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Black Dad Interrupted

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Learning that I had a baby on the way was one of the most memorable moments of my life.

It's amazing how instantaneously everything can change, literally in the blink -- the pre-news/post news blink -- of an eye.

I am at the point in my life where all of my closest friends and various other people in my network either have kids or are currently expecting their first.

It's an exhilarating feeling.

Throughout the first couple of months after we shared our news, I was repeatedly asked if I had a preference in terms of the sex of my baby.

I always responded with my genuine, though somewhat cliché, response: "I just want a healthy baby."

In my mind, the probability of having a girl was huge, given my own family history: I have five aunts and one uncle. All of my aunts, except one, had a daughter either first or exclusively. My one uncle has four girls. My oldest cousin has four girls. It seemed inevitable that my partner and I, too, would have a girl, either first or exclusively.

However, against all perceived or imagined odds, we recently found out that we are expecting a baby boy. Exciting news, indeed.

Since I share the last name of my mother who shares the last name of her father, and because my uncle has had all girls, it is likely that my son will be the one to carry on my grandfather's name and legacy -- a difficult task.

However, in spite of all the excitement, I would be remiss if I didn't write honestly about the fear and angst I feel about bringing a boy of a color into a world that feels very much hostile towards him.

My grandparents, having been born in and having survived the perennially hostile south, must have felt much anxiety about raising their children in the turbulent times of the 60s and 70s. The stress they felt was no doubt high with all of their children, regardless of their gender. My mother, the oldest of the group, attended segregated schools almost her entire educational experience, as schools were first integrated when she was almost finished with high school, but my mother's younger siblings experienced this transition at earlier stages in their lives. My guess is that for each of the seven siblings, my grandparents felt fear about them growing up and attending schools in unfamiliar and hostile environments. I find myself wondering, though, if my grandfather's fear was just a little bit more intense when he thought of how he could raise and protect my uncle, his only son, during those turbulent times of transition. Did he have a feeling that the world would be more dangerous for his son, a young Black man?

The world is an extremely hostile and dangerous place for women in general, and Black women in particular -- we know this. Much more needs to be written about the subject. There is, however, a special hostility in society for the Black male, and much has been written about the several kinds of biases that can and do result in the dehumanization of Black men, at best, and the deaths of Black men, at worst.

I find myself wondering, too, if my mother or my aunts felt this same anxiety when my cousins and I were born in the 80s.

I wonder if the anxiety I feel is a generational, ritual anxiety that has been passed down in America from generations of Black parents, since time immortal.

When my partner and I learned in February that we were having a baby boy, it could have been the perfect month to learn of such news, it being Black History Month. After all, this child would be my contribution to the ever-growing history of Black folks in America! However, the fact that it was February brought up more complicated feelings for me.

This year's Black History Month brought us the anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death, with the killer still walking and making a living as a pseudo-celebrity. It brought us the Jordan Davis trial, in which the killer was convicted of attempting to murder the young Black boys he missed with his bullets, but not for the murder of the young Black boy hit and killed by several of them.

This came just a few short months after eight-year-old Donald Maiden, Jr. was shot by an old White man as he played outside and 23-year-old Jonathan A. Ferrell was shot after knocking on a door for help in Charlotte, NC.

Fatherhood in itself is a scary idea for me, having been raised by a single mother and not ever having experienced the stereotypical or idealistic father-son relationship, and all those father-son talks and lessons that accompany it. I already fear not being a good father -- not for lack of trying, but for lack of know-how. I think my angst is particularly heightened, though, by the prospect of raising a young man of color in a world where it seems there is nothing I can do to protect him. Where walking in the "wrong" neighborhood or listening to his music too loudly makes him a justified target in the eyes of a jury. The scariest thing is knowing that even if I am an incredible father, even if I do everything I am supposed to do, it still may not be enough to keep my son safe from the hostile environment around him.

I could send my son to the grocery store, or out with friends to the movies, or off to college, and he could be targeted and killed... And even worse -- if anything could be worse -- that killing may still, as in the recent and not so recent past, be seen as justified, even three-plus generations deep into men carrying my grandfather's last name.

Neither my academic degrees, nor my partner's degrees, nor polite manners, nor suburban living can stop this. I haven't even barely started this fatherhood thing yet, and I already feel powerless in my ability to accomplish my main duty -- keeping my child safe.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with that.