My Riff on Fatherhood

[Dwayne Betts]

I pride myself on being a dad. Feel like the height of my success is my little young 'un seeing me brush my teeth on a regular basis, which might be a low standard of success--except, fatherhood, for me, is rooted on being there. And I woke up this morning thinking that I've yet to really publicly talk about this circle of madness I'm now in. To talk about these hot coals that I'm told I must walk over. Imagine this: you get invited to lecture at a university. You're excited. You're amped. You're sicced up. Then you realize you have no babysitter. You fret, but you say to yourself, "It'll be cool to take little man to see me work." Forget the fact that he's two, that he's not all that interested in seeing you work. This is father-son time at its best.

So I take him. All the way out to Baltimore with me. His day care is in D.C., so we had a bit of a hump to make. Now mind you he's potty training, and I wanted to throw a pull-up on him, but they said putting a pull-up on a baby that's potty training is like handing a open bottle of Guiness to someone on the wagon--so I did the daddy thing, I grabbed two extra pairs of underwear and some extra jeans. But come on now, you know I got those things "in the event of," not with any expectation of the event happening.

I get to the school in Baltimore. Shout out to Sojourner College. The class was filled, brimming, overflowing with black women. There was one man there, but true soldier though he was, he was really providing the support for his wife, watching the children as she studied. Anyway, I digress. My son is there, and he's cool. He's chilling why I talk. True, he drops some Chex Mix on the floor and proceeds to ask me to help him pick up each piece one at a time, but that happens. We were straight (sidebar: I copped Jelani's book just cause he said screet and scrait in a bio). But we were straight, until he went behind the podium.

I thought it was a sign of brilliance. My son preparing to follow in my footsteps. A talking. A haranguer. Poet laureate of Swann Rd. No dice. One of the wise women on the front row looked at me, "Is he okay?"

I'm like, "Is he okay? Is he okay? He cool--hold up, wait, what's the smell, ah noooooooo."

And this is fatherhood right here. He looks at me, "Daddy, I gotta go potty." Kids are really good at giving you that piece of wisdom five minutes too late. Anyway, we went to the bathroom, and I managed to clean him up and clean out his clothes in about ten minutes flat. A true feat, for me.

Back in the room I was asked, "What will you do if your son starts to bend the wrong corners like you did?" I stared at her. My fingers still seemed to have a trace of my boy's number two, though I'd just washed my hands and his hands six times. "Are you serious?" I told her what I'd gone through in the bathroom. Told her about catching little homie's throw-up on the side of 50 headed to Annapolis one day. Told her about catching him as he jumped into the pool like he could swim. Then I told her again about the potty training. The washing out of underwear by hand. Told her I'd remind my son of those days--said that gave me the right to see him to 25 and a career or a college graduation by any means necessary.