My father seemed deeply marked by the depravations he experienced as a child. He remained wounded, it seems to me, his entire life by his father’s absence. He talked about him and thought about him with a deep sense of regret. By paying close attention to my father, I glimpsed a fragility of manhood that resulted from its sheltering a little boy seeking his father’s attention, investment, and concern.
My father would have described himself as a ghetto resident. His residency, as he understood it, was directly related to his mother raising him and his brother without his father on a single income. In addition to lacking his father’s presence, inadequate housing, an inability to dress stylishly, his few and flimsy material possessions marked his experience as an impoverished child. My father never told me that he had a good Christmas as a child. He resented that.
Despite all that he perceived himself lacking–and in fact did lack–my father would have acknowledged the good men, indeed, the good models of masculinity in his community. In his final chapter, Mitchell Duneier writes that “sociologists and psychologists need to explore with greater care the hypothesis that the adaptations of some black men have produced at least some variants of a ghetto-specific masculinity with positive characteristics that might serve as a model to men in the wider society” (164). My father knew admirable men who lived in close proximity to his life and experience. Certainly my grandfather, my mother’s father, was one of these men…and there were others.