Walking through my old neighborhood, I noticed one of my old friends, Vando, walking toward me.
“What’s up, man,” he said as we shook hands. A few years had passed since I had seen Vando, but his weathered face made it seem as if it were decades.
“Nothing much,” I replied. “What’s been up with you?”
“Same ole, same ole,” he said. “Just trying to survive.” I knew all about his means of survival. Petty theft, pimping, and drug trafficking kept his pockets full of cash.
While we reminisced, I learned the fates of some of the neighborhood boys we grew up with. The ones who weren’t dead or in jail were quickly on their way towards one or the other. Only a few of us managed to slip through the cracks.
Since we last saw each other, I had graduated from college, got married, had kids and moved to the burbs. Vando, on the other had lived in the same house and hung out on the same corners that we did as teenagers. As I gazed into Vando’s dark eyes, the world I worked so hard to forget became real to me again, and I began to see traces of my former self in Vando’s weary face.
Before meeting Vando, books were my escape, taking me to places that transcended the poverty, squalor, and despair that surrounded me. Through my books, I could be an astronaut, detective, or brave knight. But the life Vando introduced me to proved to be more alluring than my pristine fantasies. Our escapades were filled with excitement and danger. We mostly engaged in typical juvenille deliquent activities such as shoplifting, vandalizing, or fighting with other boys. But one day, things took a turn for the worse.
Vando and I were loitering on a corner when he noticed a girl walking by. His demeanor turned grim, his body grew tense. Suddenly, he broke a huge branch from a tree, ran to the girl and started beating her. Tears mixed with blood poured from her face as Vando pummelled her – each blow producing a sickening whap against her flesh.
Afraid Vando would kill the girl, I grabbed the branch causing Vando to glare at me with rabid eyes. I was frightened, but I held on refusing to allow him to beat that girl anymore.
“Let’s get outta here,” he said after several minutes. Vando dropped the branch and we ran to his house narrowly escaping some men who were chasing us.
Once we were safely inside, Vando told his grandmother, “If someone knocks on the door, don’t answer it.” The gentle woman nodded quietly and continued watching television as if she had experienced this situation before. Vando and I ran to his bedroom and crouched in the darkness without uttering a word. We sat for about twenty minutes before we were startled by police officers’ banging on the front door.
“Just chill out,” Vando said coolly. “Don’t say nothin’ and they’ll leave.”
After a few minutes, they did leave. When they were gone, I turned to Vando and asked, “What’s wrong with you man? Why’d you beat up that girl?”
“She lied on me. She got what she deserved.”
I wanted to tell Vando that no one deserved such brutal treatment; that he was a cold, heartless animal. However, I said nothing because I didn’t want Vando to think I was soft.
After that night I avoided Vando as much as possible. Whenever he asked me to hang out with him, I always gave him an excuse. He eventually got the message and left me alone.
With Vando, I was able to tap into the raw masculinity that boys long for. But I was misguided as many young males are. I thought that Vando was teaching me how to be a man. All he was teaching me was how to be a criminal. as
I realize that my sons will most likely encounter Vandos in their lives. It is up to me to provide them with an authentic version of manhood so they will not be enticed by this pale imitation. I have to show them the importance of being compassionate, respectful, and kind. Most importantly, I have to teach them to express their emotions in positive ways. My example will be their sword and shield in the battle for their hearts and minds.
I think I may be on the right track. The other night, my 5-year-old son, N, said, “My dad is the best man I know.” If he can still say this 20 years from now, then I know that I will have been successful in my role as a father.
Join the conversation: How is your son learning to be a man? What is your daughter learning about authentic manhood?