There you are, watching your daughter walk into kindergarten. There’s excitement, anxiety, fear and nerves all bundled up in your stomach wondering how the first day is going to go. Meanwhile, your babygirl is giving you that look that says, “Dad, relax. You’re embarrassing me.”
For a lot of parents, or people sending a child off to school for the first time, the first day of school can be extremely emotional and downright scary. For fathers, particularly Black fathers, every first day of school becomes a matter of clear and present presence. While that may sound corny, think of a significant moment in your life when you wished beyond the random items of school supplies that you could have your dad around for the first day of school.
This year, I sent my oldest daughter off to college. Yes, I cried, but not as I loaded her stuff into the truck. I didn’t cry as we left her in her dorm room. I cried before all of that…in a sushi restaurant…full of strangers. It took everything in me to get out of there without making a scene.
My near-“tear-gate” started after seeing a Black father having lunch with his little girl. It was just the two of them huddled in a booth with a video playing on his phone to keep her slightly focused, surrounded by a lot of food which, for me, seemed to be complicated for a 3-year-old in the atmosphere of a sushi place in midtown.
If you have ever been to church or waited at the DMV or, like in this case, been sitting in a restaurant and got into a “what-you-looking-at?” match with a child, then you know the level of cuteness can get epic. So there I was in a back and forth smile-and-duck exchange with this little girl. It reminded me of my little girl, how small she was, with her little hair bows and impossibly little shoes that slipped right on to her little feet, the little outfits and little…
It was at this point where I felt the tears pooling in my eyes, and I immediately said, out loud, “Nope!” I told my wife “bye” — she had witnessed the whole thing and was thoroughly amused — and bolted from the table and the restaurant. If you can imagine Miss Hannigin from Annie (the ’80s version) singing “Little Girls” in dramatic fashion as I walked out, then you have the scene, the music and the energy of that moment.
My oldest is now a full-time college student living hundreds of miles away. Naturally, I worry. I worry so much so that when she called me a night or two before the first day of classes and said, “Dad, I have a dilemma,” I immediately assumed the worst and was seconds from hopping in the car, wearing only a tank top and basketball shorts, no shoes.
She told me, “Relax. I’m just trying to make soup in the microwave without making my noodles all soggy.”
Ahh, young people problems. I realized that while I can’t be present for her on her first day of college per se, she still knows that I am present. That I’m available to call on and walk her through any problems, no matter how soupy. This same love and caring and presence will apply to my younger daughter as she enters her first year of middle school.
You never know when these moments of vulnerability are going to find you. When a memory will trigger some raw emotions that you just knew you had in check. The first day of school is another moment where we, Black fathers, try to leave our imprint. Where we mark ourselves “present” in our children’s memory because society, to this day, still tries to label us as absent.
We show up before the sun rises, before the school bus pulls up, before the walk to the front door of the school. We hug, we kiss foreheads and cheeks (yes, even our boys, even if they hate it; they need to understand that this kind of love is OK), we pray…and we pray…and we allow our children to see us vulnerable. It’s important to see us as humans, but more importantly, to see us as Black fathers. We’re fathers who are present and in the moment, ready to be there for the first day of anything in their lives.
Boris “Bluz” Rogers is an Emmy Award-winning poet, voice-over artist, emcee and coach of SlamCharlotte, the three-time National Poetry Slam Champions. Bluz is also a proud father and resident of Charlotte.