EJ: the diaspora of the Johnsons. We are spread out. My oldest son (Josiah, 13) primarily lives with his mother now in the Western Suburban area. My youngest two, (Alexandria, 5) and (Franklin, 2) from my marriage also primarily live with their mother. I would have to say that we are a righteous family. A family where all the members are interested in doing good for themselves, for one another and others. And I mean everybody.
Josiah the oldest of my three children is great. I can go on and on about this guy. I remember when I used to worry about him. And I mean really worry. I would say to myself “Lord, why would you send me a child like this?” With him it was problems in school. Problems in church at Sunday school. Problems in extracurricular sports. Almost every area, this guy was kicking up dust. What amazes me to say is that he is a phenomenal son and has always been. In all those challenging areas that I’ve mentioned, through it all, he has always been a good person. Adults marvel at how mature he has always been. He is interested in trying everything, every sport, and every instrument. He is littered with ambition and insight. Overall, he is careful. I’m relieved because I understand him now. He’s me.
Alexandria, the middle child is the one that really introduced me to fatherhood. I remember so well, she started coming down the birth canal at 12:00 A.M. on the dot on her due date. She is still the same way. She means what she says, and will do what she says. Miss consistent, honest, innovator, beautiful, family leader. She has always been special to me because when I was younger I could always envision myself with a daughter. Even at the age of five she is the ideal daughter. I am blessed because I understand her like I understand my son.
The newest guy, Franklin is of the same flavor as the other two. He is independent and vocal about his independence. It’s amazing because he looks like my oldest son’s identical twin at his age. I realize with Franklin the style of parenting I have used with Josiah and Alexandria will not get through. He has a completely different set of motivations.
FF: How has fatherhood changed you?
EJ: I was 21 when I became a father. At that time, I wasn’t used to depending on people or using people for help. I had always been helpful to others, but had managed my life up to that point trying not to need help from others. At that time, considering my proud personality, I had to learn to depend on others. I had to be the one asking for advice. I had to be the one who needed resources. I was the one who didn’t know what to do, or say. I began to live a new life. Or I added a new “wing” to my existing life structure.
Fatherhood has inspired new relationships with people, places and things I ordinarily wouldn’t have any relation. For example, I’ve been a member of the Chicago’s kids museum. I’ve been to the zoo agazillion times. There is no way in the world I would know who Dora the Explorer is.
FF: Have you made any mistakes as a dad? If you’re not a liar, name one and talk about what it meant to you.
EJ: I will mention probably the most benign or, at least, something where I won’t implicate myself by mentioning. Without dwelling on buying diapers at the last minute from Walgreens (too expensive), or bringing home the wrong formula (in trouble with the wife). I would say one of the mistakes worth talking about that I constantly keep making is being impatient. Sometimes I forget that my children are children. That they need some room to make mistakes. A strong feature in my character is the ability to improve things. On the downside of that feature is fault-finding. I am sometimes driven to crave perfection.
FF: What’s the most helpful advice you heard when you were becoming a father or as you’ve been a father?
EJ: While living in South Holland, I was to fortunate to have made the acquaintance of several middle-aged adult fathers. Fathers with whom I share common frames of references. I was having difficulty getting through to my son on a lot of concerns. Being able to watch these older gentlemen talk to their children, interact with their children, etc. provided a good template for me. More importantly, the best piece of advice that one of the father’s shared with me was “share stories about yourself when you were a child.” This really worked! Instead of telling my son what to do all the time, I would just share my stories that were similar to his experience. I could tell this would really make him contemplate how alike we are. I could also see that he was generally more at ease knowing that he wasn’t alone.
FF: How do you attend to your relationship with your children’s mother? Has it changed over time. How so?
EJ: Literally having to work/walk together with a person you don’t see everyday is a character challenge. What tools I usually use are respect, understanding, and patience. The ladies like respect and definitely being understood. At first, it wasn’t always like this. I remember wanting what I wanted when I wanted it. That had to change.
FF: You move back and forth to see your children, to maintain relationships with them. What has that meant to you as a dad and how you’ve gone about planning and living your life?
EJ: It mostly sucks. Honestly! To be with them or to pick them up it’s a long drive. A tenacious drive. When things go awry, I have a long way to travel to get to them. After the divorce, I was picking up everyone from their various locations and it three hours to pick up everyone. This is the downside of it though. On the upside, the drive gives me a lot of time to plan and think of new projects, etc. And when everyone is in the car we have a lot time to spend in each others space without it being overbearing.
I know every other Friday and Sunday for the last past 13 years have been reserved for transporting children. Now after the divorce, it is every other Friday & Sunday, along with every Monday and Wednesday that are set aside for transporting kids.
It means not only setting aside time to be with my children but also making time for traveling to get to them to be able to spend time with them.
FF: What surprises are there along the way for parents? What do you wish you were told to expect?
EJ: I’m surprised at how serious of job this is. How much thought needs to be put into each day, each word, each meal, each everything. Fathering requires a lot of attention and planning. Initially, I thought all I had to do was feed em, cloth em and tell em what to do. In this age, love means so much more children. The amount of sacrifices that need to be made to communicate love to my children is beyond what I ever would have imagined.
FF: What is one recent memory you made with your children?
EJ: Franklin, the youngest, has recently learned how to ride his bike. That was really amazing. He also enjoys it because he can’t stop riding the bike. Even in the house. He wakes up in the morning and that is his priority, to get on the bike and ride around the basement.