The joy of fatherhood: Helpful tips for fathers and men who want to become fathers
by Morris Turner
Some say, “Out of sight, out of mind,” but I know better and so do you. It takes more than fancy cars, a suit and tie slave gig or a house in a gated community to squelch the reality that too many thousands of Black fathers are missing from our communities. Yes, my brothers “inside,” you may not hear from us, the “straight johns” on the “outside” as often as you should, but I wanted to let you know that you are thought of and deeply valued.
No matter where you are, gray stone is gray stone, and sometimes the singular unbreakable thread between us is the common denominator of fatherhood. I know that your lives are sometimes expressed through a “kick gravel and travel” philosophy and other axioms of the dwellers of Babylon. This month it is a pleasure to share with you some strategies offered by another “locked down” brother, who “pulls the sheets back” and tells it like it is when it comes to being an incarcerated father.
The following are excerpts and suggestions offered by brother Michael Carlin, in what he calls “Tips from a Father in Prison.”
As a father in prison, I have experienced many different emotional highs and lows in trying to reattach to my son, who is now a man with a family of his own. In my particular case, it was difficult getting past the negative things my son was told about me during our separation.
Here is a list of suggestions that may assist you in maintaining an attachment to your children from inside prison:
1) Even if your relationship with the mother of your children is over, you need to establish and maintain a positive relationship with her for the sake of your children.
2) Don’t expect big changes right away from family members. Take your time.
3) Find out about policies regarding how you can connect with your child for visitations, letters and telephone calls. Ask your prison chaplain, counselor or other staff for help.
4) Develop a plan and follow it on how often you will connect with your child.
5) When explaining to your children why you are not living with them, be honest but respectful of their ability to understand it according to their ages.
6) To establish and maintain your family relationships, be ready to make amends and apologize to them.
7) Your family and your children need to be able to rely on you. If you say you will call or write regularly, be consistent with your contact schedule.
8) Use your time in prison as constructively as possible. Get your GED, take parenting and anger management classes if available.
9) While you have nothing but time on your hands, start clearing up legal problems, driving record and credit issues. You can also request to have your child support order modified downward because of your circumstances of being incarcerated.
10) Go to the prison library and take time to read about how to be a good father. Try to read as much as you can about father-child relationships.
Michael Carlin was selected as the recipient for the first fellowship by the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents in 1996. He has spent more than 20 years in state and federal prison for bank robbery.
Your bodies may exist in a finite space, but your minds and hearts are without limits. One day, one victory at a time and, as always, your feedback is encouraged and welcomed.
Morris Turner, the father of two sons, ages 39 and 35, was a community worker with the Black Panther Party. Over the past 45 years he has worked with children and young people in a variety of settings, including as preschool teacher, career counselor, family mentor and sports coach. He is also an author and recognized researcher in the area of African American settlement in the United States, but his greatest pleasure today is learning to be a good grandpa. He can be reached at email@example.com or by writing to the Bay View.