Local Perspectives on Fatherhood
Father's Day will come and go, the men of honor bestowed with professions of love and appreciation — along with ties, after-shave or possibly socks. These expressions of gratitude, while heartfelt and meaningful, may not do justice to what it means to be a father. To get an insider's view, we asked three North Carolina fathers to tell us their thoughts about being a dad, the privileges and the demands. Concisely, honestly, and to the best of their ability, they share candid thoughts about what it means to have the responsibility and joy of fatherhood today.
Guiding toward a target
Rob Love of Durham carefully deliberates when he contemplates fatherhood — its challenges and its highlights — not because he's a lawyer by profession, but because he is a father at heart. He and his wife, Julia, are interdependently raising their three boys — 19-year-old Matthew, 17-year-old Wyatt and 13-year-old Connor.
Love draws from the model his father provided. "My dad was a nine-to-five, suburban New Jersey, commute-to-New York, Wall Street kind of guy. He was home by dinnertime, we had dinner together, and he was there most of the time."
Using his father's example as a foundation, Love has created his own parenting style. "These are different times, so there are different expectations," Love says. For example, while there are some chores he prefers over others, he does whatever needs to be done, different from his father's time, when his dad perfected homemade pizza dough, but didn't cook regularly.
"There are continuous adaptations, and Julia and I have had to change allocations from time to time," he says.
Love describes fatherhood and parenthood with a metaphor: "We're archers shooting arrows, which are our kids, at a target. If a kid drifts right, we have to shoot left. Our goal is to get them all to the same place in the end."
For example, bedtime has fluctuated among their three boys because while one can get up with no problem with a bit less sleep, another needs a little more shut-eye to function efficiently in the morning.
"The hardest thing is not treating kids the same all of the time, but we're trying to give you, the individual, what you need to be a productive citizen and grow up," he explains. That's the target, Love says. To reach that destination, "there's more discussion," he says.
But while "because I said so" may not work, there are non-negotiables. "Sometimes we try to talk it out too much, and kids are not in a position to talk it out rationally and logically. It's not necessarily productive. We don't discuss everything because the kids are not always ready to hear. It's beyond maybe what we think they can handle."
Love says that allowing his sons to make their own decisions can sometimes vex him, and his inclination may be to try to protect them. "If we'd given them more rope, maybe they wouldn't have hanged themselves. But we don't want to cause pain," he says. The Love boys have earned more rope as they have gotten older, and Love has become more comfortable releasing it.
As he navigates fatherhood, Love keeps his sights on his sons' future. "I certainly do understand that whatever I do with the kids will be used by them in their relationships with their wives and their relationships with their kids."
Father's Day has now become one of remembrance for Love since his own father's death. "I can't help but think that someday they'll be remembering me. I hope I leave as good an impression with them as my father left for me."
Winging it as a single father
Keir Christopher Deron Carney and his 12-year-old namesake interact on a level that dares one to step in between. The Smithfield father and son walk into a room together as if on a red carpet with paparazzi in tow. Son Keir has a million-dollar smile, an air of confidence and a recent induction into the National Junior Honor Society to add to his list of accomplishments. Known by friends and family as Deron, the 46-year-old father downplays the fact that he makes single parenting look easy.
"I'm doing what I'm supposed to do," Carney says. "I'm just trying to produce a positive black male. There's no copyright. Most of us are attempting to do the right thing."
He walks that talk, and is raising a well-rounded young man.
In addition to the Honor Society, Keir was selected by one of his teachers last year to represent his peers in the People to People youth leadership immersion program in Washington, D.C.; he plays baseball, football and basketball; and he is involved in his church youth program.
"I've told him that as long he handles his business, I'll try to give him some of the things he wants. Academic excellence earns him privileges," Carney says.
Carney also manages to keep an open line of communication, a contemporary twist to the way he was raised.
"I'm winging it," Carney says. But he is quick to add that he had positive models and stable forces in his life that gave him the ability to spread his wings as a father.
"I had a good father with old-school methods. I just bring those up-to-date a bit," Carney says. "We [Keir and I] have a special way of communicating. It's purely father and son and we have our own language. I'm very open in the way I explain things. We talk about all kinds of things, the whole nine yards."
While he's "winging it," Carney knows when to give his son the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging that he "can be pretty stern and somewhat abrasive, but I do have a conscience. Whenever I do cross the line, I go back and apologize because that's what real men do, even to our kids. It's the mommy stuff with a twist. When times are tough, I come at him straight and try not to beat around the bush."
Carney also admits that he picks and chooses his battles and sees himself in his son. "He's playful, and I'm a kid at heart." But his life experiences keep him grounded and remind him that he's the father, the one to whom Keir seeks for guidance and safety.
Carney strongly encourages Keir to think critically and to gauge people and make good decisions. For example, he lets Keir listen to various genres of music, but he talks with his son about the origins of the music and the musicians so that Keir's interest isn't superficial.
Some discussions are spontaneous and come unexpectedly. "That's when I stop what I'm doing. I need to tune in because they're important. I just want to let him know that I'm here. My father and godfather, if I called and I needed them, they were there, regardless of the situation," Carney says.
Carney says Father's Day means a host of things to him — that his name will be carried forth and that he's blessed "because if he were a difficult kid, life would be more difficult." But most of all, it represents hope.
"I just want him to be successful. That definition is vast. I don't knock his dreams, whatever they may be at the time, because they could happen."
Carney recalls a compliment that a fellow father gave Keir one day during a baseball game, telling him that Keir has a "warm soul."
"That's the kind of stuff that I'm working on. And I told him that I was glad to see him practicing what his dad was preaching," he says with a chuckle.
Parenting, again, with adjustments
Fifty-one-year-old Eric Bellamy has finally settled into his double role as a grandfather and father to his 4-year-old granddaughter Shamyra. As her sole provider, he takes full responsibility for her well-being, although he admits he wasn't prepared at first.
"When I realized this would be permanent, I struggled with what God wanted for me versus what I wanted for myself. Now I've accepted it," he says.
Bellamy raised his son as a single parent and now has another chance with a girl. The differences start with the very realization that she is a girl.
"They're more emotional," Bellamy offers without hesitation. But he rises to the challenge of bringing Shamyra up in a different time from the one with which he is familiar — when "no" meant "no," you didn't ask for much beyond the food, clothing, and shelter your parents were providing, and there certainly was no discussion once your parents made a decision.
Bellamy involves Shamyra in educational activities, cooks dinner, makes full breakfasts on the weekends, and takes her to the park. In other words, he puts her first.
"I like to stay on top of things, be proactive. I have to make sure I give her the life God wants for her," he says. "I'm glad that I have her now that I'm a mature man. I can be content sitting at home reading a book, and home stays with me. I taught my son that when you're away from home, you keep home in your heart, rather than being at home with your mind on the street."
The challenge is "just making sure you're a good role model, spending quality time with your children, and teaching them how to think," Bellamy says.
While deliberate disobedience calls for a stronger approach, there are times when Bellamy recognizes the big picture is more important than the battle being fought. There was the time when Shamyra wore a Tinker Bell outfit to bed and then wanted to wear it to preschool the next morning. Bellamy told her she couldn't and she couldn't understand why not. When the tears came, he relented "because I didn't want to start her day off that way."
Bellamy surrounds his granddaughter with positive female family members and friends and gives her a break when he thinks she needs one from granddaddy. He recognizes her need to be a girl and on occasion has even painted her nails.
"Most single fathers understand that they have to step up with a girl. They want her to make good decisions, learn how to avoid scams, not settle for any kind of relationship whether it be male or female. I put a lot of thought and time into raising her."
Crystal Kimpson Roberts is a professional writer and communications practitioner who has been a mother for nearly 20 years. She still consults her father for sage advice, encouragement and laughs. She and her husband live in Smithfield with their three children.