Q: What does it mean to be a father?
A: It’s not a biological issue. It’s about how you look at caring and preparing children to be well-functioning adults, giving them the strength to succeed in the world and providing guidance and a sort of blueprint for how they should live their lives.
Q: What did you learn from your own father?
A: I give my father all the credit. He passed away two years ago and even though he and my mother separated, he was always a part of my life and stayed in regular contact. He was the coach of my little league team. He made sure to be at every football game my brother and I played. He was a man of few words. If he said four words to you in a conversation, that was a lot. But you knew he cared.
He set parameters for my brother and me. He’d always say, “Don’t dress for the job you have but dress for the job you want.” I found that to be truly amazing. He was only a high school graduate and every day, he wore a suit and tie to work. I didn’t know what his job was until about 12-years-old because he worked the midnight to eight shift. He was leaving when I was going to bed or coming home when I was waking up. He worked in the mail room of the post office and eventually rose up to be supervisor. He knew he wanted to be a supervisor, and while he could have worn jeans and a T-shirt, he didn’t. That stuck with me.
Q: How do you see your own role as a father?
A: I have two daughters — a 21-year-old and a 15-year-old.
My role is to prepare them for the world. So that they can be strong,
empowered, independent women. To help them understand a man is not the one to
make them happy. They have to find their happiness within. They can do whatever
they want as long as they work hard for it.
Q: Did you always think you would be a parent?
A: I knew I wanted to be a parent. I definitely wanted girls. There was never a time in my life that I said I wanted to raise boys because I knew raising boys would be difficult and a challenge. I had my first child later in life, in my early 30s. My second daughter is adopted. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s added a level of stability and completeness to my life.
Q: What are your views on adoption and foster care?
A: There are a lot of men unfortunately who biologically produce children and have no involvement and then another man comes in and becomes a father figure. To me, [the latter] is also the definition of a father.
For many of the young people we serve, part of the role of the agency is to provide that paternal and maternal sense for many of the children. I admire very much those men who are foster parents, because they take in children who are not their own, children who will be with them for a temporary basis, and they believe in their hearts that these children deserve the best possibility of success. Being a male figure for that child will provide better opportunities. Research shows that children with a male father figure do better academically and have less involvement in criminal justice and less exposure to drugs and alcohol.
Q: How have you modeled behavior at work, especially in the midst of a pandemic?
A: If you look at my role as the leader of the agency, my job is to ensure not only the agency’s success but the success of each individual employee. So one of the things I do, like I do for my children, is model behavior. I encourage educational and intellectual development and have conversations with staff about what they could do to advance themselves. I serve as a mentor to two black males in the nonprofit sector who hope to become CEOs. I meet with them on a regular basis. It’s not a father son relationship, but a mentor mentee relationship. This helps them develop the strength to succeed in the world. That’s what a father does. A father’s role is to prepare the child for adulthood. That’s really what it is.
True leadership shows itself in a crisis. It’s very easy to lead when there are no challenges and things go correctly. But how do you react when there’s a problem or things don’t go as you had planned? You have to be nimble. I have weathered three crises. I started my first CEO job Sept 10th, the day before 911 hit. I had three staff members whose spouses were in the towers. Another CEO position was during a time of racial unrest in the city where I worked. And now at LSSNY, I’ve had to deal with COVID. But it makes you stronger. From each situation, I learned something. And that — to me — has made me a better leader.
Q: What is most surprising about fatherhood?
A: Seeing your children become the adults that you wanted them to be. My oldest daughter graduated from college this year but had to leave campus in March because of COVID. This was the semester that was supposed to be the highlight of her college experience. You’re forced back home to live with your parents, you don’t have a job, you’re missing the senior dance and you’re missing graduation. I saw in her the resiliency that she showed by making the adjustment to not having those things. She’ll be going to grad school in September and doesn’t know if will be on campus or online. The same with my youngest daughter who’s finishing her first year of high school. I watched her adapt to the online educational system and go from a little girl to a fourteen-year-old. It’s been really interesting.
Q: As a father, how do you feel about society today?
A: We live in a society that will continue to face challenges about race because we don’t talk about it. So what we see is a horrible situation like George Floyd and Christian Cooper and Ahmaud Arbery and we pontificate and declare Juneteenth a holiday and talk about what we are going to do. But unless we change the structure of how we function as a society, I’m afraid these situations won’t be addressed.
Right now, there is talk about defunding the police. Yet we have not discussed the issues that lead to police involvement, communities that are food deserts, disparities in health care, sub-standard housing, poorly-performing schools and lack of employment. All of that must also be addressed and discussed. We need to discuss why things are the way they are and who truly benefits as a result.
Otherwise, it’s just putting a Band-Aid on a deep wound, and we all know that won’t cure the problem.