We also both believed in iconoclasm. So when Kenyatta got pregnant in late 1999, even though almost no one our age was having kids, we decided to go full steam ahead. I had no idea where that decision was headed. But I did know two things: (1) If I started having kids at 24, I could have my life back by 50. (2) A man who doesn't raise his kids is only half a man.
I grew up in West Baltimore. I had two working parents, and I never wanted for anything. My father was a very active—if eccentric—parent. And in my extended family, I was surrounded by strong men. It was different for most of my friends, who either didn't know their fathers or only had trivial contact with them. This was not just a matter of class. At Howard, many of my friends had troubled or nonexistent relationships with their fathers. Whenever my friends talked, I could hear a bitterness toward their absent half that chilled me. I felt a communal sense of disgrace, and desperately wanted to be some part of a solution. Had there been an army for black fathers, I'd have rushed to the front lines.
In the birthing room, sitting next to Kenyatta, I think about how I've turned having a baby into a political statement. For my son, I picked a name invested with meaning—Samori Maceo-Paul Coates—Samori for a Mande chief who fought off the French, Maceo for the black Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo, Paul for my father, and Coates for his clan. I fancy myself part of some grand plan to rebuild the bonds within the black community. In my relationship with Kenyatta, I've seen my own small but essential step toward that end. In making a child from that union, I've seen something larger, a chance to live for all those black fathers too broke-down to live up to the title. The revolution will be televised—if only on sonogram.
When Kenyatta first told her mother she was pregnant, Camille was mostly happy. Whatever happened with me, at 23 Kenyatta had proven to be capable of handling herself. She had a steady job as a copy editor and paid her own rent.
A few years after Kenyatta was born, Camille took a job at Federal Express. She's worked there steadily for over 20 years, slowly climbing the ladder and securing Kenyatta's needs. Her work ethic meshes well with black America's image of its women, not as domestic caretakers but as the economic engine that keeps us moving. We believe our men to be flaky, but our women are always there in the crunch.
We Hear You!