The following are two excerpts along with an introduction from Darius Sasser’s book-in-progress, “Father Figures,” which tells the stories of different people who shaped his life and his understanding of fatherhood.
Every single day since that night six years ago I found out I was going to be a father, I’ve fought an internal battle. The war started with a question: “How do you become something you were never taught to be?” That’s right, it’s true, all the black dad jokes and stereotypes are real in my life. When I used to hear them, I’d feel infuriated because I felt targeted, but after a while I learned I wasn’t alone. As I grew older, I became numb to it. After years of waiting and wanting someone to come in and give me the father feels, I just gave up. Besides, nobody could replace uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It seemed like whatever I was going through, Will Smith had been through it. What more could I need? I realized I didn’t grow up having role models, I grew up having people I didn’t want to be like and situations I didn’t want to be in.
Belief is What Gets You There
I’m the youngest of five kids, two kids have separate moms but all with absent dads. My dad was in and out of my life until fifth grade. Mostly out—then in. He’d suddenly disappear after a couple of days. He was a drug addict (in my mind, he was addicted to super pills that made him switch moods). I’ve tried my best to bring memories to the surface, but there aren’t many. When I was younger, my dad took me to the Metreon in San Francisco, in my mother’s car. I remember him telling me we came from a long line of black magicians. That’s the coolest thing you can tell a black kid who watched cartoons every morning. He said, “Your great grandfather Cornelius Sasser was the best of us.” He said that our bloodline was the strongest. Then he waved his fingers and suddenly the music turned to my favorite song at the time, I Get Around by 2Pac, volume shaking the whole car. It took me until I was nineteen to figure out that he just controlled the music at the wheel.
That’s the only time in my life I can remember being completely happy. I wish that could have lasted forever. That memory was cut short the following day. He came home and busted our TV with a bat before stealing my mother’s car and totaling it.
This wasn’t a rare occurrence for me, or really for anybody at my school. We used to get stickers from officers and bring them to recess and play cops and robbers. I never thought about how it meant the teachers were able to identify which kids were having trouble at home. I just thought it was cool I got to be the cop more than the robbers.
My pops went to jail often. When he came back he’d tell me stories that he was on secret missions and would go on about how dangerous they were. I used to think nothing of it. I believed every word. Until I was in sixth grade and read that he got arrested online, and he sent me a portable DVD player. I knew he didn’t buy it because the arrest happened a couple of days before. I was more disappointed than hurt. I decided: that was the last time I’d let him get to me. It wasn’t even about what he went to jail for. I think it was more that I just hated the feeling of being let down.
I learned a valuable lesson from my dad, though: believing all his stories made everything feel okay, even when it wasn’t. It’s like all the bad things that everybody ever said about him didn’t even really matter to me, because in my head I believe he was magical and that he was misunderstood. It wasn’t about denying reality—just seeing a better outcome.
Letter to Lorenzo
I still remember the feeling of holding you for the first time and I didn’t know what to do. I woke up and your mom was gone, the room was dark and it was quiet and I didn’t say a word. I just stared at you. I mean, I was scared—and why wouldn’t I be? I was a young twenty-three-year-old with no clue of what it meant to be a father. Here I was looking at you, this beautiful baby boy sleeping like an angel. I never knew a love like this. You gave me a sense of determination and made me what to give you the world, but that same moment gave me deep anxiety because I realized I had to go get it for you.
I started thinking about what personality you’d have, and what subject in school you would like. I wondered if you’d like sports or even if you’d be a scientist. I thought about if you’d invent something cool, like the toaster strudel. As you can probably tell, my mind was moving a thousand miles per second. After that, I thought about what type of dad I would be. How could I be something I had never known?
I thought about what stories I’d tell you to that give you a sense of who I was. I’d tell you about the time I thought you could get drunk off root beer and I was stumbling around and knocking things over. Or the time I put mascara on my mustache on my first day of high school because I wanted to be seen as more mature. I’d tell you about the time I won a year’s supply of bacon in college and me and Uncle Cedrick and lived off BLT’s for a week. How I am the first person in our family to graduate college. I’m still not the most articulate person, but I plan on you being able to read this.
As a father, I don’t know what I am doing and I probably won’t ever know, but I’ll never leave you. I will always try my best and if I fail then I’ll get up and keep trying. Quitting isn’t in our blood, and that’s a strong trait you’ll always have in you. I was raised on survival and not love, so my views of the world are different from others. I learned at an early age that the world wasn’t fair to me because of the color of my skin. There’s a certain code of conduct we must hold ourselves to, but don’t worry, I’ll always protect you. I want you to know that if you are playing in a sports game or if it’s the world national musical chairs championships, no matter the competition I promise that I will always be your biggest fan.
You are by far the most precious thing in my life. You’ve gotten me through the lows and have always played a huge part in where I am today. I don’t want you to worry about whose house you live at or who loves you more, or who’s not here. You won’t have to concern yourself with who did what to who before you got here. Your presence in my life has made me realize I’ve got to think for two now. I understand now: I’ve got to make it and I better make it, because as long as the blood is pumping through my veins then I’ll keep my promise. If I’m not dead then I’m dedicated.