Lester Spence with his family
Fathers' Day is this Sunday, and Tell Me More is celebrating Dads all week. Some of our contributors and guests will reflect on the joys and challenges of fatherhood. We'll hear from what many might regard as the conventional married dad, the dad going it alone, the one who chose to adopt, and others.
Starting us off is Lester Spence, assistant professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University, and frequent contributor to our "Barbershop" segment.
My wife and I are parents to five children: three boys, two girls — no twins.
My 16-year-old daughter is a writer, carries herself with the grace of a dancer, and is so down to earth that she makes her own natural-hair products.
My 13-year-old son? Quiet and reserved — only shares himself with people he's already vetted.
My 11-year-old? He's the most empathetic out of the group. He created a gang at school — "the friendly five" — to peacefully resolve conflicts between his classmates. Still hugs me every night before he goes to bed.
My 8-year-old daughter is the artist. Absolutely loves to draw, to paint, to sketch, to create things with her hands.
And my 6-year-old? He's absolutely hilarious: Sings at the top of his voice — off-key — and dances at the drop of a hat. His pre-school teacher called him "Mr. Shaky Hips."
The squad has changed my life irrevocably. I didn't know what unconditional love was before they were born. To the extent that I consider myself a good man, it is because I am a father.
But even as I have been blessed by my children, even as I take a great deal of pride in their accomplishments, even as I take a great deal of pride in my own given who they are — and despite moments of joy — my job as father produces more anxiety than any other role I have.
As the sole breadwinner, I am responsible for whether my five children have a roof over their head — whether they have food to eat. I am responsible for their safety, for their security. I am responsible for whether they are able to go to college without the burden of loans. If I don't produce, if for some reason I end up unemployed, if for some reason I fail, then the lives of those five children change for the worse.
For a number of reasons we don't really talk about this obligation — unless we're talking about people who aren't fulfilling it. We can talk for hours about absent fathers, about how irresponsible they are, about how much damage they're doing to their kids. But we don't spend the same amount of time talking about what fathers need to fulfill their obligation.
On Fathers' Day I don't ask for, or expect, any gifts as a general rule. Maybe I should expect gifts from my family. Maybe I should expect gratitude for waking up every day around 5 a-m to be the first in the office, so I can come home to them by 6 p-m.
But what I would really like for Fathers' Day is peace of mind knowing I can fulfill my obligations.