It is difficult for every individual to find a black male who exemplifies the complete opposite of popular culture. But, there are men that have many traits that challenge popular culture. My dad, Joe Murphy, is the closest man to me that demonstrates masculinity to me on this present day. Although his past has reflects influences of popular culture, he uses his experiences to encourage young black men, children, his family, and himself.
My dad was born and raised in Compton, California. When he was in his grade school years, he was enrolled in schools that made him “bored.” He was intelligent and did not feel challenged. It was something that made him lose interest in school because it moved to slow. Later, he moved into a life of drugs, money and gangs. Before I was born, my dad got caught up in the fast life and was sentenced to prison for four years.
JOQUOYA: What is your present definition of masculinity in Black men?
JOE: I think a man taking care of his family is one of the most masculine things ever, because there are not many men doing anything. That’s a masculine thing to do. Through thick and thin. Being a man is going to the store to pick up his girl’s private things. There is nothing wrong with that! It’s all about being a family man who is a man about family.
JOQUOYA: In your twenties, what was your definition of masculinity?
JOE: A dude with lots and lots of money. At that time I was ignorant and not knowing what was going on. On my 18th birthday, got dang it, I was a man.
JOQUOYA: What shaped the way you perceived masculinity to be in your twenties?
JOE: At twenty it was a whole different world. What shaped my masculinity was since I was young. I have been pulled over 5 and 6 times a day just because I was black. I always looked up to the high road. Drug dealers. They were the only ones that helped me when I was down.
[The experience of being in prison changed the way he thought about what it meant to be a real man. Once he got out of jail, the only real jobs that would accept my dad’s criminal record were factory jobs. He began working for a manufacturing company in Cypress, California. By that time, I had reached my fourth birthday. My dad worked graveyard shifts and long hours to support my family. When I reached the fifth grade, we finally had a stable home.]
JOQUOYA: What caused it to change as you got older?
JOE: You did. I went to jail. I did four years in the penitentiary. I watched you grow on paper. I heard you say “daddy” over the phone. I don’t want my kids to have a problem of being around without me. And I didn’t want them to miss the important parts of growing up without me.
JOQUOYA: As an African American man, what do you feel has changed in the way masculinity is defined in today’s youth?
JOE: Aw shoot. Now, kids don’t have a damn clue of what’s going on in the world. Kids are into more games and they are more distracted with internet. You, yourself, found that when you went to college. Life isn’t because we aren’t there; life is because no one is there. You have to rely on you. Back then, I wanted to go outside and came home when the street lights came on. Nowadays kids stay inside. That brings black youth down.
[My dad worked throughout the day. He still held his full-time job working graveyard shifts. During the day, when he wasn’t resting, he was volunteering to coach my brother’s football games and in the stands rooting for me when I played basketball. He was tough on my black male friends when it came to school; most of them didn’t have father figures in their home so they looked up to him. My dad even took time to prepare me and my brothers and sister for life, although no one is ever prepared. When it came to my Black female friends, they enjoyed his presence. To most, I shared him; he was the father they never had.
I think that my grandpa not being around when he split up with my grandma made this change in him. But, my dad took it as a lesson to be a true father.]
JOQUOYA: What are your feelings towards what a relationship should like between black men and women?
JOE: It should be thinking more of others than themselves. Think about how others feel. If you can do that on both sides, any relationship can survive. It’s about putting someone before you for a change.
JOQUOYA: If you could go back in time and tell your high-school-self something about masculinity, what would that be?
JOE: I would have told him to play some football. And I would have loved for my father to be in my life. And he and my mother didn’t have to split up. But that’s what I call a “genie wish.” I wish, I wish but nothing will happen. But now, I wouldn’t change anything, I’m good with my family and where I am now.
JOQUOYA: What do you feel about single parent homes in the Black community?
JOE: It is a tragedy because it isn’t the woman’s fault. It’s the black man being incarcerated. No good schools or programs in poor neighborhoods. It happens, and what can we do about? We can’t do too much to change it. If I could, I would make it better. Most of our black men are in the pen, leaving black women with four and five baby daddies. It’s just messed up. I love my daughter for going out there doing the right thing. As long as I know you went to school and dis the right thing. You already know it’s been a hard thing to do, but I stuck it out. I know I messed up, but I know if I’m around my kids won’t mess up. I wish a lot of black men installed that in their kids. I wish more black men had that mentality. They locked me up one time. That was good enough for me.
[My dad is not a pastor. He is not the CEO of some flashy company. But, that doesn’t make him any less meaningful to society. If he can choose a positive road to still strive to fend for his family and others around him with constant happiness, he is more than a man. My dad grew up to defy the stereotypes.]