume that both you and your co-parent have the best interests of your children at heart.  My wife understood I was doing what I thought was best.  However, we had to come to an agreement to ensure our boys grow into emotionally healthy young men.  Although it would be unrealistic to discuss every action you take with your spouse, it is paramount you check in regularly to make sure you stay on the same team.

3. Am I taking advantage of teachable moments?

I cringe when I attempt to resolve a frustrating moment with my boys by yelling, “Because I said so!”  That phrase doesn’t do anything to help my boys understand the reason why they should do the right thing.  My goal as a parent is to raise extraordinary men of good character.  I don’t help them get there if I am just asking for rote actions without purpose.  That would only last as long as I am in front of them.

In each mistake, there is an opportunity to learn.  Although discipline is important, be sure to take the time to explain to your children why they are being punished. Help them understand the mistake they made and why it is important to make a different choice next time.

4. Was the punishment just?

As father of three, I’d like to be fair.  However, I have learned that fairness isn’t always guaranteed.   As an example, when my children fight. My eldest always faces tougher consequences because as the oldest and largest, he has the potential to really hurt his younger sibling.  While my eldest may rail against the fact that I am being harsher with him, the reality is that the circumstances warrant it.

When I discipline my sons, I try to assess the circumstances and react accordingly.  Being just as a parent does not mean you have the exact same answer for every situation; it means you make the best choice based on the situation.

5. Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?

My children are incredibly inquisitive.  As a result, they are constantly challenging boundaries.  It is a gift and a curse. We want our sons to question the world around them.  At the same time, it would be much easier on my wife and I if they didn’t question everything.  I’ve been guilty of punishing my children out of frustration.  However, if I send my son to his room and when he returns, we are both questioning why I sent him, then that was probably not the right move.  

As of this writing, I have been a dad for a little over nine years.  I have made about 10,043 mistakes.  While I am proud of the job I do as dad, I have had moments where I could have been better.  I think its crucial to our growth as parents to constantly ask yourself, if faced with the same decision tomorrow, would I take the same action?

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

Be Good to Your Daughters

While the myth of the absent black father has been debunked again and again, it doesn’t negate the reality that some dads could be doing much better by their daughters.

In 2003, recording artist John Mayer won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for his song “Daughters.”  In it, Mayer paints a somber picture of girls with father issues navigating relationships as adults. He warns, “on behalf of every man, looking out for every girl, you are the God and weight of her world… so fathers, be good to your daughters.”  At the time, there were few things that annoyed me more than John Mayer (he was EVERYWHERE) but it was impossible to deny the truth in the song.  This year, Kelly Clarkson brought millions of people (including herself… and me) to tears when singing an acoustic version of her song, “Piece by Piece,” an emotional song reflecting on her disappointment with her own father.

I was reminded of these songs last night when I caught the tail end of Iyanla Vanzant’s reality show, Fix My Life.  The show focused on rehabilitating the so-called “Angry Black Woman.”  While the episode was everything you would expect, one theme rang true, so many of the women who were featured had issues that began with disappointment  in their fathers.

While the myth of the absent black father has been debunked again and again, it doesn’t negate the reality that some dads could be doing much better by their daughters.  My parents divorced when I was six and while my father was always present, it was impossible to ignore the void his physical absence left me with.  Luckily, I had two brothers, ten and twelve years older than me, who stepped up in ways he could not.  As I grew into a young lady and chose my spouse, here are some of things being loved by them taught me I needed.

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My brothers and I at my wedding in 2006. (c) Faye McCray

1. Be honest.

One of the more priceless lessons my eldest brother taught me was to recognize the humanity in the adults in my life.  It may seem like a simple lesson but when you’re a child, you tend to see your parents and other adults in your life as superhuman.  I think thats why it is so difficult to recover from childhood disappointment.  My brother was careful to dismantle the pedestal I put the adults in my life on… even him.  That way when they disappointed me, it didn’t crush me.

One of the most important things you can do for your daughter is be honest.  Don’t attempt to be superhuman by hiding your flaws or masking your vulnerability.  Admit when you made a mistake.  Admit when you lied. Tell her the truth even if it may hurt her.  Your honesty will help your daughter see you as a whole person.  That way when you disappoint her, and you will, she will recognize your humanity and not just see you as a liar.

2. Stand by your word.

My kids are constantly begging for things.  “Mommy, can we go here…” “Mommy, can we do this…”  Sometimes its easier to say, “Later” than “No” even if I know that saying “No” is inevitable.  The thing is, if you are constantly promising one thing and doing another, it won’t be long before your words means nothing.

In the words of Melania Trump… or First Lady Michelle Obama, “Your word is your bond.” If you say your going to be there, be there. If you say you are going to do something, do it.  If you aren’t sure you will be able to do either of those things, be honest about it.  Nothing stings worst to a young woman than disappointment.  You want your daughter to be able to rely on you and expect the same from the man she may choose to be with.

3. Tell her she is beautiful.

I had my fair share of awkward phases during adolescence.  I had a gangly rail-thin phase, a pimply phase, and a phase where my belly always poked out from under my shirt, no matter how hard I tried to suck it in.  Like most girls, it wasn’t always easy feeling secure in my body.  Some days, it felt like I would never learn to love myself, let alone find someone to love me.

Young girls are fragile. Especially girls of color.  Growing up, we are hard pressed to find images of ourself where we are symbols of beauty or the object of someone’s affection.  As a father, you have a unique ability to make your daughter feel beautiful.  You are your daughters first representative of the opposite sex.  Tell her you enjoy her smile, that the new color she painted her toes is cute, that she looks even more beautiful after browning in the sun. Feeling beautiful in your Dad’s eyes, even if just his, can make all the difference in how you cope with the many phases of adolescent insecurity.

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4. Don’t hit her.

This is pretty self explanatory, though, I know it may be controversial.  However, as a society that condemns all forms of domestic violence, I think it’s important to teach our daughters early that a man should never lay his hands on her in anger.  By saying it’s okay for fathers to hit their daughters in certain circumstances, I think we dangerously blur the line about whether it’s okay for a man to hit a woman.  If you tell your daughter no man is allowed to put his hands on her, show her you mean it by doing the same.

5. Treat other women the way you want to see men treat her.  Especially her mother.

Whether you are married, divorced or single, your daughter will see the way you treat the women in your life as an indication of how she should expect men to treat her.  If you are constantly disrespecting women, bad-mouthing her mother or womanizing, if will be difficult for her to build a foundation of trust with a man in the future because she will constantly worry he will turn into you; or worse, she will expect him to.  It’s hard enough navigating adulthood without entering it with trust issues.

If you can’t curb your womanizing ways, avoid exposing your daughter to your behavior.  Don’t bring multiple women around her.  Where possible, avoid bad-mouthing her mother in her presence.  Save your complaints for another adult.  Your daughter (or any child) is never an appropriate audience for this kind of behavior.

6. Enjoy her company.

My eldest brother used to pick me up from elementary school so we could ride the city bus home from school.  It was in the age of Kangols and boomboxes, and he would insist on sitting in the back of the bus with music blasting. Despite his efforts to be cool, little me didn’t get the memo. I would dance and act silly until it broke his facade and he was laughing right along with me.  I was too young to remember every detail of those moments, but what I do remember is how good it felt that my company was enjoyed.  As I grew older, I was confident that other people would enjoy my company too.  Even if I was a little weird.

With your own daughter, laugh at her jokes. Find joy in the things she does.  If your time with her is limited, find things to do that keep you two engaged. Don’t just plop her in front of a television or a movie and babysit her, spend actual time with her.  Find things to do together that allow you the opportunity to get to know who she is.  That will give her more confidence that she is someone worth getting to know.

7. Tell her you love her.

My nineties kids will likely remember that old Brownstone song, “If You Love Me.”  The chorus begins, “If you love me, say it.” While the song is about romantic love, that line always stuck with me. I think it stuck with me because saying I love you has never been easy for me to say unless I mean it.  My husband, then-boyfriend, was the first to say I love you.  To this day, we laugh at the memory because initially, I didn’t say it back, and his response was, “You know you love me too.”  While he was probably right, the words meant a lot to me.  I didn’t want to say it until I was sure I meant it.  Today, he couldn’t stop me from saying it if he tried.

Just as much as saying the words matter, hearing them matter too.  While arguably, showing you love someone is better, you can do both.  Tell your daughter you love her so she never has a reason to question whether you do.  If you can’t muster saying the words, write them.  Those three words are too important to be left untold.

8. Don’t walk away.

No matter how hard things get with her mother or how difficult her teenage years are on you, never walk away from your daughter.  Fight to stay present and in her life.  Even if the complexities of teen angst stop her from wanting to talk to you or make her hard to be around, never stop trying.  Love her unconditionally.  Show her she is worthy of unconditional love.

 

About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Overcoming Failure

Failure and loss are parts of life. As a child, these experiences can be devastating. Here are five tips to help your child overcome setbacks.

Failure and loss are parts of life.  As a child, these experiences can be devastating. Here are five tips to help your child overcome setbacks.

1.Failure is part of the process.

Competition, in all forms, brings up some of our prehistoric instincts of survival and tenacity.  In high school, I competed in basketball and debate.  I can still remember the rush of energy and excitement I felt preparing to compete.  If I lost, that heightened adrenaline could make it feel like the world was ending.  I felt like I wasn’t good enough, and everyone watching me fail saw the same thing.

It’s hard not to take failure personally.  Even as adults. Our job as parents is to constantly remind our children of the bigger picture.  In my case, it was to become a better basketball player and debater.  My mother would remind me that every great athlete, artist, and entrepreneur failed many times on their path to success.  With each failure, they learned something that contributed to what made them great.

2. Celebrate small victories.

My youngest son had a hard time learning to write.  He would grow frustrated, drop his pencil and claim he was “too tired” to write any more words.  We decided to work with an Occupational Therapist to get him ready for Kindergarten.  She helped in many ways but one of the things we appreciated the most was how she celebrated his small achievements.  For instance, although his ‘B’ may have still been backwards, she would praise him for keeping it on the line.  His ability to see his progress encouraged him to keep trying when he felt like giving up.

No one becomes great without practice.  The thing about practice is that it can look messy.  You try and fail and repeat until you stop making mistakes.  It is important to help our children appreciate their progress so they are able to recognize how far they have come.  That makes the path to victory all the more attainable.

3. Have fun.

Some of my greatest memories are being on the court with my teammates during basketball games.  They helped me push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.  In retrospect, it is hard for me to remember every win or loss.  I mostly remember how I felt playing the game.

The actual joy comes from the game itself.  There is always another game.  Maybe not for a championship, but when you can compete there is always the possibility you can win next time.  The ability to compete is a true blessing.  Tell them to go out there, give their best and most importantly, have fun.

4. Praise effort, not just results.

While watching the 2016 Olympics a few weeks ago, my sons were upset to see a hurdler lose her lead because she stumbled and tripped over a hurdle. The competitor dropped to her knees and cried.  Initially my boys could not get over the heartbreak of her public failure.  She was devastated and it was hard to watch.  It was easy to forget she was competing in the Olympics.  Win or lose, she had to be an incredible athlete to even qualify.

So often we are bombarded with news about winners. While it is wonderful for our children to see people doing exceptionally well, it can be misleading.  Only seeing the success creates the illusion that successful people never struggle, falter or fail.  We rarely hear about the team that won second place even though that team may be comprised of exceptional players.  Success is giving your best effort and being better today than you were yesterday.  Our children should focus on how they can improve and show a better effort every time they compete and not just the end result.

5. Remember your child is competing, not you.

I am a black belt in Karate.  I was about twelve when I started and continued practicing throughout high school.  My eldest son began practicing when he was six.  While now he is older and takes it more seriously, when he first started it was hard for him to make it through class without being distracted.  He would stare at himself in the mirrored walls.  He would pose, do spins and get overly excited when it was time to do high energy moves.  It took everything in me not to pull him out of class. I knew the focus it took to become a black belt and initially, it was difficult for me to respect that it was his process, not mine.

We can not compete for our children.  As much as we want to, we can’t go on the court and shoot their shots or tackle their little opponents on the field.  If we did, we might end up in jail.  We have to fight the urge to relive our successes or rewrite our failures through our children.  Take a step back and breath.  Remember, our children are writing their own stories and they do not need our paragraphs roughly inserted onto their page.  If you put too much pressure on them, they will feel like they let themselves down and you each time they do not succeed.

 

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.