A Black Man Series | Robert Hill Sr.’s Father’s Day Reflection

The Humanity of Connection will host a virtual program and conversation today (Father’s Day). 

The conversation will focus on the importance of Black fatherhood and how fathers build meaningful connections with their children. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for connectivity is more important than ever. Many fathers depend on AT&T’s broadband to connect with their families on a regular basis during work, travel, and leisure time. The conversation will feature 3-4 influencers (athletics, entertainment, policy, etc.) who will answer questions and share their stories of fatherhood beginning with author Robert Hill Sr. 

By Robert Hill Sr.

In fact, since my adolescence, the importance of being present, loving, and responsible have been impressed upon me as core family values. I vividly remember the afternoon of my 11th birthday when my grandfather, who we affectionately called Papa, taught me a valuable lesson on sharing with loved ones. 

That year he gifted me the number one item on my wishlist: a fast remote control car with extra batteries. I felt like the luckiest young man in the world and the cheerful glee in my heart was on full display through my smile as I raced the car back and forth across the parking lot adjacent to Papa’s home.  

“I love this car, I’m going to play with it every day!” I said as the family looked on.

“That’s awesome RB, I’m glad you enjoy it.” Papa remarked before asking, “Can I test the car out for a few? I want to give it a go. I’ll give it right back.”

I heard his request, I knew he was the one who just gifted me the car… but I couldn’t let go of the controller, and I genuinely did not want to share so I chose not to respond. In my short-lived life experience people never gave things right back, especially if they were having fun with it; but Papa asked again and before I could even think of a better answer I blurted out, “No! It’s mine.” 

And in that exact moment, I knew I messed up. 

To give some context, sharing wasn’t a new concept to me, I had siblings and cousins I shared with all the time. Anything from toys, food, clothes, the television, shoes, even friends. Still, this was my first fast remote control car, and in my young mind: the more I shared it the less time I would have to enjoy it for myself. 

So in true Papa fashion, he taught me an unforgettable lesson. He made me take the batteries out of the car, hand over the remote control, and to complete the punishment, I had to box the gift back up. 

Then he looked at me and said, “A selfish person will always fail in life. The best way to multiply happiness is to share it with others.”

My Papa didn’t care about playing with the car, but he did care to know that our relationship was being built on reciprocal respect and consideration. He cared to teach me that greed, hoarding, and being inconsiderate should never be the norm in our dealings with the family. And lastly, he cared to show me forgiveness… Because after a thirty-minute timeout that felt like three hours, I was right back outside playing with my new car again but this time Papa had the remote control and I still had my smile.

I did not like learning that lesson but the message stuck with me intimately over the years that would follow. Papa was a family guy and he made sure I knew how important that was. 

 

Fatherhood Is About Choices

 

Each year in over 111 countries around the world, Father’s Day is observed by millions to celebrate fatherhood, honor the influence of fathers, and uplift the purpose of paternal bonds. The holiday as we’ve come to know it in America was founded by Sonora Smart Dodd and was celebrated for the first time in 1910. Decades later in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation declaring Father’s Day to be an official national holiday. And so here we are… in 2021, with this June commemorating my fourteenth year celebrating Father’s Day as a father.

 

However, this year feels different. Throughout these last 12 months, I have seen major shifts within my life and relationships that I would have never imagined before the start of the pandemic. Surprisingly, one of the biggest shifts has been in my role as a son. 

 

During my pre-corona life my conversations with my biological father, Dana, were rare and never surpassed two minutes in talking time tops. Our distant father-son relationship bothered me deeply and I was unable to admit it until after becoming a father myself. 

 

For years I tried reaching out to my dad with lackluster effort and nothing changed as we stuck to our quarterly schedule of quick check-ins. Then on a random impulse, I invited him out on a fishing charter with me and he accepted. 

 

That day we spent hours at sea, fishing, talking, drinking beer, and enjoying the open air. In the weeks to follow I have counted at least 10 different occasions that my father and I have spoken by phone for longer than 11 minutes talking about sports, local news, politics, music, family, and career moves. We’ve come a long way in a short time.

 

Though our newfound closeness has been healing for both of us, I know it isn’t the result of magic. Our relationship grew because it started with a choice and desire to improve it. At its core, fatherhood is about choices- choosing to be reliable or undependable; choosing to be loved openly or insulated with shame; choosing to invest in the family’s collective happiness or being absent for personal fulfillment. Every father, new and old, is one choice away from a completely different life, relationship, and experience with their family. 

 

Rewriting the Legacy

 

My grandfather, Papa never knew his biological fathers’ name and neither did my father, Dana. All the men in my family only knew survival because that’s what life teaches you; they didn’t know much about their own identity and what manhood was because that’s something a father teaches men. So they did what they believed was best, made sure their kids knew their name and tried to teach me principles along the way as they became wiser. In their unique ways, they were committed to rewriting our family’s legacy.

 

Knowing the history of men in my family, it feels revolutionary being in my son’s life the way that I am. I have full-time physical custody and I learned quickly that raising a rapidly growing teenage boy while surviving a global coronavirus pandemic is no joke. We exercised, went on hikes, learned new recipes, spent time candle-making, and even assisted in building custom wood patio furniture. 

 

There was also learning virtual school schedules, Chick-Fil-A Fridays, yard work, and many on-time and invigorating morning hugs. There were tired days, uneven haircuts, and side-eyes in disgust that only a dad’s words can inspire. It wasn’t so obvious at first, but slowly throughout the last year, I realized that the rest of my life and my family’s legacy would be completely different moving forward. And all it took was quality time. 

 

Love Your People

 

“Leave everything on the field” is an expression I learned from my Papa before playing in a little league championship game. The expression is used to describe how a player will go all out and do everything they possibly can to win in a heavily contested competition, even if it means bodily injury comes in the process. This is the mindset with which I’ve approached fatherhood and raising my son. I have decided to leave my whole heart out on the field so that he stands a chance to win in life. 

 

I’m not certain how I will be remembered in time as a man, friend, or author. I’ve written what I believed, I’ve loved when I was inspired, and I’ve served others passionately- still to someone out there more could’ve been done. 

 

They may say I could have crafted better books, accomplished more literary accolades, and served a wider audience by changing my work. While they are free to have their doubts about me as a person, the one thing I will never leave to question is my effort as a father. 

 

I show up daily proud to be present and honored to be in touch. Through it all, I have no plans of wavering, no desire to abandon ship, and no reason not to show up as the best possible version of my favorite name to be called: Dad. 

 

In January of 2021, we celebrated my son’s thirteenth birthday. As the festivities came to a close the family was gathered in the living room conversing about our different memories throughout his young life. Robert was asked, “So now that you’re 13, what’s your favorite part about being you?”

After a moment he looked up and replied, “I’m a family guy. I love my people.” 

Happy Fathers Day to all. Love your people, today and always. 

All the best,

Rob