I still remember where I was when I found out I was going to be a father. I was sitting in a chemistry lab class at Clayton State University begging over text messages to my now wife to tell me what “we need to talk” about. That joy can only be rivaled by witnessing the birth of both of my children. Growing up, I could not wait to become a father. It was my opportunity to give everything I ever learned to MY children. It was an opportunity to write MY own story. It was my opportunity to fix MY childhood.
Everyone who knows me knows who my dad is but only a handful of people know who my father is. Growing up, I liked it this way. It made me feel “normal” to have a dad and be apart of a family. I was born Nicholas A. Taylor. My last name was different from my family and it drew questions at a young age. Questions that I did not have an answer for and made me feel out of place. When I changed my name to Harris, I felt like I belonged and I felt like I wasn’t an odd ball. As life went on, the “elephant in the room” always seemed to show. My high school graduation was the first time I remember having to explain to my close friends that I had a father who was different from my dad. My father came into town and nobody knew who he was. I hated how it felt explaining the situation mostly because I was confused myself. I did not know and still do not know til this day what happened between my mother and father. My mother made sure to tell me “If I ever wanted to know, she would tell me”. I always said I never wanted to know what happened but deep down inside I had my questions. Was he a deadbeat? Was my mom crazy and ran him off? Was it me? Am I the reason? You can imagine the mental toll it takes on a teenager to battle with figuring life out and feeling like no one truly understands what you are going through. The allure of “having it good” with a full family but having these questions in the back of your mind that you really aren’t sure you wanna hear the answers to. I made sure to mask these insecurities with laughter. I made sure that no one would ever think I had these problems. Making others laugh took the attention off the issues I refused to face. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to cause any friction between my mom and dad. I didn’t want any old memories to be hashed up. So I played it safe and kept it under wraps. Safe is comfortable, safe is ignorant to reality, safe isn’t always the best method.
I like to think that raising a child is a lot like baking or cooking. It’s an unusual analogy but follow me. The ingredients are your experiences, your mistakes, and your wisdom. As a father it’s on you to take your past, learn from it, and teach your children what you know. You have experienced what they are going through and 9 times out of 10 you know exactly how they feel. You know this because they come from you and they are made from the same genetic foundation as you. I sit and watch my kids do some things and I know exactly why they did it, right or wrong I know that they are that way because I am that way or I was that way. Recognizing yourself in your own kids makes a world of difference. This is something that I did not learn until I had kids of my own. So when I speak to my analogy of baking/cooking, I think back to the times when me and my dad used to bump heads in the house. My dad did his best to raise me but he truly did not understand why I did some of the things I did. That is ok. Raising someone else’s son is like going into a kitchen that somebody else was already cooking in and trying to figure out just what the hell they were making by using only what was left to show. There’s no cookbook, no instructions, no manual, you just have to figure it out as best as you can and finish the meal using your style of cooking. He did not know what my ingredients were. He didn’t know what I was made of, he didn’t understand why I did some of the things that I did because maybe he never did it. Maybe he never thought that way or looked at life from that angle. And that’s ok, because he did his best and I came out fine.
Everybody knows who my dad is and that is not an understatement. I can not count the number of times I’ve been out and about in the city and somebody stops me and says “You Mike’s boy?”. From supermarkets, to basketball courts, to even the bouncers at a nightclub. Everybody knew who I was because of who he was. My dad is a true stand up guy. People gravitate to him because he truly loves all and hates not one. There is literally nothing that my dad can’t do. My dad is my hero. Most people have Superman or Batman as their favorite superhero but I have Michael Harris. He is my favorite basketball player of all time. I grew up watching him play and it never got old. The love I have for the game of basketball came solely from him. Basketball has since been my safe haven and my place of comfort whenever I feel overwhelmed in life or stressed out. My dad introduced me to personal escape from life. My dad used to tell me that he could jump on the roof of the house and I believed him. We would be outside and once I turned my back he would say “Look look !!” and when I did turn around he’d say “ahhh you just missed it, I’ll do it again tomorrow”. Listen, I truly believed that this man could jump on the roof, that’s how much I looked up to him. I strongly believe in giving people their flowers while they are here and this is what I am doing. My dad is the best and I love him for everything that he has given me.
Growing up, the only thing I know about my father was that he worked for the President on Air Force One as a flight attendant. He would travel the world and send me postcards from all of these beautiful places on Earth. This was before Google so whenever I saw a place I never heard of I would go to a globe and spin it around to find where it was. I found myself collecting those postcards in my bottom drawer and every time I added one to the pile I would say to myself “I gotta go there one day”. I never wanted to be a flight attendant but as fate would have it that’s exactly where I am in life. A flight attendant that travels the world and gets to see all of those places I saw on those postcards and in history books. I do believe my desire to travel came from those postcards. It’s amazing how something like that can be instilled in me even from afar. I thank my father for that. Traveling the world has shown me a lot about myself. Experiencing different cultures and learning about different people from all over has been a very rewarding gift that many do not get to have and I am thankful for that. As an adult, I became able to fly for free with my job and I would go visit him from time to time. Over time I started picking up on subtle character traits that we shared. I would find myself sitting there just staring at him like “damn, that’s where I get it from”. You know how dumb I felt thinking I looked like my mom all those years and I was his twin. We have connected more and I was able to make sense of a lot of those questions I had.
Why do I like food so much? Cuz this dude likes to eat all day.
Why do I feel like I’m such a ladies man? Cuz this dude is checking out the “hot mamas” every other block we walk.
Why am I such a cornball? Cuz he’s a cornball lol.
Growing up, I never wanted to be like him. I never wanted to talk to him. He wasn’t there when I was at my lowest moments. He didn’t know who I was. He didn’t deserve the right to be my “father”. But the reality is I am like him and I do need to talk to him. I need to know who he is so that I can truly know who I AM. I tried so hard to be different but failed to realize that I had no idea who it was I trying to be different from and ended up being just like him. I can tell when my father wants to “have the talk” about what went on or why he wasn’t around. My son will soon be asking me these questions and I want to have those answers for him. I need to hear it but it is not my responsibility to make that happen. I have children of my own now and it wasn’t until I got to the point in my life where I asked myself “Am I only with my wife for the sake of my kids?” that I looked in the mirror and understood. I understand that in some situations it may be better to step away from a relationship for the sake of your children’s sanity. A toxic relationship can damage a child. If you force yourself to stay with someone “for the kids” it can do more harm than good. Kids feel that energy, they feel that love, and when it isn’t there they pick up on that as well. Regardless of what the outcome may be, I owe it to my children to be the best version of myself. They need to be able to look at me the way I looked at my dad. The hero. Am I the best Dad? No. Do I make the right decisions? No. Can I do better? Of course. That’s the beauty of life, the ability to change. They should never have to deal with any form of “identity crisis” or worry about why no one seems to understand them. My promise is that as long as I live they will never have to.
So why the hell did I write all of this? Mainly because I had to get it out of my head. I wanted to write this months ago but I felt like today is perfect for it. This is therapeutic and I feel relieved putting it in words. But this is also for you. For the mother that thinks it’s better to keep your son away from his father because you are upset/bitter. For the man who feels overwhelmed at the thought of becoming a father and feels like running away is the best option. For the man who loves that woman but not sure if it’s worth it to take in her kids as yours. For the man who holds that burden of an “absent father” and becomes angry at just the very thought of him. I pray that this reaches you. I pray you understand the effect of your decisions in the long run. Protect your thoughts and hold those responsible accountable for your sanity. If you are blessed to make things right while they are living, get those answers you are owed. If you don’t feel this is doable, write it down. Get it out. It will free you and make you feel better. This is OUR opportunity to change the narrative. This is OUR opportunity to right whatever wrongs may have happened. This is OUR opportunity to become greater.
Happy Father’s Day,