Sometimes I’m Afraid People Won’t Like Me

Cool. Brave. Inspirational.

These are a few of the words I often hear being used by others to describe me. And I’m very grateful. Growing up desperately lonely, frequently yearning for social contact, it’s nice to know that people like me. This doesn’t mean, however, that I always believe it. The truth is that sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.

Which is ridiculous.

Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m unfairly judging myself. Maybe this feeling is something a lot of people feel but don’t express. Okay, so it’s not ridiculous that I feel this way. However, I’m sure people who know me personally, or those who I’ve worked with, would never guess that I sometimes am afraid I won’t be liked be others.

I’m pretty outgoing. I have a lot of friends. I work directly with people and I believe I’m well-liked by my coworkers. And I believe I’m well-liked by my clients. I’m also a public speaker with the ability to make crowds laugh, cry, and introspect–all in 30 minutes or less. I’ve gotten my share of standing ovations and I’ve literally experienced rooms shaking with applause. Sometimes when I go out with friends, I get loud and make the strangers around us laugh. So given all this, it would seem that I’m pretty good with people and that I’m a *gasp* likeable guy.

Yet sometimes I’m still afraid people won’t like me.

Where then is this all coming from? The place where all nagging insecurities are born, from the irrational bowels of naive and self-absorbed misunderstanding, a place called childhood!

Again, this would seem strange because, at least until I was about age 11 or 12, in a lot of ways I had a pretty normal childhood. Yeah, I was poor and food was sometimes scarce, but I was pretty happy as a kid. At least I think I was. No, I’m sure I was. I had a lot of friends at school. I was good at sports, made every team, and was always a starter. I was literally the smartest kid in my school and not in a pompous way, but in a whimsical, “yeah, I’m smart I guess *shrug*, can we talk about baseball now?” kind of way. Other people cared more about me being smart than I did. For them, being smart meant I was going to *drumroll*…change the world!…and for me, it meant that I could spend more time daydreaming and drawing in class. Teachers liked me as well and I was never bullied. So, I was in that rare position where I was well-liked by teachers and peers, despite being super smart and kind of nerdy (my school crush in grade 6–Scarlett–nick-named me ‘computer geek’ and then she asked me to dance at the end of the year party). So, then, where is this feeling that I won’t be liked by others coming from? Certainly not from what was happening at school–school was a pretty positive place for me. What’s that other place you spend a lot of time when you’re growing up? What’s it called again? Oh yeah, I think it’s called…

Home.

Now, my home life wasn’t bad. I was just alone a lot. And not by choice. My mother, having to feed three sons who shovelled food down like they had wheelbarrows for stomachs, was doing her best to improve our lives–or just to keep us well-clothed and fed. She did this by going to school full-time and working full-time. So when my mother was done with work, school, and cooking, well there are only 24 hours and the day, and for most of those hours, my brothers and I, we didn’t have the luxury of receiving meaningful attention from our mom. For me, that meant that my mother didn’t show up to any of my games, it meant that she left school performances immediately after my part was done, it meant that she didn’t have the time for long (or short) conversations about my day, that she didn’t have the time for me to analyze for her the drawing that I drew or the story that I wrote. She just didn’t really have the time to always engage in the social aspect of parenting.

The problem with single-parency is that it often turns that parent into a provider while leaving little time for nurturing. This a problem because after basic needs are met, what a child needs most of all is attention–and unfortunately my mother just didn’t have a lot of that to give me. And that’s not her fault. As a kid, though, you don’t really get how tired, how exhausted, life can make you. Instead, you just wonder, “why doesn’t my mom want to talk about my drawing?” or “why doesn’t my mom want to read any of my stories?” or “why doesn’t my mom come to any of my games?” As a child, your mother might say, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m really tired,” but then what you hear and what you feel is, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m too tired to care.” That’s how I felt. A lot. I get that she was busy and tired. But it still hurt. Because as a kid, you don’t understand, “busy” and “tired,” what you understand is, “mommy, you’re not there.”

And then there was my father. Well, to make a long story short, at the time of my childhood (even he would admit) he wasn’t a good dude. He, despite having much more free time than my mother, simply wasn’t there. By choice. His music career was more important. That’s where he spent all of his money and that’s where he spent all of his time. And forget child support money, what he needed to do was to give his child support with his time and his presence. But instead, I was given broken promises, phone calls to my pops that were never returned, late arrivals to the meet-ups he would schedule, or no arrival at all. I spent a lot of time crying because of my father. I’ve probably shed more tears because of my father than for all of the other events and people in my life combined. There were a lot of tears.

I felt unloved.

So, to recap quickly (as I gotta go to work at some point), with my mother, I felt like she didn’t care about me or my life outside of my grades, and I just didn’t feel like my father cared about me at all. When a kid feels like this for the large majority of his childhood, it’s easy to understand why he might feel like others won’t like him…

Because he never felt like his parents did.

And that my friends and anonymous readers is why I sometimes don’t return phone calls from people who teeter on that thin line between friend and acquaintance, or why I don’t ask potential friends who I’ve just met to hang out, or why I generally wait for others to introduce themselves first when I’m meeting people, or why it takes me such a long time to bring my walls down and open up to others, or why it seems like I don’t care or check-in enough, or why I don’t reach out to friends I haven’t heard from in awhile–it’s because I’m sometimes afraid people won’t care.

And I know that’s not true. I know that people do like me, and I know that people care. But sometimes the residue of childhood experiences aren’t easily washed away by the insight and maturity of adulthood. That’s why the fear is still there, that’s why I have to talk that fear back down when it tries to surge its way to the surface. That’s why I have to force myself through my social anxiety, to say hi to friends and strangers alike, to press send on that text, or to get on stage to talk to hundreds of strangers openly about my life.

Because sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.

My Secret Revealed: I Have a Son

Here he is. His name is Isiah. He’s seven years old.

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He’s pretty cute isn’t he? =D

So, I’m probably going to spend a lot of the space in this blog post engaging in a generous amount of fatherly gushing, while simultaneously trying to explain why I kept Isiah a secret from the public (and some people close to me) for so long. Just to make sure that I end on a good note, I’ll begin with the latter.

A little over a week ago I wrote a blog post in which I told you all that I had a secret. I then described how I felt about secrets, why I feel people create and keep them, and the effects keeping secrets can have on personal relationships. In that post, I wrote this:

“Secrets are born in that fragile part of the self that does not want to be judged, ridiculed, punished, rejected, or humiliated. All of these things have the potential to not only hurt, but to also carve deep wounds into the narrative of one’s life, resulting in physical and/or psychological pain. And as humans, we try our best to avoid pain. We try our best to prevent it, and if pain is present then we’re compelled to run from it. Pain sucks, therefore we try to avoid it. And it is this desire to avoid pain that causes fear. Secrets live in the space between Fear and Pain.”

And then I didn’t reveal my secret. Because of Fear and Pain and the Fear of Pain (as well as fear of judgment, ridicule, and rejection–all of which I’ve experienced in droves). But now, my secret is out there, and I’m glad for that. Here’s why I kept Isiah secret for so long.

This is my story.

I was 21 years old when Isiah was conceived. At the time, I was finishing up a stellar year at the University of Toronto, in which I earned a 3.8 GPA. At the end of said semester, Isiah’s mother and I went to watch the movie Knocked Up. The next day we found out she was pregnant. Life can be ironic sometimes. The day after, I told my mother that my girlfriend was pregnant. Her response was not very positive.

This is when the Pain started.

My mother was not happy and she let me know, without any uncertainties, that by conceiving a child I had effectively ruined my life and my future. I was also told that I was a disgrace to the family. I was told that I was now destined to drop out of school. I was told that my life would amount to nothing. And then my mother called her friend and told her all of these things–in front of me. Then my mother did this for weeks on end, speaking ill of me, for about two months. This was tremendously hurtful, to hear my mother say these kinds of things to me, every single day, for several weeks. And when I told her how much it was hurting me, that it was exacerbating my preexisting depression and anxiety, worsening my symptoms, and that I had become suicidal, she ignored my pleas and continued. Then I wrote her a letter explaining how hurt I was that she was not offering any support. She ignored that letter completely.

So, beginning to believe my mother and that my life was effectively over, I decided I was going to jump in front of a subway train. And for two weeks, that was all I could think about. However, there was a small, tiny part of me that said, “this is not the end for you–prove all of the doubters wrong.” So, I listened to that voice, and I avoided the subway until I stopped feeling so acutely suicidal. I approached my mother again and let her know that if this baby is coming that I would need her on my side. But still she refused to be supportive. So, in order to avoid the constant castigation at home, I convinced my mother that Isiah’s mother had had an abortion. This was about two months into the pregnancy.

For the next seven months I kept it a secret that Isiah’s mother was still pregnant, that I was seeing her often, that I was spending all of my money buying things for the baby, and that I was doing as much research on becoming a good parent as I possibly could. And then the day on which Isiah was to be born (by C-section), I called her from the hospital to let her know that she was about to be a grandmother. There was less yelling than I expected. So, my best friend picked up my mother and drove her to the hospital to join myself, my father (who at that point in time had only been back in my life for two weeks after having not seen him for eight years), and Isiah’s mother’s parents in the hospital.

And then Isiah was born. And then there was more Pain.

Shortly after Isiah was born, most of my friends just began to fade away. Even my best friends, they looked at me with awkward glances and spoke with trepidation whenever the subject of Isiah came up. They would ask me how Isiah was, and hanging onto their voices would be a tinge of judgment and disappointment–I could see in their eyes and hear in their voices that they had lost hope in me and my future. What’s worse is that my family members began treating me the same way. I was 22 years old, depressed, in school, a father not knowing how I was going to make it, needing support in the worst way, but was being abandoned left and right by the people who I cared about, the people I needed. I went from a guy who had dozens of friends who I hung out with all the time to having–let me count–about six true friends left after the exodus of my social circle. And truthfully, even the friends who stuck around treated me differently. There was an unspoken chasm between my existence as a young parent and their existences as young carefree students. In the eyes of everyone around me I was a failure. I felt utterly alone, which was decidedly not good for a guy who was already depressed and suicidal. I needed support, but did not know where I would find it. In the end, it came from a very unexpected person.

My oldest brother, Xavier.

Growing up, Xavier and I were always at odds with each other. We did not spend a lot of time together, nor did we play or really speak much. There simply was not much closeness between us. A lot of times we didn’t really like each other. But, at this most harrowing and hopeless point in my life, Xavier stepped up and single-handedly became my entire support system. At that point in my life, Xavier was the only one to tell me that my life was not over and that he was there for me. He convinced me to keep going, to hold onto hope.

So I did. But there was still Pain.

Isiah’s mother and I broke up shortly Isiah’s birth. I won’t go into the details here, however. What I will say is that things got really ugly really fast. And soon we were in court–multiple times, in my opinion (and now, in her opinion as well), unnecessarily. I was under a tremendous amount of stress, my anxiety was through the rough, I tried to study but couldn’t, and my grades began to slip. It really did begin feeling like I had ruined my life.

Pain.

Fast-forward a couple years. The stigma of being a young, black father was quickly catching up to me. Whenever I met any new friends or a woman I was interested in, as soon as they learned I had a child I began hearing from them less and less. The phone calls and texts were fewer. Sometimes these people came back into my life, but most times they didn’t. So, I began keeping Isiah a secret from the general public. And for any friends I met, I’d keep Isiah secret from them long enough for them to get to know me as a person and not a father long enough that when they did learn I had a child, they would not assign me the qualities of the stereotypical black father (i.e. deadbeat, irresponsible, lazy, uneducated, womanizer, etc.).

Put simply, keeping Isiah secret was the only way that I could guarantee that I would consistently be treated like a person.

There is so much stigma that exists for young black fathers that it became impossible for me to maintain a fair and regular social and professional life if I made my status as a young black father common and public knowledge. Furthermore, I began to fear that if I openly acknowledged that I was a young black father that it would adversely affect my professional endeavours, especially since I spend a lot of time in academic circles populated by individuals whose life experiences did not allow them to see young parents as regular people who were not flawed, irresponsible, or incompetent. So, now not only was I fearing social judgment, I feared that being open about being a father would stunt my professional growth.

So I continued to keep Isiah a secret.

As for dating–well, for those who know me on a deep personal level and are privy to the number of bad relationships I’ve been involved in, particularly in my early-to-mid 20’s–part of the reason for those bad relationships is because very few quality women in their 20’s would entertain the idea of dating me once they found out I had a child. And even if they did date me, then their family and friends would implore them to end the dating relationship, because again, a young black father can’t be any good at anything besides creating babies and being generally irresponsible in the minds of a lot of people. So dating has been ,and honestly continues to be, a struggle as a young black father. In the seven years of Isiah’s life, having been on dates with literally dozens of women, I have met exactly one woman who has fully embraced and accepted Isiah and my identity as a young father. So yeah, dating is difficult.

Making a long story, less long, these are a few of the many many reasons that I have kept Isiah a secret from the public for so long–being a father has made me the victim of a tremendous amount of judgment, ridicule, trauma (which I didn’t meant ion in this post) and pain. However, I no longer feel comfortable keeping Isiah a secret because I love this child with such depth and magnitude that to try to explain how I feel with mere words would be a disservice to my commitment towards my son. He is the light in my life when there is darkness. He is the reason why I work so hard. He is the reason why I’m dedicated to being the best damn person I can become. He is smart, and polite, and quirky, and curious, and gentle, and delightfully bashful and unassuming, and sweet, and…well, he’s a lot of things. And the vast majority of those things are good. But beyond all of that, he is my favourite person in the world and I would do anything in the universe to ensure his happiness. He’s truly amazing. I want to celebrate his amazingness with the world and everyone in my life. That’s why I refuse to keep him a secret any longer.

That’s why I won’t.

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Now here are some more pictures. =D

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This is Isiah and I taking silly selfies. I’m afraid to admit how often we do this. =P

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This is Isiah and I at the 2014 Cavalcade of Lights in Toronto. It was quite possibly one of the best nights of my life. After the concert and the amazing fireworks and lights show, Isiah and I spent about an hour and a half literally running around downtown Toronto, mini-parkour style–we were playing Temple Run. 😉 We had a blast!

And finally, because people tend to have a lot of questions, I’ll answer some of the most common ones.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q1: How did Isiah’s mother become pregnant?

A1: Well, if you think about human biology, I’m sure you can take a gander at the answer. :p But to be serious, Isiah’s mother was on birth control, which is 99% useful when used correctly. So either she was not using it correctly, or we happened to fall into that very small percentage of people for which birth control fails. Again, life can be funny at times.

Q2: Why do you keep spelling “Isiah” incorrectly?

A2: I’m not. I did not name Isiah after the biblical Isaiah, instead he is named after the legendary Detroit Pistons point guard, Isiah Thomas. Yes, I do love basketball that much.

Q3: What’s it like being a father?

A3: It’s a lot like not being a father except you have less free time, less money for yourself, and you’re forced to be more responsible. When you’re a parent you have this little person look up to you who wants nothing more than to think, act, and be exactly like you. That’s a lot of pressure, being a role model, because trust me, kids do start behaving just like you. So then you’re put in a position where if you want to be a good and conscientious parent you start to self-reflect about every aspect of yourself–and then you start correcting things, because you want your child to be happy and successful, and to learn from your mistakes. It’s hard to teach responsibility if one is not responsible oneself. Oh, also, being a father is incredibly fun–and provides excellent reasons for going to kids movies and watching cartoons. =P

Q4: What’s Isiah’s favourite colour?

A4: It’s green. I’m not a big fan of green, which he’s surprisingly okay with. However, he does spend a good amount of time letting me know that green is waaaaay cooler than orange, my favourite colour.

Q5: How often do you see Isiah?

A5: I see Isiah, generally, every other weekend for the entire weekend. We chill at the crib and go on countless adventures. He lives with his mother in a different city an hour’s drive away, so it makes it difficult to see him more often (for time and gas money reasons).

Q6: Do you pay child support?

A6: Duh!! Of course! I’m actually offended when people ask me this. I have always financially supported my child, even before he was born.

Q7: What’s Isiah’s ethnic background?

A7: Human.

Q8: What are Isiah’s hobbies?

A8: He loves soccer and video games. And Spongebob. Lately, he’s been getting into basketball though, so I’ve been trying to teach him. He’s absurdly tall for his age. Doctors predict he will be 6’8″ when it’s all said and done.

Q9: What’s your relationship like with Isiah’s mother?

A9: Truthfully, it hasn’t always been great, but now we get along with each other 95% of the time. Co-parenting isn’t always easy and it requires a lot of communication, flexibility, and understanding. Isiah’s mother and I have learned how to work together and not against each other. The result is this incredibly well-behaved kid who won the Principal’s Award at school for being one of the nicest, sweetest, and honest children there. With that being said, I gotta give Isiah’s mother a lot of credit for doing such good work raising such a great kid.

Q10: How does my mother feel about being a grandmother now?

A10: She absolutely loves it! Once Isiah was actually born, my mother did a complete 180 degree turnaround and has become a doting grandmother who is incredibly supportive of Isiah as well as myself as a father. It’s almost hard to believe my mother was ever not supportive given how invested she is in her role as a grandmother these days.