Diverse elementary students in the classroom

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I love my dad, but I’m lucky to be able to say that he’s not the only man I celebrate on Father’s Day.

My parents divorced when I was around eight years old, and like many single moms, mine turned to family—hers was pretty dope. We moved back to my grandparents’ multi-unit home and every apartment was occupied by one, or two, of my uncles. So between her four brothers and my grandfather, I had a lot of day-to-day male love. Our house was always filled with men, from neighbors to classmates to coworkers to business partners, so I also became used to hearing a lot of bass-filled voices, ear hustled crass jokes and felt extremely loved and protected. In our neighborhood everyone knew me as “their” baby— and that was a very big collective— so I walked the streets of my community with an astute awareness of when to drop my mother’s maiden name.

But the men in my life did more than shield me from the streets and lay the foundation for my “frat boy” humor. In many ways, they taught me how to love myself and really see men.

I’ll start with my grandfather, a mechanic and inventor and undoubtedly one of the most respected men in our section of the world.  He’s also one of the first people who told me I was smart—and that meant everything. I remember ear hustling (I was always nosey) a conversation he had with my mom, telling her that I memorized an entire play, and how exceptional that, and I, was. Saying I was psyched is an understatement. Words walk with you, and from that point on brilliance was my companion. And that wasn’t the only conversation I stole. I “overheard” talk on everything from the importance of carrying a family name to real estate investment, and logged each one. My PeePaw (a nickname from my little brother) also did little things that set the foundation of what I expected from men, like bringing home our favorite foods or staples whenever he went out, giving a little extra cash when it was time to go back-to-school shopping so I could at least one item I loved and always, always, always making sure that I had cash for a pay phone, cab and food if I left the house to travel. For me, his name was spelled “security.”

But the men in my life did more than shield me from the streets and lay the foundation for my “frat boy” humor. In many ways they taught me how to love myself and really see men.

Chris Rock once said something about families having every kind of uncle: I lived with them all. My Uncle Greg was the dreamer. A producer at heart, he spent years grinding in the biz and introduced me to the magic and business of this thing we now call hip hop culture. He was one of the first people to say, “You can do it,” when I elected to derail my law school aspirations and try something closer to my passion. And he’s always there to remind me that I have that “Forde spirit.”

My Uncle Carlos was the business man— put him in any room from corporate to the projects and he’d craft a deal. He’d always remind me of the importance of ownership and the power of your own genius. But what I liked most about Uncle C is that he was fun, loving and frank as hell. When my mom died a few years ago he call me every week for exactly one year, bringing each call to a close with, “Okay, I don’t have anything else to say.” I’d always laugh at his sucky transition, and value those calls.

As a teen, my Uncle Alfredo was apparently the neighborhood bully. By the time I came around, I remember all the guys telling tales of his bad behavior. With us, my siblings and cousins, he was just a big ole bear—minus the teddy. He growled a lot, laughed a bit and was always watching. He taught me how to differentiate between bark and bite (he was a lot more of the former) and he (along with Uncle C) is entirely responsible for my terribly offensive sense of humor. He loved a good laugh, and telling it like it is—I learned to double dish both.

My Uncle Raymond always came through with the three C’s: a card, a compliment and a college story. Only 15 years my senior, some of my fondest memories as a child are dancing with him during his weekend visits from Howard University. He’d tell me about his old-school landlord and networking “functions.” Later, he’d be the first man to take me on practice dates. But perhaps the thing that stands out most is his diligence with compliments. He’d always notice a new ‘do or particularly styled outfit, and was sure to praise me for my efforts.

Being a father isn’t about perfection; it’s about showing up and sharing what you have. I want to thank all of the men in my life for giving the best parts of themselves.

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