Fathers: it's not a day, it's a lifetime

Friday, June 15, 2012

By Jack DeJesus

Originally published at the Strong Families blog in 2011. 

Bill Sorro (left) and Al Robles.
Father's Day. My least favorite time of the year. It is during these times when I'm reminded about cards I can't send, phone calls I can't make, hugs that I will miss out on.

I never knew my father. He left my mom and I when I was just a few months old. My only memories of him are photos from dusty photo albums, sightings at a couple family gatherings, and a few insignificant child support checks. He and I bear a striking resemblance, my signature bears his name. From what people have told me, he was charming, handsome, and smoked like a chimney. He was also a "ladies man" who manipulated his way in and out of women's lives for as long as he lived. I swore I would never grow up to be like him.

My mother felt it was important for me to have a father figure in my life: Enter my stepfather. A working class, carpenter, machismo, tough guy. Seemed harmless enough. Yet for several of my childhood years, he terrorized our household. I went from one extreme of not having a male figure at all, to this other extreme: yelling, threats, intimidation, and abuse. This is a period of my life that I hardly remember because it was that bad. Thankfully, my mother decided enough was enough and left him. But the damage had already been done.

I swore I would never grow up to be like him, either.

Yet these were my examples of manhood. And these contradictions would play out in my interactions with people, my friends, my relationships. It was a type of patriarchal, privileged behavior that was accepted and even encouraged by my own family and community. Looking back, I probably used this behavior to compensate for my lack of self-love and self-confidence. And it came at the expense of the people I loved the most, especially the women in my life.

For me, this generational cycle of behavior broke once I started working on a young men's resource guide for my former job at a youth health agency.

Jack with baby Ligaya.
It was during this process that I came across organizations that were addressing issues of abuse and violence perpetuated by men by examining and breaking down masculinity and manhood. One activity in particular, the "Man in the Box" exercise (which looks at how men are conditioned to be tough, not cry, show no emotions, and to intimidate), really opened my eyes to the pressures I felt to conform to these unrealistic and inhumane male standards. It got me to challenge the patriarchal behavior that, as much as I considered myself an ally, still existed and surfaced in subtle yet harmful ways.

Then I met Bill Sorro, a lifelong community activist who was most known for his involvement in the struggle to save International Hotel back in the 60s and 70s. He was also a husband and father to 7. For whatever reason I was drawn to this peculiar man, and I realized that Bill was the first true father figure I ever had. He was open, compassionate, honest and affectionate. He cried in front of people.

And most importantly, he was the first man to ever tell me that he loved me. Bill brought out the humanity and vulnerability of manhood to me. He broke down patriarchy with his embrace. He taught me what love looked like in practice, how organic and powerful it could be.

Bill passed away a few years ago, but I still feel him right next to me. I still hear his voice giving me guidance on occasion. He is the model of manhood and fatherhood that I hope to eventually find for myself one day, with my relationships, with how I approach life, and maybe one day, how I will approach fatherhood: with love, compassion, and justice.

Jack is the Young Men's Program Organizer at Forward Together. In addition, Jack is the lead vocalist/rapper for his hip hop/funk band, Bandung55. He enjoys riding his bicycle, cooking for friends, and disrupting capitalism.