May 18, 2017 – Today is my son’s 18th birthday. Today ends his childhood status in the eyes of society, and he can now be treated as an adult. Today I am reminded again that I have missed his entire life due to my extremely long prison sentence.
The last time I saw my son was in 2002. He was two-years-old and struggling to be potty-trained. Now, he’s a grown man, with a voice so deep it intimidated me when we first got back in touch.
For years I struggled through my sentence trying to keep in contact with him. This was back when phonecalls were six-dollars and some change, and my change wasn’t coming in this fast. During this time in my life I received misconduct after misconduct for nonsense. The “hole” was a place where I lost myself, and slowly my communication with him faded away like my youth. As the years turned into a decade, I began to feel helpless and useless – avoidance therapy was the only way I knew how to deal with certain issues. I psyched myself out by believing that he was better off without me since his mother had married and moved away.
One day a letter slid beneath my cell door, there was no return address on the front. I opened it up to see a small note scribbled in barely-legible handwriting. I was excited – then fear and embarrassment rushed through me. It was from my son. His grandmother had found me on the DOC website. Apparently, he’d been asking questions about me, and she thought it was time he got the answers straight from the source.
I remember being confused – I didn’t know what to say to him. I sought advice from a few other guys who I knew had teenage children. The first few conversations we had were awkward – he gave one word answers, and listened silently to the point where I wondered if he was paying me any mind. I was lost.
There’s a program in Graterford called “F.A.C.T.”, which stands for Fathers And Children Together. This program was created by the prisoners here to help men become better fathers, and build, as well as maintain, relationships with their kids. You’re taught fatherhood skills, like effective communication – which I needed. We also hashed out certain self-defeating issues that prevented most of us from establishing healthy relationships with our children.
Admitting your faults, and sharing your personal life with a bunch of convicted murderers, robbers, and drug dealers was very terrifying. Evenmore frightening was going back to the unit and speaking with this 13-year-old boy. Attending and enduring the long lectures and personal group discussions was worth the knowledge I gained. I never received a visit with my son during the two cycles I sat through in the F.A.C.T program, but the insight into manhood, and being a father, was very conducive in building the relationship I now have with him.
During one of the F.A.C.T sessions, a facilitator spoke about children being angry at incarcerated fathers. I wondered if my son was upset with me. I thought about my own father, how he got hooked on crack and disappeared from my life for months at a time. Over the years I grew to resent my father for being an addict. At times I wished he was in jail, like a few of my friends’ fathers. To me, at that time in my life, being in prison was more respected than being a crack-head; coming around occasionally with your cheekbones poking out of your face, your clothes battered and dirty, and your shoes rundown. Remembering this, I told myself my son couldn’t be mad at me.
The next time we spoke, I asked my son if he was upset with me. At this time, I still struggled to bond and build a relationship with him, back when he would just listen and not talk much. To my question, he answered “yes”, he was upset with me for being in jail and not being there for him. I felt tiny. The lifestyle choices I had made led me out of my son’s life, and it wasn’t respectable – he didn’t care. Incarceration wasn’t an acceptable excuse, if there is one for being an absent father.
Fact is, a child needs a father to grow up properly, like a plant needs sunlight. A boy growing into a man without a father is like a plant growing in the dark. Is it possible? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem too healthy. What I am sure of is that a boy needs a man’s light to guide him, instill in him the morals and integrity an honorable man is supposed to have, teach him the lessons you’ve learned the hard way so that he doesn’t have to hit his head as hard as you did.
Growing up, I told myself that I would never subject my child to the neglect that my father subjected me to. I would never abandon my responsibilities. I’m reminded of the popular statement: “Death Before Dishonor”. Is the honor strictly related to criminal activities, or is an honorable guy honorable with his family, as well as his friends? Who comes first? Because a man can be arrested, keep his mouth closed, and have his respect increased immensely. That same man can have kids he knows to be his and not open his mouth to teach them, open his wallet to feed them, or raise his hands to protect and shield them.
Over the years, these thoughts have been running through my mind, and I’m reminded of the first conversation I had with my son’s mother when I was first arrested. She said: “You ain’t think about us”. That was who I should have considered first when I was still free.
This morning I called my son to wake him up on his 18th birthday – to let him know that he’s not a boy anymore, and that he should take life seriously and think about his future. Over the years, I’ve been beating these things into his head on the regular. Today, on his 18th birthday, he took it in stride, like he always did. I asked him about his plans for the day, and he told me he has a job interview at Walmart. I felt like all the long talks we had over the years were working. I got goosebumps.
When we ride for our homies, our blocks, our cities, we never consider or think about our sons and daughters learning to ride a bike. Being a man of integrity, honor and principles, is not being the man holding the seat of their bike, coaching them on.
An absent father is an absent father. A child doesn’t care if you’re in jail, or if you’re somewhere strung out, or drunk. All they notice is that you’re not available. Time is more valuable than anything else in the world, so who will yours go to?
While writing this paper, my son has been hired at Walmart, graduated from high school, and is scheduled to start college in the fall. I let him know how proud I am. He’s humble and doesn’t truly understand the magnitude of his accomplishments in life.
Most young black men don’t graduate from high school. Most don’t make it to the age of 18 without being touched by the long arm of the law. Kids with incarcerated parents have a higher chance of being incarcerated themselves. My fear is my son being bit by the same wolf that bit me, so I will continue to be the light shining out from this cave, preventing him from following my footsteps inside.
|Terrance Tucker EZ7394|
P.O. Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426-0244