Thursday, May 27, 2010

Graduation Day—The Little Boy Grows into a Man


Our world is in such a shabby state that it is a little disconcerting to imagine sending a child out into it right now. But that’s exactly what we are about to do. Our little boy, now almost grown into a fine young man, is walking across the stage today to receive his high school diploma. I know it’s a cliché to say, but it really does not seem like 18 years since I held that wrinkled little body in my hands for the first time. But alas, the years slip by us, filled up with the joys and wages of an exuberant life.

As I’m sure many of you know all too well, successfully guiding a black boy through 18 years of an American childhood is not a simple task. The challenges are so numerous and come from so many directions that sometimes you feel like a guerrilla fighter in the jungles of America’s streets and schools, sprinting for cover with your precious cargo in tow, never knowing from where and when the next round of fire will come your way. The challenges only accumulate with each year:
  • keeping him away from the bad kids…
  • making sure his teachers understand his sometimes excessive exuberance… 
  • trying to lure him into a love of reading…
  • protecting him from the teachers who are afraid of black boys…
  • getting him to understand that his standard of measurement isn’t his sullen homies in the back of the room but the girl in the front row with her hand up to answer every question…
  • applauding his accomplishments on the athletic fields but trying not to let his accomplishments on the athletic fields go to his head… 
  • making sure he continued to understand that accomplishments in the classroom were more important than the ones on the athletic fields…
  • girls…
  • the dangers of the streets…
  • girls…
  • the ugly stereotypes the world harbors of large, scowling black boys…
  • girls…
  • being safe and smart behind the wheel…
  • stepping out each day with a measure of kindness and grace…

I found myself talking to him about the world he will face much more often over the last few months, trying to cram in as much as I can before he is gone. And while I have been neurotic over the last few years about his whereabouts at every moment, particularly when he started driving, I’ve also noticed that I’ve slowly been easing up about that in recent months. After all, in just two months he will be off to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. I had to start letting him have a bit of the freedom that will soon be his, so that he can learn how to make good decisions on his own, decisions about time management, about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, about how to treat other human beings, especially young ladies, about how he carries himself. 

Of course it’s not easy to let go of the neuroses, to stop watching the clock and calling him every hour to see where he is, to stop doing the occasional location checks by driving around and making sure he’s not lying to me, but ultimately I had to do it for his own good—and also for my own good, so that I could be confident that I was sending a child out into the world who would be able to cope with all the hell and bullsh*t that will be thrown his way.

The boy has gotten so big. At 6-1 and 275, he sometimes looks monstrous to me. He informed me last week that he just tied his high school’s record in the bench press for his weight group. His arms look like two big hams attached to enormous shoulders. Since he will be playing defensive lineman at Lafayette, responsible for tossing aside blockers so that he can grab those little running backs and quarterbacks and fling them to the ground, the size makes sense. But I must admit that I DO miss the little boy, the one that I could toss onto the bed like a giggling and squealing stuffed animal, the one who used to lug around his collection of action figures in his own shoulder bag, the one who was so outgoing in our old New Jersey neighborhood that the other adults on the block started calling him “the mayor.”

But I think that little boy isn’t totally gone. All of those little boy fragments are still in there somewhere—just covered over by layers of muscle and facial hair and black boy swagger. Every once in awhile, when he’s running around the house—making the walls shake!—playing with his little sisters, laughing and giggling about something, I still see flashes of the little boy. And it makes me smile to know that he’s still in there. Hopefully he always will be.

Congratulations, my boy. Go out there and slay the world.

About Our MBB Contributor:Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestselling tome The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms co-written with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. "The Blueprint" debuted No. 15 on the New York Times Bestseller's Hardcover Advice List this week. Nick is also a featured writer in the June 2010 issue of Essence, where he frequently writes about fatherhood and manhood.  

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  1. Congratulations on your son's graduation! I have 8 short years before my oldest enters into the world and heads off to college. I am so scared but I believe that God will protect him. I just keep praying that he will always hold God's hand and never let it go and that God will give me the strength to be strong. I pray the same things for your son. Good luck to him and best wishes!

  2. Tears. Bona fide tears in my eyes after reading this. It's such a blessing to see your child flourish, and he certainly has and no doubt will continue to do so. I can only imagine how it will feel when our little ones walk across somebody's stage and enter that new sort-of-grown-but-not-quite realm of life. I feel your pride in this piece and I match it with smiles, hi-fives, and gratitude that yet another beautiful, talented, and well-raised black man is marching onward in our community, and making himself and all of us proud right along with his daddy!

  3. Awe, congrats to the graduate and his mom.

    Peace, Love and Chocolate

  4. What a wonderful post! Congratulations! I think you are doing an amazing job and I can only hope that 17 years from now my son and 8 years from now my daughter will be equally equipped to deal with the world at hand. No telling what will await them with the way things are going. But I strongly believe that it starts at home, and you're doing precisely that with your long talks. It makes me proud to see another successful young brother paving his way! Good job mom and Good luck to him!!

  5. Oh wow force me to remember when I first met Mazi, 2yrs old?? I am so proud of him and the job you guys have done!! It is a joy to see our young ones grow and mature and open their personal envelope to the world. Thanks for the example, you have nurtured well the young manchild!! Cheers!!

  6. well you've got me crying like a baby :) What a beautiful post. Congrats to your son! i wish him all the best :)

  7. I'm proud of him too. Just hearing of all that he has accomplished with loving, supportive parents makes me smile and have hope that there is great things in store for our youth.

    Congrats to your son!

  8. Congratulations! Sending all the love and light I can to you, his moms and your son as you all step into this new adventure. I look forward to the chronicles of parenthood and familyhood as he matures into his own man and continues to make his indelible mark on this world.

    And, of course, I made this all about *me*. I cannot yet imagine the day I send my 8-year-old off to make his way in the world!

  9. I think this is not a little child, because he's a complete giant just look at him, we don't have to overestimate people because he's really talented.


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