Spending Time with Your Father: Global Perspectives on Fatherhood

What an honor it is to have a chance to explore the world. The Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship is awarded to one Vanderbilt graduate each year, and all fellows have concluded that this opportunity is life-changing. I have never traveled internationally, so I imagined what it felt like for these fellows to see another part of the world and speak with someone who shared their passion. As I seek to identify my own passion, I begin to think critically about who I am and why. I am a man who grew up without a father seeking to understand what fathers uniquely have to offer their children. I never had the male influence that I saw in other families. Today, I have the chance to learn how different cultures define the role of fatherhood because these different perspectives will develop an understanding of how my influence can uniquely impact new communities I enter.

Growing up, my father left before I was born, and I lived with my mom, my grandmother, and my sister. My mom (pictured above), the only one with a job, works in the front office of an elementary school. This summer, she started bringing over two brothers from her school, a 7th grader, Justin and a 2nd grader, Jalil (pictured below showing his most iconic dance move), to spend time with me because she thought they could benefit from a positive male influence. I drove them to the park to play football and I taught them how to tie a tie. I started cutting my own hair when I was 14, and this summer I taught Justin how to cut Jalil’s hair. These brothers live with their mother, like I did, and I would imagine the time I spend with these boys is what it might look like for fathers to be with their kids. I am eager to learn about what spending time with your father looks like outside of my own experience.

During high school, my experience fostered positive relationships in the classroom, on the football team, and in my Boy Scout Troop. I had meaningful male influences, but none of the sources were my own father. Dr. Harrow, my math teacher, supported my success in the classroom fostering my confidence as a student. Coach Romberg, the head coach of the football team, developed me as a player leading to my position on the Vanderbilt football team. Mr. Quillian, my Scoutmaster, taught me to value service to my community. These father-like relationships take on different forms, and I want to see what values male influences decide to impart to the next generation.

Across different cultures, children and parents have distinct expectations and value systems, and I have something to learn from each of them. I have never left the United States, so I intend to see as much of the world as possible to witness a variety of outlooks on fatherhood. I want to see areas of South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. I want to see Kingston, Jamaica specifically because my father was born there, so the role of fatherhood would offer a look inside what my own father experienced as he grew up. As a Black man, I want to travel through Africa to see people where my people originate. I would relish my time to study what role fatherhood and male influence plays in countries in this region as the next generation of children develops. I also want to go to São Paulo because of the lively festival, Carnival, where people fill the street to dance and play music. I wonder what fathers teach their children about the music, the dances, and the significance of the festival. Italy and Israel fascinate me as destinations because I have often looked to my faith for male influences. Seeing Vatican City and Jerusalem would show me the history of the intersection of faith and fatherhood for the most widespread religions in the world.  Touring east Asia has always interested me most because of the stark contrast to American culture. This region has the potential to demonstrate the most different point of view from my own, which break away from the norms I have come to accept. The idea of questioning these norms about fatherhood and potentially expanding or re-writing them all together is what has me so enthusiastic about speaking face to face with people in these different areas. Between these highlights and the regions in the Caribbean, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, I plan on seeing 20 countries in total.

After my journey concludes, I will return home to Atlanta, where my mom and grandmother (pictured above making Thanksgiving dinner) live.  I have an opportunity to teach math for two years through Teach For America.  In the classroom, I will translate the experiences from my trip into lessons for my students.  The relationship between a father and child is utterly important to childhood development, and I am eager to learn what those relationships look like around the world. I have seen fathers as agents of encouragement, emotional support, and simply cultural education because of how they see their role to their families.  Strong convictions motivate me to question the baseline for how I measure the impact of fatherhood because I grew up without my father, who passed the month before my 11th birthday.  I see myself as an agent of progress for male influence, and my strong convictions are founded in the opportunity to impact children in this generation.

The Michael B. Keegan Traveling Fellowship enhances the development of future leaders who intend to make an impact with a global perspective.  I was drawn to the fellowship not only by the way it made me think about creating impact through my passion for fatherhood, but also the immense time for reflection that comes with traveling alone.  I know that I will still be a man who grew up without a father after this fellowship, but I also hope to be transformed by the many new perspectives on what spending time with your father looks like. This fellowship has transformed its participants, who have gone on to continue their development as internationally-minded leaders, and I deeply appreciate being selected as a Keegan traveling fellow.

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