TAUNTON — “I never really wanted to have kids growing up because I always felt like my father was so abusive,” said Taunton Diversity Network founder and father of eight Mac McCotrell.
“He was an alcoholic. I felt like I carried that trait, and I never wanted to do that to any other child.”
McCotrell spoke to a Zoom call full of other men of color during Taunton Diversity Network’s fatherhood discussion Tuesday night.
He said he got married at 19 and was an alcoholic until he turned 21.
After he found out his wife was pregnant, he did some thinking.
“I ended up forgiving my father because I realized I couldn’t have a hate for him and love for my son at the same time,” he said. “So it actually changed me as a person.”
Once he had kids, he said, he realized it’s what he wanted, and he wanted to have many more.
But when his fourth child was nine months old, his wife walked out.
“I had to raise two boys and two girls by myself as a man,” he said. “And I caught hell from society. They weren’t trying to cut me no slack, no breaks, no help, no nothing.”
Help for families:Victims of Domestic Violence speaks out at Taunton Green event
These days, McCotrell is married again and has a big family, with four kids and four step-kids.
“I commend you guys for being fathers, because it’s easy for us to walk away,” he said.
McCotrell’s story was just one of the many honest, heartfelt and diverse experiences of fatherhood that were shared that night.
Over an hour and a half, the 10 men, made up mostly of TDN members, covered everything from who their role models were to what they think makes a good father.
More from Taunton Diversity Network:‘Violence is not the answer’ — Peaceful protesters converge on Taunton Green for March on Taunton
How it felt to learn they would become a father
The men began by talking about how they felt when they found out they would be a father.
“It is very frightening, the first time you’re hearing that, and you don’t know what to do. You feel like your life is stopping,” said TDN member and father of four Brian Costa.
Marketing specialist and father Andrew Irby said his first child was from an unplanned pregnancy when he was 17. At the time, he thought his life was over.
“Being a young father with my daughter at 17, we grew up together, he said. “I didn’t know much of anything. I was 17. I was a young boy. That’s all I knew.”
TDN founder and father of two Derek George said when he had a child at 25, he had always wanted to be a father and felt ready for it, but was still worried because he didn’t have everything in place in his life.
“You always want to be ready, but I think everybody thinks ‘Oh, let me have a house and marry, then have kids.’ We have all these things — none of that was in place yet,” he said.
Author and speaker John Martin Sr. said that when he had his first child, it wasn’t planned.
“I was in the streets at 19 when I found out,” he said.
Martin said before his son was born, all he though about was saving up money for his child.
“Once I heard him crying, and then I seen him, then it dawned on me like ‘Damn, I’m a dad,'” he said. “Now it’s time to just put things in motion and try to do things the right way, instead of what I was doing.”
Costa said he had had a similar experience, and lost three years with his daughter while serving in prison. That’s where, he said, he realized he had hurt his kids and his family, and that he wanted to be different.
“What are you going to do when you come home? Are you going to go back to the same thing? Are you just going to keep going of go get a job nine to five?” he said. “That’s the hardest thing — going from making $5,000 a day to making $500 a week.”
The struggles of being a stepfather
The men also talked about the struggles of being a stepfather.
Costa, who has three children and one stepson, said he tries to treat all of them the same. But at the same time, he said, it’s difficult, because he is not treated the same as a parent because he is not a blood relative.
“We love them like our own, we treat them like our own,” McCotrell agreed.
But McCotrell said he has had a similar experience, where sometimes his wife reminds him not to cross a line with her kids, and his children will get upset with him for doing things for his stepchildren that he couldn’t do for them at the time.
“It’s tough because we always have to dance that line. Sometimes we have to stay in the lane that they put us in,” he said.
Advice for other men
His advice for other men? Surround yourself with likeminded men who you can open up to about your problems.
“A lot of times as men, we don’t want to talk about what’s bothering us. We feel like we’ve got to swallow that,” he said.
CJ Daye, a TDN founder and father of two, agreed, saying he feels men are taught to always be guarded, to be tough, and never to cry.
But he’s teaching his son differently, along with making sure he teaches his son how to treat women right, and making sure he teaches his daughter how she should be treated by men.
“I try not to raise my voice to her because I don’t want her to think it’s okay for a man to do that,” he said.
Irby then chimed in on what he thinks makes a good father, saying that while anyone can make a baby, not everyone can be a good father.
“Just because you’re there doesn’t mean you’re a good father. You have to interact,” he said. “You have to educate, you have to lead by example, you have to punish, you have to show them that there are consequences to their actions.”
Johnathan DaRosa, owner of DaRosa’s Floors and More in Taunton and father of two, agreed, saying that it’s important spend quality time with your kids. He said that even though he often comes home from an 11-hour day tired, he always makes sure to put energy into hanging out with his kids.
Identifying role models
The conversation then turned to role models, with many of the men saying they grew up with few or no male role models. For some, their mother became both their mother and father, they said.
“My motivation was to be less like the man who left and more like the woman who raised me,” Cotrell said.
The men then transitioned into talking about what it is like to talk with their children about the discrimination they will face as people of color in America.
“You gotta be real with them,” said TDN member and father Jerome Silva. “You gotta be like, ‘Listen, this is what it is. This is what they gonna do. They’re going to mess with you for no reason.'”
Irby said a first-grade girl called his son the “n” word when his son was in second grade, and he ended up having to talk to him about racism much earlier than he wanted to.
Martin said he often sees white teachers in minority-majority schools say discriminatory things to their students and not even realize it. He said his own son had to argue with a teacher who didn’t believe he was named “John Jr.”
“They might think that they’re joking around, but they can really offend our kids while our kids are sitting in that classroom. And then our kids are feeling inadequate,” he said.
The men ended their discussion by talking about what they want to leave behind for their kids. All said they wanted to leave a positive legacy for their kids to follow.
“It’s a tradition for Black and brown men to have that legacy, to be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know my father, but now I get to do this over,'” said Gary Dantzler of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island. “I’m gonna care about my son or my daughter the way it’s supposed to be done.”