What does fatherhood mean to you?
Fatherhood means being a good role model for my kids. My dad was my greatest hero. I hope to be the same for my kids.
I have been told that fatherhood is leadership and that a leader blazes a path for others to follow. Today our children deal with an enormous amount of distractions on a daily basis. As parents we want our children to grow up the right way, but if we don’t pay attention to their wants and needs they will find someone who will. Allowing someone else to become role models for our children should not happen.
What is the best part of being a dad?
The best part is feeling that I’m loved, seeing my children smile, hearing their laughter and holding them in my arms. Also knowing that when the world’s problems close in, my children will come to me for comfort and advice.
What is your proudest moment as a dad?
The proudest moments have been watching my daughter graduate from high school knowing that so many Native children dropout before they finish school. Even that night a teacher tried to stop her from crossing the stage because she was wearing her moccasins and a traditional sign of honor - an eagle feather given to her by her grandmother and the medicine people of our family. And simply the times I see that they have grown into good, caring people that love each other. Hearing them talk about going to college and getting jobs. And knowing that when I start my journey into the next world they will be able to stand on their own.
What do you and your children do for fun?
We play board games and video games and go to art shows, Powwows,the movies and concerts. It’s funny, some of my children’s friends get upset because we listen to the some of the same music (Fallout Boy, Beatles, Robbie Robertson, Robert Mirabal, Yellowhammer, Mozart and Snoop Dogg).
When I went with my kids to a concert recently, they asked why I was dressed as an EMO. I said I was dressed like Johnny Cash in all black. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
What is the hardest part about being a dad?
Possibly the hardest part is to know when to say YES. It’s easy saying no when kids want to do something that you know is harmful, but if you don’t know what your kids are doing or who their friends are, you worry about what could happen to them. I guess that’s why I’ve met almost all of my children’s friends. I am their parent, not their friend. Friends come into our lives and they go, the one constant is a parent. We become a parent when our children are born and remain a parent even after we pass into the next world.
Three of my kids are adults now, yet when they are with me they still tell me where they are going and what they will be doing. My kids tell me about their fears and their feelings and sometimes it’s hard to hear. They do this because they respect me and my feelings. Respect is something you earn, not something that is given to you. These are my children no matter how old they are. The hardest part is watching them leave, moving out into the world and wondering if you are still needed.
What kind of dad do you strive to be?
I hope I am the kind of dad my father was - strong, gentle and tough as nails, with a kind word for everyone. I want my kids to be able to talk about anything with me. I want them to be proud of who they are and where they come from. I want them to know the history of our people and take pride in the culture that we try to hold on to so hard.
Describe your funniest moment as a dad.
My son’s name is Kiamichi-tet. It means “Little Mountain”, but we just call him Ki. One day I was working on the porch of our house in Oklahoma using an electric saw. I latched the door so no one would walk out and get hurt. As I was working the door pushed out, then closed, then pushed out again with a little face peering through the opening. The face was now pressed firmly in the space but the door wouldn’t move anymore. It looked like one of the character cutouts that you stick your face in as people take your picture! I started to laugh. Then the face said, “Dad, it’s me Ki!” Some how he thought I didn’t know who it was trying to come out the door.
One day I was working on the ceiling fan in the bedroom. I could hear the braces on my oldest son’s legs squeaking as he passed back and forth in front of the doorway. Mirio has Cerebral Palsy, but he wanted to help so badly. I had just started to put the wires together when he came in and said, “Let me help. You need some light.” He then turned on the switch, but I was the one that was lit up.
My daughter was visiting the camp of her adopted Grandmother at a Powwow in Oklahoma. She was sitting a folding lawn chair that was positioned on a sloping area of the camp her little legs weren’t on the ground. As she started to get out of the chair, it fell backward and folded up on her. She wasn’t able to get out of the chair. Her tiny grandmother was trying to help but couldn’t get her out. Knowing her grandma couldn’t move her. My daughter finally said “Its okay grandma I like it like this.” And laid there staring at the stars until her uncle and I got her out.
My youngest at around three or four wanted to play catch, so I put a glove on him and tried to show him how to do it. We did this for awhile and then it was time to really play. I tossed the ball to him and he put the gloved hand straight out and he stood looking at it as it sailed toward him. The ball hit him squarely in the middle of his forehead before bouncing off. My son looked like ET in the famous scene where he faints when Drew Barrymore screams! He fell straight back on to the ground. He was OK. He just wasn’t ready for the ball like he thought he was.
My kids like to tell these stories all the time. I asked them what they thought our funniest moments together were and this was what we all agreed on.
What would you hope that your kids would say about you if asked what kind of a dad they have?
I hope they say that I’m a good man to Native people. That is probably the best compliment you can give to a man. The money, position and items we collect in our lifetime mean nothing if we aren’t good men. It is simple and powerful at the same time.
What is the most important piece of advice you’ve received about fatherhood?
I got this from my dad. He said, “Son if you have to raise your voice to your children that is your fault not theirs. You are responsible for the way they act. You are their teacher. Teach them that when they are told to do something it is because they are loved. That stopping them from doing something harmful is to keep them safe.”
My dad was my greatest teacher. As a boy I asked him about something I heard at school, that real men don’t cry. He told me that only a real man cries. He said, “We are human beings and humans shed tears. Tears cleanse our spirit and help us heal. If we don’t let our pain out we never heal.”
I saw this when as a young boy I was with a group of boys who were teasing another child and throwing metal pop lids at him. One I threw hit him in the head. I jumped around like I had won some kind of contest, but as I turned back around I saw my dad standing between my group of friends and the boy. They scattered and I stood there looking at my dad as he came up to me wondering what he was going to do. He stood quietly in front of me and then simply said, “Son I thought I taught you better than to pick on someone weaker than you. If not, I’m sorry.”
I looked into his eyes and saw the pain I caused. I have seen my dad with broken bones and he never complained. But, with this, I hurt him worse than anything before. His simple act of compassion for others changed my life.
We must teach our children what being a responsible father is all about. We must take responsibility for insuring our children grow up strong, safe and loved.
What would you consider to be your most inspiring moment as a dad?
I look back over the years and I think of this event. I was working as a teacher’s assistant for a high school special education class in Oklahoma. I called the children I worked with my kids. They were and are very special to me.
Money was tight that year and I was looking ahead to the holidays. Like so many who get caught up in the material world, I thought of gift giving at Christmas time. I thought I might have a chance to take a job that paid more, but would take me away from my family. So I brought my family together to talk about what was happening.
I told my kids that we didn’t have enough money to pay bills and buy Christmas presents that year. I then told them about the job opportunity and thought they would feel better knowing that maybe next year they would have a better Christmas. My kids seemed to sense that I was feeling down about everything. My daughter put her hand on mine and said, “Dad your kids at school need you. They need you more than we need presents. What would they do without you?”
I didn’t know what to say. I was so proud of my children at that moment. They had grown beyond thinking of themselves and were thinking of others. We are told the Creator speaks to our children and the knowledge of our people flows though them, so we must listen to our children and not disregard their thoughts. My kids had just taught me a valuable lesson - the material things we give to each other aren’t as important as the love that we give to one another.