Have you ever asked yourself, what’s normal? Living in a society that’s so consumed with labels and stereotypes can make you second guess what you believe to be true.
For many people, the unwarranted pressures to fit in can lead to many destructive behaviors.
Creating an outlet to express yourself can do a lot for your confidence, as well as your self-esteem.
That was exactly the case for our Spotlight father of the week, CJ from the Normalized podcast, during our interview we were able to discuss his feelings about his father not being around much, his battle with alcoholism, his relationship with his daughters and much more!!!!
Ok, tell us a little bit about your childhood growing up?
It was me, my mom and my brother. My dad left when I was about three years old. I really don’t have too many memories of my father. Actually, the only memory that I have of my father is a black and white photo in my mind of this bird pooping on his head one day while on vacation.
My household was good, my mom had a job and I think everything was fine. I really didn’t have any struggles, she worked a lot, so I spent a lot of time with my grandfather and my cousins. Everything began to go downhill when my mom lost her job, after that it was hard, she had to work multiple jobs and my older brother did too. Me and my brother would make jokes that he was working like a Jamaican. (Laughs). I probably had my first job at like 12-13 years old, we learned early that we had to work.
It was a challenge; the water would get cut off or the electricity would be off. I got a job at a gym once just so I could take a shower there. Our utilities could be cut off for months at a time. I knew I was poor, but we still lived in the suburbs so it wasn’t like poverty. I would go to one of my boys’ house and see how nice their things were and that would make me insecure. My mom lied about where we lived so I could go to a better, wealthier high school.
I remember a lot of the kids were coming to school in cars like BMWs and stuff like that. I had to catch the bus just to get there. Because of all that I kind of kept to myself, all of that combined just made me really insecure.
That caused a lot of the issues that would later take place in my life. My relationship with my father was on and off, maybe twice a month up until the age of 12. After that everything kind of changed and became very sporadic. I didn’t hold any ill will towards him.
However, as I’ve gotten older in life, I’ve realized that kind of screwed me. Sometimes I would wonder what my life would have been like if he was in it. All I knew was my mom and brother and honestly, I couldn’t even envision coming home every day from school and a man being in the house
Ok, so growing up in that environment, I’m sure you felt like the odd man out at times. When you look back, do you think having your father there would have improved your social skills?
Yes. I think the biggest thing about me was I had no confidence. When you’re going to school and your clothes are all tattered, it’s tough. There’s that peer pressure, the social pressure around you. Even when it came to simple things like affording a haircut. My hairline was always messed up and when you black, your hairline got to be tight.
So, if friends had jokes when they would clown me, I internalized it. When I came home, I never had a father to say, “don’t worry about it you good, you my boy.” I feel like that really affected me. I began to mask all of those feelings with alcohol, drugs, and women. I started smoking when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, as well as drinking.
I would even drink vodka and stuff like that before school. It may not have been every day, but it was enough. When I look back, I think the insecurities and the lack of confidence played a large part in my decision making and I think the primary source for a lot of those feelings was my father not being there.
Have you ever been able to speak to your father about how you feel or any of the things that have happened in your past?
Here’s the thing, I’m not a religious person, but he is definitely a religious person. I grew up Catholic. My father was Methodist, Presbyterian or something like that. He was one of those people that felt that since he had given his life to Jesus, everything that he had done was forgiven. It’s weird because he’s the one that told me, faith without work is dead.
I feel it’s kind of how he copes with what he may have done, it’s an escape not to be held accountable. I know in his heart he has shame and guilt and that he loves me. He did write me a letter once apologizing for not being there, he wrote all of my brothers a letter. I feel like there was a point where he tried to reconcile with all of us. I know my father had issues with his father. I know history has been rough on black families. Whether it was slavery, Jim Crow or discrimination, things just haven’t been fair for the black community.
All of those things combined screw up the family structure. In my opinion, my father was probably doing things to me that he may have learned from his father. Or maybe not, who knows? Regardless, when me and my father attempted to fix things we didn’t know how. We never took a different approach, maybe going to like a therapy session, having a third party to mediate and help us get through the process. It’s probably something that I should be a little more proactive with trying to reconcile, but every time I try to get close something happens.
Now we’re at a point where I haven’t spoken to him in 2 years. I know my dad loves me it’s just been really difficult for him to show me that love. There’s a lot of things that have gone on with him and my mom, but I don’t hold that against him. Me and my dad just don’t have that relationship, maybe one day it’ll get better.
You spoke about your kids a little earlier, how many kids do you have?
I have two girls. My oldest is six and my youngest is one year’s old. Having two girls is karma; I always tell people back in the day I was a dog that’s why I got two girls. Back then I was masking my feelings and pain by being involved with multiple women at a time. Now, having these two girls, I’m going to have to chase these little dudes away (laughs) like a dad did me once. I wonder about the type of guys they will be interested in. I wonder if they bring a kid home, am I going to judge that kid? I know when I was young I didn’t like when girls’fathers judged me.
Being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes I just want to scream. I’m very fortunate to have a wife that regardless of all the shit that I put her through, she’s been here for me and our girls. I would have to tell my wife sometimes when things got rough, if the baby was crying too much, I’d say, “I can’t do it,” and she’d step right in. I remember when my first daughter came home from the hospital, we did all this preparing. When we finally got home we put her car seat in the middle of the floor and text our parents, “like what do we do now?” (laughs)
With my kids being mixed, one of my biggest fears was that they won’t like black men, real talk. These are things that you think about when you get into an interracial marriage. I feel like so many images of black men are negative. I was definitely thinking, I hope my daughters don’t look at black boys like there’s something wrong with them, those black boys were me growing up. For them to have positive views of black men, I know that starts with me.
Knowing that you grew up without a consistent relationship with your father. Do you often find yourself comparing the differences between your childhood and how you are able to raise your girls?
To be very honest, I would say I probably think about it once a week. It’s not really a negative thing, it’s more of me just enjoying being a father. I’ve also learned that marriage is hard and nowadays I think people are more inclined just to move on when things don’t work out. However, sometimes you got to stick it out.
Even me and my wife separated for a couple months to figure some things out. Thankfully we were able to stick it out. I probably do compare a little too much. I think about all those really good moments I experience being a parent and I think back to what my father missed out on. I kind of feel sad for him because he missed out on a lot.
I feel what you are saying. Becoming a parent is definitely a challenge but the rewards are much greater. So, you have the Normalized podcast. Talk to us about why you felt it was important to start a podcast?
So, I’m an alcoholic. But was one of those people that you never could tell, I was able to mask it very well. It all kind of culminated when I was driving drunk one night. I’m on the 695 highway, I blacked out and hit an F-150, putting my engine in my lap. I walked away without a scratch as well as the guy that I hit. I’m so grateful I didn’t injure anyone.
Apparently, it was like 3 o’clock in the morning and a lot of people called the cops on me. I was flying, doing 100 miles per hour. I’m thankful to be alive, after that incident I decided to get help. After a while, the therapist that I was working with made the recommendation for me to start a podcast.
At the time, I didn’t have any idea what a podcast was. I kind of listened to some podcasts to get a feel for the process. A friend of mine named Phil understood everything that I was going through, and he even told me that I needed to start a podcast. So, this was two different people who said I needed to start a podcast.
Sometimes we will view ourselves in a negative light and come up with all these reasons why we can’t do something, opposed to the reasons why we can do it. I said okay I’ll start a podcast, but I wanted to be different. It seems like everybody uses their platform to talk about this person or that person. I’m just going to talk about my life and my role in all the situations that have caused me pain or happiness. I was with my boy in Atlanta one day and being around all those professional black people made me feel normal. So, that’s kind of where the title Normalized came from. It would be a podcast about my journey to becoming normal.
During the episode that I listened to of your podcast you made a statement that really resonated with me, you said, “Expectations are future resentments” explain to us what you mean by that?
When I was struggling with my alcoholism and had to go to A.A. meetings it really did help me. It’s basically a bunch of people with shared experiences that are going through a lot of things. However, you get past all that and become open to receiving information.
One day I was in a meeting experiencing some of my darker moments and someone said, “Expectations are future resentments” and just like it did with you, it stuck with me. I don’t know how many meetings I’ve actually been to but that’s the statement that actually stuck with me.
When we go through life and we’re expecting some type of result or expecting someone to like what we said or expecting someone to act a certain way. All of these are things that we can’t control, at the end of the day let’s be honest, you really can’t control shit. If you’re expecting something and it doesn’t go the way you planned you now have resentment, that resentment will eat at you. So, until you mitigate your expectations for the situation you will continue to have problems.
But now, you’re not setting yourself up for failure. It’s about letting go, it’s about being okay with exactly whatever this moment is. Really just understanding and appreciating the moment that you’re in right now, appreciating every breath that you have. That philosophy really works for me. I have to use those tools when I’m beginning to get stressed out, really just trying to be one with my spirit, it has worked for me.
If you could speak to a young black man in our community that may be going through issues similar to what you have been through or even getting ready to be a new father, what advice would you offer?
It’s funny you ask that question. On episode 6 of my podcast, you should listen to it, it speaks about choices and I talk about an experience I had with an abortion and the scar that it left on me. The first thing that I would teach a young person is to know and trust the person you’re with before sleeping with them. If you’re going to sleep with them wear a condom.
If they are already going to have a child I’d say it’s definitely important to prepare because it’s hard work. When you become a parent, I think it’s important to not quit on your kids, to always love them. It won’t be easy, but your child needs your love and sometimes that’s all they need.
Being young puts you at a deficit because you’re not fully mature enough to really understand what’s going on. To be honest, when you’re young you really shouldn’t be thinking about having a kid or building a family anyway. However, if it happens, stay strong and respect the woman you’re having a baby with, it goes a long way. Also, keep in mind that it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to say I can’t do this. It will surprise you how many people are willing to help if you work hard and are doing what you need to do.
Ok CJ, thank you for speaking with Melanated Fathers of America today, your input was greatly appreciated!!!