As someone who most often writes about the beauty of motherhood, I would be remiss if I ignored the significant role of fathers. In an effort to shine a bright light on fatherhood, I sat down with three local fathers and asked them about their journey to and through fatherhood. Meet Patrick Alcoke, 38; Otilio Baez Jr., 41; and Jamaal Collier, 41, and discover their reflections on the role of dads.
Did you always see yourself as a father?
While Collier didn’t necessarily envision himself in that role, he was clear he wanted a continuation of himself in the world, and he knew that would eventually come through children.
“Throughout the course of my day, I think about what I can bring back home to enrich my family,” he says, and that motivation keeps him going. Watching the example of their parents served as a significant influence for Alcoke and Baez.
“Seeing how my parents did it made me want to have a family and kids of my own,” says Alcoke, a father to two young daughters. “Having kids of my own is one of the most special things I’ve experienced in my life.”
The expectations Baez had around being a father were far exceeded simply from not knowing what to expect. Growing up in a large family, and now having two children of his own, Baez reflected on how special family events were and knew he wanted the same experience.
“I felt a part of something and that mattered to me. I always knew I wanted that piece as I got older.”
Where did you learn your lessons about fatherhood?
All three men shared the importance of their upbringing in shaping them into the fathers they are today. Observation played a powerful role in helping Baez develop a framework for what he wanted to see with his own parenting.
“I saw other strong fathers (including my father), and the way they loved their children. I learned the importance of culture. Family members should take care of each other, and we should always aim to do better than our parents’ generation,” he says.
“What I try to do every day is cultivate a space of positive and benevolent experiences that come from the point of love, to create the potential for (meaningful) mental milestones for my children,” says Collier.
Unpacking his philosophy, he shared that, as the father of two, he is concerned about “what their pivots or mental milestones will be.”
For the moments his children will look back on and recall as being life-altering events, Collier wants those memories to be ones of joy, deeper self-reflection and personal growth.
What lessons have your children taught you about fatherhood?
Lessons these three fathers learned, and learned while parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic, caused each of them to reflect in a thoughtful way.
“One of the biggest things I had to learn was to say, ‘I’m sorry’ to a little kid. That was hard. You get a lot of stuff wrong, and one of the best things I’ve learned as a dad is to swallow my pride and do better,” says Alcoke.
As the father of a 9- and 14-year-old, Baez says, “My parenting has shifted with my daughter as she is shifting into the teenage years. I try to be mindful and extend her some grace.” This idea, compounded with the last two years, illuminated a very interesting revelation for him. “I don’t think I expected to draw so much on my own childhood and think back to when I was that age,” says Baez.
Collier passionately responded, “I am doing my best to put them in position to be the best version of themselves they
can be. It’s not instant gratification by any means. I want to mess up in a way that helps them to be better.”
What advice would you give to another man about how to be a ‘good’ father?
Each time I asked one of the men whether a “good” father exists, they laughed and responded with a resounding “no!” While I know that to be true—because consistently “good” and “perfect” parents and people don’t exist—their responses proved that honest, loving, consistent, reflective and vulnerable fathers are real.
“It’s less about the term ‘good dad’ and more about focusing on things that help you be the best dad you can be,” says Alcoke as he talked about each day being a new beginning and seeing the gift in that view. He shared his thoughts on this topic and on the circle of fathers who serve as a lifeline to remind him he is not alone.
Collier offered these words of wisdom about the role of love in the father-child relationship. “It is important as a father that if you are coming from a point of love, you can work on correcting the course at any time,” he says. If a mistake is made in word or deed, Collier believes it can be corrected—and I couldn’t agree more.
The same is true for Baez. “I tell them (fathers) to lead with love, to be present physically and emotionally, so that you can provide the guidance you need to.”