Jeremy, a lifelong Austin resident (he declined to use his last name for privacy concerns), said having his 8-year-old son, Amaru, changed his life. Since then, he’s thought a lot about what it means to be a father — particularly a Black father raising a Black son in Austin.
Jeremy, who shares custody of his son with his son’s mother, reached out to Austin Weekly News a few months ago to tell his story.
What prompted you to reach out to us to talk about fatherhood?
I have conversations with a lot of people, especially women, and many of them have these negative ideas about what it means to be masculine. I imagine they’ve never really seen any other healthy relationships in the neighborhood, because [fathers] are largely absent.
What it means to be a father and to be masculine in a healthy way is not something that’s consistently represented — not even in our own local paper.
I know there are other people doing what I’m doing, as far as being an adequate father — being there, being available emotionally and physically with your time, your money, your ideas, what have you — there are dudes out there doing this.
Who were adequate fathers when you were younger?
My dad [who recently passed] was largely quiet, but he was always a provider and a teacher. So, I mixed that in with role models I saw on TV — Uncle Phil from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and Carl Winslow from “Family Matters” and Will Smith from “Independence Day.”
I know it sounds silly, but I’m serious. I mixed those examples I saw on TV with the example set by my own father. I also incorporated stuff I saw women doing that I thought I could do with my son.
Do you worry about raising your son in Austin?
I worry about him sometimes because he’s not overly aggressive and I think there’s an edge you have to have in impoverished communities like Austin. That’s just a feeling. It may not even be true, because I exist in Austin and I’m not the most brash, brazen individual.
But I do fear for him. I don’t shield him too much, because of the fact that he spends the bulk of his life in two houses. That gives him different perspectives of the city. When he’s with me in the summertime, at least before COVID, there was some fear in the summer when we’d go to certain parks and I’d be like, ‘Those kids are a little too rough.’ I do try to shield him a little from those individuals.
We would actually go to Oak Park a lot to try to maintain the sanctity of childhood, which is the most disheartening thing — the fact that I have to leave my neighborhood to ensure his safety.
Oak Park is only a three-block walk from my house, but there’s a real difference — just in the way people drive.
Why did you decide to live in Austin?
One, I couldn’t afford to live in Oak Park. And two, I believed the community would change. On my block, there are three Hispanic people and two white people who have moved in, they just don’t come outside. I imagine that the change is probably 10 or 15 years away and I just caught it before the curve.
What does Amaru mean?
It means strong. It’s supposed to be Aztec. I Googled it and liked it. I also thought it would be something me and his mother could agree on.
What advice would you give to your younger self, before you were a father, in anticipation of fatherhood?
I’d tell my younger self to learn how to cope better. Be patient and trust the process, because it’s a long process. Learn how to forgive yourself, because you’ll make mistakes.
What is something true and something false about Black fatherhood?
The assumption that Black men don’t want to be good fathers is a fallacy. There are systems in place that stop us from being the fathers we want to be and can be, one being the court system.
When you enter a court system, you’re already predisposed to the fact that the kid came from the woman and the court automatically assumes she’ll raise it. There’s always a question of whether you’ll even be around. That blocks some fathers from taking the first steps toward being there.
If people want to know the reality of what it means to be a Black father, they should just ask Black fathers. We exist. There are a lot of us.