What does it mean to you to be a father?
A father to me should be a good example for his child, be present, lead by example, be nurturing, understanding and responsible. These are simple words but speak volumes when I think about being around children. Being a father means to be thoughtful about what I say and how I treat children. I am aware that I am raising a child who is going out in the world and I want my children to be decent human beings. I don’t focus on being rich or driving fancy cars; riches will come from being a good human being.
Tell us about your family background and your family history. Where are you from?
I was born in North Jersey, lived there until about 13 and moved to Palm Coast, Florida; went to middle and high school there. I left there in my early twenties to move to New York to pursue my culinary career and then back to Florida. My Mom had remarried and moved to Brooklyn which is where I lived, too, when I was younger. My mom is from New Jersey and My Dad is from Alabama.
I grew up basically in an all-white neighborhood. From the time I was in K-6 there were only two African-American kids in the school, me and my older brother. My grandmother was married to a Polish gentleman who I knew to be my grandfather and raised us as his own; my early experiences shaped me in a way that I am comfortable being around all cultures and later working in fine dining I often was the only African-American chef. I am hyper aware of who I am and proud of my race and my heritage but I don’t have discomfort being around other cultures. Race was never an issue; no matter who you were you were welcomed in our home, we were welcomed where we were. I am grateful for that as it had a profound effect on me.
Tell us about your children.
Nazir, age 6, which means “beloved” is brilliant; taught himself to read about 3 yrs., his memory is like an elephant; he is book smart. He is like that since he was small. It is incredible to see the amount of information he can take in and remembers. I can reference a day and he can remember details.
Zari – she’s almost two. She is intuitive, sweet, sharing, a kind little girl, loves her brother immensely, very athletic. I can see her in gymnastics or soccer one day. She’s daddy’s little girl. She can do anything.
What values are important to you in raising your children?
I need to facilitate their strengths and character building. Economics plays a part in how you raise your children. If I had more money I would travel with them to see the world and expose them to different cultures. I try to do a lot locally and when in New York take them to different areas in the city.
Values are important to me. When you are kind to others, that will take you far in life. Your children may not understand now but they will understand as they grow. It will matter more than the salary you make. That will sustain them…not a superficial manifestation of life. It’s important to me how they treat each other. It takes practice but we can’t expect them to treat others kindly if they don’t treat each other kindly.
What can fathers do to raise their children’s sense of security and confidence beginning from birth?
Fathers need to be present…it doesn’t mean they need to be in the same space but be aware of their actions and their behavior and consider the example they are setting. Be someone they can look up to. I did not get that connection with my Dad; he’s a great man but he didn’t have a father himself to learn how to be a father. He was more like a friend. Need to be there mentally not just physically.
Before entering a nursing home, my Dad lived with me for a few years and that was the closest time we had together. He is 90 now and has dementia.
Why did you volunteer for your child’s school for the M-DCPS virtual Fathers in Education Week or in general? Why is that important and how does it make you feel?
It’s important to volunteer for your child’s school. Important to be present. One day I want my son to be present in his child’s life. I am setting an example. I want to do the right thing to pass that on to my children. When my children know that I will be there that starts that bond of security.
I would love to do more for children. I have been a chef for 15 years and cooked for the Dali Lama and many celebrities. I would like to give back; that feels good. I would love to do a children’s program. I grew up watching Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. I learned more things from Sesame Street than kindergarten. Mr. Rogers was a saint. I consider him a good human being. He gave his whole life to children.
As a father considering your occupation as a chef what unique skills do you utilize in the interaction with your children? What impact do you think you have in the community?
Food is very important in our household. Mom is an amazing cook too. I use food as a tool to help my children understand culture. I don’t just cook different dishes we talk about them. I speak to my children as I speak to an adult. I don’t dumb down to our children. That is why my son is doing so well in school. We don’t want to teach our children things they have to unlearn.
I don’t have as much impact on the community as I would like. I work and travel quite a bit. I lived in St Croix and Hawaii and travelled back and forth. Because I was home during Fathers in Education Day I was able to volunteer for my child’s school. It makes me feel good to know that M-DCPS is using the cooking program I provided to families at Ojus Elementary School as an example of what other schools could do.
What are your thoughts on how you can encourage other fathers and male role models to get more involved with their families and their community?
It’s important to connect with other fathers to see where they are and have conversations with them. They may have an issue about getting involved. I would love to speak with them. I would stress to them that getting involved builds a legacy of helping others. You pass on to your son and daughter the importance of being present in their lives, being aware that they need you. You need to help fathers understand the feeling as they may not have experienced that feeling growing up. I would promise them if they tried to be more present in their children’s life they would be breaking the cycle and their children would benefit. It’s one thing to read something on a piece of paper about getting involved but to sit with a father on a one and one it is more profound. Someone like me who didn’t have that relationship with his father; it would be more personal and genuine.
How do you remain an engaged father during COVID19? What new challenges and opportunities do fathers have with their children during this time?
It is about social economics. In general fathers may not be able to do all that they want for their children because they work crazy hours and may not have time. But now with COVID19 fathers may be experiencing depression with concerns about paying bills, how and when they are going to be able to re-enter the work force. I try to keep a happy face for my kids; when I feel down I try to play with them. It’s rough because being idle is not what I’m used to so I have to find ways to keep my stamina like talking with someone. I don’t want my ups and downs to have a long-lasting effect on my children. I will watch a movie with my children and try to move on. Fathers have to be aware of how lashing out at their families and kids is not what they deserve. The tough times will pass. Children are going through a lot themselves. Some men are not good at expressing their emotions because they don’t want to burden others but this is not good for children or relationships if their fathers are not present for them. I encourage my children to talk about their emotions freely as I don’t have machismo ideas about being sad or crying. Sometimes fathers look like we are fine in our safe place; our work saved us because we were busy but we are more vulnerable now with changes due to COVID19. I know intellectually it’s not a burden to tell a family member or a counselor when you feel you are going off track. Our pride and ego should bring us to take action to keep healthy and stay active in our children’s lives.
What ideas do you have for fathers to remain involved with their children when they live apart?
When fathers live apart they should FaceTime and have every day conversations and engage with their children. Call them to find out how their day was and let them know you are thinking of them that they are on your mind. It gives them a needed sense of security and bridges the distance to know you remain present in their lives.