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Men In America
Wed July 2, 2014
Learning How To Be A Man, From Mom
Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 8:29 am
This story is part of All Things Considered's "Men in America" series.
Though my mom and dad often were on the outs, I'm not one of those kids whose dad was absent.
My dad was there for graduations, to teach me how to ride a bike, to see me make accomplishments. My dad was there as a sounding board, as more of a disciplinarian. But my mom was the breadwinner, who I consistently saw get up in the morning and go to work. She spent a lot of time telling me how men are supposed to be respectful and that they're the providers of the family.
My dad always received government assistance, which contributed to the family, but he didn't have to work for that money. I just knew it kind of came every month. At 10 years old, I realized that I had started to surpass my dad academically. We would go to the doctor, and instead of him filling out the paperwork, he would make a joke and say, "Why don't you read this, and you fill it out?" but that was really him saying, "I can't read. I need you to do this for yourself, because I can't do it for you."
I remember being younger when my brothers and I would be with my dad, and we'd be riding in the car. We would see a girl, my dad would hoot and holler, and my brothers would join in. I would sheepishly sit in the back seat, like, "I'm gonna tell mom!" I've always been different from my brothers in that sense.
My dad would also spend extra time making sure my brothers did those "manly" things around the house while my mom taught me how to cook. She taught me which cleanser you use to clean the bathroom. I know the birthdays, I know when rent is due, I know how to make a money order. My mom, from an early age, taught me how to keep the house in those kind of ways. I grew up resenting my dad a lot because he wasn't this stereotypical dad, and my mom filled that role.
My mom was this incredible woman who provided for us, made sure we ate, made sure we always had a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. She busted her rump to do that. And in 2009, when she died, my brothers, my dad and I were forced, by circumstances, to move in with each other again and live under the same roof. We just couldn't afford the house my mom had got for us before she passed.
Soon after that, I was being a brat and told my dad, "I don't wanna move," and I was being real nasty with him. He got really loud and said, "You have to understand — I'm not your mom! I'm not your mom. The things that used to fly with your mom don't fly with me. So this is a new page."
In a way, he was saying, "I really hope you paid attention to those lessons your mom was giving you. I really hope that you know how to be independent."
Because I've had to learn how to become a man in such a roller-coaster way, I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose from the way my mom was trying to raise me into this man, and to learn from my father's mistakes.
It has made me stronger.
Derek Williams, 22, is a reporter for Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif.
This story was produced by Youth Radio.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This week we've been hearing about boys and their role models as part of our Summer Series on Men.
MAX MENGENHAUSER: When you think of a man you think of your dad. When I was little just becoming your man was being able to make your decisions, like, independence.
JULIAN ONYEKWERE: My dad he's a physician and I wanted to be a doctor as well, I still do. He was a provider. He worked so hard, he still works hard.
CHAD FISHELL: My grandpa, uncle, dad, you know, you watch how they live their lives and you kind of want to take a few things out of their notebook. You know, you want to do things that they have done in their lives and implement them into your life as well.
SIEGEL: That's Max Mengenhauser of Rosemont, Minnesota, Julian Onyekwere of Macon, Georgia, and Chad Fishell of Raleigh, North Carolina. All young men talking about the older men they look up to.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Twenty-two-year-old Derek Williams shares some of their sentiments about manhood. He was raised in Richmond, California - the youngest of four siblings. For him, being a man means to step up to the plate, to take on certain responsibilities, to work hard, to be respectable. Derek says he learned those lessons from his mother. Here's his story.
DEREK WILLIAMS, BYLINE: Growing up, I lived in a two-parent household with my two older brothers and my older sister. Though my mom and dad often were on the outs, I'm not one of those kids, whose dad was, you know, absent from their life. My dad was there for graduations, to teach me how to ride a bike, to see me make accomplishments. My dad was there, I guess, as like a sounding board - you know, as more of like a disciplinarian. But my mom was the one who was the breadwinner that I saw - you know, who I consistently saw get up every morning and go to work. My dad always received government assistance, which contributes to the family, but he didn't really have to work for that money. I just know it kind of came every month. At 10 years old, I realized that I had started to surpass my dad academically. We would go to the doctor. And instead of him filling out the paperwork, that the doctor office would give you to fill out, he would make a joke and say why don't you read this. And, you know, you fill it out. That was really him saying that like I can't read. I need you to do this for yourself because I can't do it for you. I remember being younger, like me and my brothers, and we would be with my dad and we'd be writing. We would see a girl and my dad would hoot and holler. And like my brothers would join in. And I would like sheepishly sit in the backseat - and like, I'm going to tell Mom. I've always been different for my brothers, in that sense. My mom - she taught me how to cook. She taught me - this is the kind of cleaners that are used to clean a bathroom. Like I know the birthdays - I know when rent's due. I know how to make a money order. I grew up resenting my dad a lot because he wasn't this stereotypical dad. And my mom was that. My mom was this incredible woman, who provided for us - made sure we ate, made sure we always had a roof over our head and clothes on our back - like she busted her rump to do that. And in 2009, when she died, me, my two older brothers and my dad were forced by circumstances to move in with one another again. We just couldn't afford the house that my mom had got for us before she passed. And like I'm being a brat and I'm like telling my dad, like I don't want to move. And I'm being really nasty with him. And he gets really loud. And he was like, you know, you have to understand, like I'm not your mom. I'm not your mom. The things that used to fly with your mom don't fly with me. So it's like this is a new page. In a way, he was saying I really hope you paid attention to those lessons that your mom was giving you. I really hope that you really know how to be independent. Because I've had to learn how to become a man in such a roller coaster way, I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose from the way my mom was trying to raise me into this man and carry information from the way my dad wasn't being a man. It has made me stronger.
BLOCK: Derek Williams' story for our series on men's lives was produced by Youth Radio.
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.