The Perfect Father
Lessons Learned From a Fatherless Childhood
By: Frank "Buddy" Pitts Jr.
My childhood consisted of experiences in a lot of different neighborhoods in Dayton, Ohio, from Westwood to Harrison Township to Dayton View…one thing that they all had in common is that my dad wasn’t with me in any of them. Growing up I never realized that he even should’ve been there, I wasn’t naive or oblivious to it, it just wasn’t something that was a big deal. Most of my friends and pretty much all of my cousins grew up without their pops around so it wasn’t the most disheartening thing for me to grow up without having him there. Now every once and a while there would be a moments when I would think like “damn, I wish my dad was here” but i never really made my home in those thoughts, nor was I real emotional about it because I grew up around very, very strong women that took on the workload.
I never heard my mother say anything bad about my dad. I didn’t get to see my father often and when I did it would only be two or three times out of the year and there were some years that I didn’t see him at all. Those times he may have been in and out of jail or wherever. Even with all of the time gaps in our relationship I thought very highly of my father. I didn’t know a lot about my dad during that time other than he was going through a lot of transitions. There were times in his life where he was a drug dealer and a drug abuser and so of course he went through a phase where he lost his ranks from being at the top of the game to then falling right back down because of the whole crack epidemic that happened in the 80’s. He went through a downward spiral where a lot of things effected his notions on life in general, he was doing crazy things, spending time in and out of jail - he was unpredictable during this time in his life.
I remember him picking me up during my childhood and I also remember the days that he didn’t come when he was supposed to, that was our relationship. I didn’t realize it at the time but as I got older and looked back it was like man… “I think he may have been on crack, shooting up or definitely dibble and dabbling in hard drugs.” At one point my dad would wear a big, fat gold chain and bracelets and have wads of money, “he would always give me money” and we would go places and do stuff and just talk and hangout. As things progressed I noticed that the gold chains and watches were gone, his physique was fading away - he was starting to get a gut, his hair wasn’t always cut. All of this stood out to me because my dad was one of those guys that was ALWAYS spiffy. It didn’t matter where he was going, he always dressed like he was going to church. He wasn’t a pimp “at least I don’t think so” but he always dressed nice and kept his hair on point. I remember being in my twenties and seeing this dude get out the shower and take a pound of regular hand lotion and rub it in his hair; with every stroke it was like a huge wave would form in his hair so by the end of about thirty strokes he’d have a head full of waves that any surfer would be proud of!
When I was young I saw that clean cut, nice looking version of my father. I would see him in three piece suits and really nice jeans. One thing my dad used to do, that would drive me crazy and I would always laugh at him, is he would always press and crease his jeans. I’m sure they could’ve easily stood up on their own. I remember my dad being like that, that clean cut creased jeans and all but when I look back I recognize that there was a declining difference in him. The gold chains had been replaced with an urgency for things, an urgency to do stuff and fast talk and even though I noticed these changes in him at the time I didn’t really pick up on what was really going on with him. He started having sudden mood changes and a quick temper. He never went off on me but I would see him act this way.
My dad knew a lot of people and he had a lot of women so anytime I was with him it would kind of be like we were on an adventure. We would go over a bunch of people’s houses, I would meet a lot of other kids and people in general from these outings. I remember going over one lady’s house, she was FINE… and I remember my dad bragging about her in the car on the way to her house. When we got there it was not what I expected at all. The house was messy and there were roaches everywhere! I remember thinking “why are we over here with this lady with all of these roaches?” So yeah, like I said it was an adventure pretty much every time we spent time together. At that point I noticed the decline and that there was something different about my dad. Honestly with the huge gaps in time that I actually got to spend time with him I didn’t see the gradual changes… they were drastic. So when I would see him it would be like a three piece suit today, then jeans and a beater the next time.
Though my mother never talked bad or down about my dad or kept my sister and I away from him she would never let us go see him when he was in jail. We didn’t talk to him on the phone or anything like that when he was locked up so I never saw him in that environment. When I was older I saw pictures of him when he was in jail and as I grew old enough to talk to him on my own I would reach out to him however I could, he would also send letters and hand drawn cards that were nothing short of masterpieces. He was in and out of jail a lot, most of the time for petty things.
Don’t get me wrong this is no where near meant to be a sad story, it just is what it what it is. I have a lot of friends that were in similar situations in terms of “insert reason here” their dad wasn’t there, so with it being such a common thing, it felt “normal.” I’m grateful that I was raised with a heavily spiritual background, with an active church family, a strong support system and definitely for having a really strong mother. I’m sure there were plenty of time where we went without but we didn’t know it – we didn’t realize it. My childhood experience was actually quite amazing, especially looking back on it now. My mother remarried when I was in the third or fourth grade. Her husband, Jeff is an awesome dude. His teaching style was a bit hard and unorthodox but I learned a lot of things from him, he played one of the biggest roles in teaching me how to be a man. What’s interesting about it, and by the way I love Jeff to this day - he was a hard-nosed cat growing up, we never really “got along” that well but I learned so much from him and I still thank him to this day. It’s like “if you weren’t there I really don’t know how I would have turned out.” I think his presence helped me deal with my actual father a lot better than I otherwise would have. Jeff helped me mature and the lessons that I took from him have stuck with me to this day and though I would never call Jeff “dad” because I had too much respect for my pops, he definitely stepped in and stepped up in BIG way!
I’m very grateful that I had a lot of great men around me. With the inclusion of my stepdad, I had a host of “real men” in my corner. By real men, I mean that old school type of man that was hard-nosed and work hard for every dollar. They made sure that I learned the basics of being a man as far as how to change a tire and check the oil on a car, basic things that most boys learn from simply being around their dads. Things like being a leader, being the voice of the household, knowing how to do certain things around the house… those are the type of men that I grew up around and I’m so thankful for that. At the church, Pastor Senior, his son and the youth pastor were God gifted examples for me, along with some of my boys’ pops who would play basketball with us, cut our hair and let us wild out in the garage to MJ (Michael Jackson.) Growing up I played all type of sports and some of the coaches were very impactful on me so I was fortunate to have a culmination of really good men in my life.
I have my mom to thank for placing me in position to stay grounded and sustaining a solid foundation. We stayed at church, like literally I swear we lived there… ok just kidding no we didn’t but I’m not sure if there’s a difference. As I started to become more aware of the importance of having a spiritual foundation I believe God worked his hand at placing specific people in my life. My mentor at that time and for a long while after that was one of those people - his name was Dion, he was our youth pastor. Dion, following God’s lead and strong emphasis on study showed me a way of life that has proven to be impactful time and time again. He was the gateway to catapulting my spiritual maturation. He also was really influential in showing me what unconditional love looks like and the priority that we need to place around it. When I have children or even when I mentor kids, one of the things that I always think about is how to just genuinely show them love, no matter the circumstance, background, competency level, social status…etc… One thing that I believe men don’t realize, mostly because we are always trying to be so hardcore, is that we have a hard time having intimate conversations. I am for sure guilty of it and furthermore expressing the depth of my emotions. For a long time I would not let my nephew cry without getting on him about it. Now he rarely shows any emotions and with me being the most consistent man in his life you would think that he would be able to show me some type of love but he guards those emotions, that softer side and he’s weird about showing it.
All of the men that I had in my life have helped shape my viewpoint on how I see my dad and also why I say that I grew up with somewhat of a perfect fatherhood. Even with all of the challenges my mother endured she never claimed that she could replace a man. She just did what she had to do. One thing that she definitely preached was that God is all of our fathers and he will always be there for us. That’s something that’s had a huge impact on my life when it comes to my views on fatherhood and my father in specific. It allows me to accept him for who he is and to look at all of the positive things that he has done “along with his mistakes” as lessons.
I didn’t have my first drink of alcohol until I was 25. The primary reason that I avoided drinking is because my father dealt with alcoholism for as long as I knew him even up until the time of his death. My dad was a different type of character. I learned that he wasn’t the great guy that I pictured him to be when I was a child. I saw him do so many things when he was under the influence of alcohol. There’s one specific time that I remember so vividly. I was with him in Columbus where he lived and we were about to leave my grandmother’s house. He told me to go sit in the truck. He went back to the house and all of a sudden I heard a lot of arguing and commotion. My dad was arguing with his girlfriend. She wouldn’t give him the keys because she didn’t want him to drive while he was under the influence. I remember her telling him “you have your son with you!” This was the first time that I realized that something was going on with my dad and I remember thinking he was crazy. “My mother nor anyone else that I was around drank so I didn’t know what it was like to be around someone that was actually drunk.” My dad and his girlfriend argued for awhile and then I saw him come outside. Even though I was sitting in the truck I could still see and hear everything that was going on. My dad was banging on the door and demanding his keys. I could see the rage on his face. All of a sudden he ran around to the front of the house and came back with a knife and started stabbing at the door. I watched him and tried to process exactly what was happening. I didn’t realize how crazy all of this really was until I got older.
When I was old enough to drive my mother would let me go see my dad. At that particular time in my life I was committed to not being anything like my dad. I remember saying “if I ever have kids I’m going to be in their lives. If I say that I’m a great man I’m going to be a great man and my actions will reflect that.” So I committed to Christ and started worshipping and praying - it was my whole life. So I was really trying to be the best person that I knew how to be. I stopped hanging out with the wrong people and avoided anything that I felt mirrored some of the bad things that I knew my dad did in his life.
Some of my best friends at that time sold and smoked weed and did other things that I felt was wrong. Even though they were my boys I felt the need to distance myself from them. I was the guy that would tell them that those things weren’t for me and would challenge them to stop. Looking back I can see where my mindset could have been a little immature at the time. I never considered why they may have felt led to do some of the things that they were doing. One of my best friends had a really rough childhood and was pretty much on his own when he was 14 or 15 years old. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I had to try to figure out how to pay the rent, keep the lights on and keep food on the table at the age of 15. Those were thing that I just didn’t have to think about so I was probably a little hard on my friends at that time but I did stay away from the trouble that goes along with that type of lifestyle.
There was a time where I started having a different perspective on what a father figure, dad, mentor, role model or coach should look like. I don’t know if I intentionally thought about it or not but it was something that was building in my sub-conscience and I knew at that point that I had to take ownership over my relationship with my father. I understood that for whatever reason he was unable to do it so I took on that responsibility. The spirituality that my mother instilled in me had a lot to do with that. I remember thinking that no matter what goes on in life “you only got one pops!” He’s the actual person that gave me life to be here so I was determined that I wasn’t going to leave this earth without getting to know who he was or at least trying to. That’s when my curiosity really hit and I began to question things like; “why do I act like this when certain things happen? Why do I look this way? Why does my hair always curl up when it grows a certain length?” I wanted to know everything about him.
I wanted to know what my dad was like as a kid, what type of father was he to my older sister? “She’s seven years older than me so I thought that he was around more.” I learned that he wasn’t really a part of her life either. My mother along with the support system that I grew up around made me so strong. Now that I’m thinking about it there’s times that my father would tell me things that he said or did that hurt my mother and how easy it was for me to be like “oh, okay I forgive you.” Not that it was up to me to forgive him but to me it was things that happened in the past, nothing could be done to change his actions and more importantly it wasn’t for me to cast judgement. Obviously he did some things that effected me but I just dealt with them and moved on.
Late sophomore year going into my junior year of high school I struggled with trying to maintain my virginity. I had girlfriends and I talked to girls ALL of the time. I had all type of girls throughout high school so that sexual temptation was always there. I felt like I was “The Man” but deep inside I also felt like I was doing something wrong. I wanted to entertain all of these women and I embraced the challenge of getting them. I wasn’t trying to compete with other guys so it was more like if I want this girl I’m going to get her. If she seemed unapproachable or seemed like she was all of that - I wanted her. If she was quiet and pretty I wanted her. I was a trip! I got to this point where I was trying to be this Godly person and started realizing different things about myself and started to question why. “Is being this girl crazy and horny all of the time something that all boys go through or is it just me?” I struggled with that for a while.
Every time I was with my dad he was always with a different woman. There was never a time that I can remember being with my dad where he did not stop to visit a woman. It wasn’t until I got in my early twenties that I saw him with the same woman for a long amount of time. Even then we stopped to see another women. So the whole womanizing thing is something that has always been a lingering wonder.
One night I had this dream that was crazy. I fell asleep on the floor and in my dream I couldn’t wake up. I felt like I could control what was happening in the dream but I really couldn’t. In the dream I was lying on the floor and all of a sudden a silhouette of a bunch of rats started crawling all over my body, “I’ve always had a phobia about swarms of things, especially small things and I hate rodents!” so I was going crazy in the dream but I couldn’t wake up. A silhouette of a man in a long trench coat walked in and all of the rats scattered. This man exuded power, his coat was swinging back and forth as he walked and he had on a black brimmed hat. His presence changed the whole atmosphere. When I woke up I was just stuck. I’ve always been a deep thinker. I like to study and do research so I immediately looked up what swarms of rats in dreams meant, I tried to process all of the crazy things that took place in my dream and I equate them to all of the struggles that I was going through during that period of my life. Trying to maintain my virginity, trying to avoid making the same mistakes that my dad made and trying avoid becoming a womanizer. I realized that I was doing some of those very things. I felt like that dream was confirmation that yeah… “you are on your way to walking down that same path as your father.” I know that the man in my dream was my pops. That dream showed me that I have a lot of my father in me.
From that point on I calmed down and controlled myself. I paid attention to the amount of girls that I talked to at one time. I got super picky about the girls that I talked to. I did eventually lose my virginity and it really became a struggle at that point. I didn’t want to be like my dad when it came to women. Any girl that I was intimate with was someone that I felt a connection with so it was never just a physical thing. One thing that I definitely admired about my pops was his swag! His normal everyday talk and his persona was something that most women seemed to flock to. It was natural for him so it wasn’t something that he was trying to do. It was just him being him. My wife says that I’m the same way even though I don't think I am nor do I try to. That time period taught me that even though I may be tempted to - womanizing isn’t something that was for me.
I wanted to take control over my relationship with my dad and it turned out to be a beautiful thing and one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I didn’t like everything that happened while we were building our relationship. My dad was a pill popper, still maintained a cocaine diet and was definitely an alcoholic. My dad drank all day every day. My dad would get drunk and he would talk about my mom. He would express his regrets and be really remorseful about the way things went between them. Saying things like, “man, I wish I could get your mom back, I wish we were all together as a family” and things like that.
My dad would get like superman when he drank. I was impressed at how functional he could be when he was under the influence of alcohol and all of the other substances he would indulge in. It hurt to see my pops like this but over time I grew somewhat numb to it. I would feel it but I wouldn’t deal with things as they happened. I would push these feelings to the side and deal with any emotional issues I had later. There would be times when we developed this routine of me calming him down like; “look pops, it’s okay… calm down.” After a while I would be hard on him and stop him from talking about his lifestyle and regrets. I would sternly tell him “no need to talk about this or that, let’s move on to something else.” I would literally be that strict and hard with him. I talked to my mentors about how I should handle things when he got like that and they helped me realize that I should just let him vent and get those issues off of his chest. That was a huge shift in our relationship because me allowing him to just talk his way through things and express himself allowed me to become an outlet for him. That did a lot for him and for our relationship. It was funny because it almost seemed like our roles reversed and I was the father and he was the son. That revealed some of the void that I have concerning a father/son relationship.
I mentioned the men that I was around in the early stages of my life and how they showed me love. It still hurt that the man that I needed and wanted the most love from when I was growing up wasn’t there to give it to me on a consistent basis and that created a void. When we did get closer I was the one that had to give and show love as opposed to receiving it so that caused me to harden up and it’s difficult for me to show any emotions in sad or touching moments. I don’t know if that stems directly from the issues I have surrounding my father but I’m sure it’s relative.
A huge amount of understanding came through in these conversations with my dad. The biggest thing that I got was just genuine appreciation for having the opportunity to nurture our relationship going forward. I understood that there was no way to go back in time and change the first 18 years of my life but what I could do for as long as we both are here is to make the best of things. So I started appreciating our phone calls and time together more. We would just sit and talk for hours and hours. Even when he’d get drunk and start doing crazy things, “which is when he’d really start telling it all” I would just sit back and appreciate those times. He’d go on as if he was preaching a sermon, and I’m the say way now when I drink a little too much. I can preach, not like a pastor but I talk a lot and it will be in depth. The conversations may be spiritual, they may be emotional and I don’t know if it’s because of a trait passed down to me from my father but I definitely do it just as he would.
I think my dad wanted me to know that he realized that all of the things that he did that caused him to be absent in my life, along with the bad things that he did to my mother was a huge mistake. I don’t think my dad was looking for my forgiveness but I think it hurt him to realize that I turned out okay without him being around. I think he had those confessional type of conversations with me in an attempt to forgive himself. I also think that I was a constant reminder to him on what he missed out on. That I was his son and I was really right there in his presence talking to him.
Some of the things that he revealed to me were shocking. I wish that I would have taken time to really cherish those conversations because I remember sometimes thinking, “okay - he’s getting drunk and he’s about to go to sleep. I’m about to get out the house and go kick it!” I was young so I wasn’t mature enough to stay focused and cherish all of that time with him. I did enjoy spending time and talking to my pops but at the same time the conversations would get long winded and at that age I would want to go hoop or go talk to some girls, the typical things that teenagers would want to do. I look back and wish that I would have just cherished every second with him.
I went to college at Urbana which was roughly 30 - 45 minutes or so away from my pop’s house in Columbus. I would go visit him quite a bit. My step-dad has this thing for finding and buying used cars. To this day I can go over my mom’s house and he’ll be there looking at cars on the computer. While I was in college he found me a car that was a beater but it was great on gas. One day I was at my dad’s house and he was like “let me get that car from you.” I had been working and saving money so we went out and bought a Buick Roadmaster. I kept the Roadmaster and gave my dad the beater. One day I needed to drive the beater and my dad still needed to take care of the insurance and all of that stuff. Well my dad got in a wreck that same weekend and the Roadmaster got totaled. He didn’t file any type of claim or get any money back from it so the money that I spent on it was gone. I was pissed too because the car was nice! It was a green Buick Roadmaster that I called the Green Machine. It was clean, with all digital displays, nice interior and no dents or scratches.
I played football at Urbana so during the offseason me and some of my teammates were in Columbus pretty much all of the time. We would go out and kick it and no matter what time we hit my dad’s spot he would always cook us these big meals for us. I can remember coming in at 3 o’clock in the morning and he’d start cooking us steak and baked potatoes, all of these big meals. I’d tell him that he didn’t have to do all of that but that was just the way he was. That was his thing.
At this time I was intentional about going to Columbus to spend time and build my relationship with my dad. Outside of everything else that I would do once I got there spending time with my pops was my top priority. That continued even after I had left Urbana. I would go to Columbus quite a bit. I would spend a couple of days and up to a week there just hanging out with him. Sometimes I would take my nieces and nephews with me and through that he was able to spend time with his grandkids and also mend his relationship with my sister. At that time neither of my sisters were really talking to him and that made me upset. I encouraged them to get over it, nothing about the past could be changed. My oldest sister that I grew up with would make me mad to the point that I would cuss her out. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want him in her life. I have another sister “by a different mother” that’s the same age as me that had a lot of resentment towards my dad. My father would try to build a relationship with her and would often tell me how frustrated he would get by her rejections. I had to explain to him that he hadn’t been there for her when she felt she needed him and that he had to be patient and keep trying. I told him the only thing that he could do is tell her and show her that he loves her. It was rough on me to hear the frustrations from both my dad and my sisters.
I prayed for God to allow me to have a good relationship with my dad. To provide a way for us to be able to continue to see each other. I wanted my dad to love me and to miss me if he went an extended amount of time without seeing or hearing from me. Our relationship wasn’t perfect but it was developing. That’s when he got sick and it was directly related to his habits. My dad was always a worker and never shied away from hard work. He had nerve damage in his back that required surgery. Before this happened he was starting to clean up his life and was cutting out some of his bad habits. The surgery slowed him but he still couldn’t sit still. He would take pain medication and go out and work and he was still drinking. He went back to the hospital and this time he almost died. He had so much in his system with the pain medications along with the drugs and alcohol. He was in a place where it was pretty much fight or flight. That was a crazy few weeks for me because while all of this was going on I was both working and going to school full-time. I had to juggle taking time off from work and making up assignments so that I could be there with my dad. It was a very trying time that happened right when things seemed to be trending up for my dad, he was spending time and developing a relationship with his grandkids, cleaning up his life and things were just going good.
The year after all of this happened was different. He physically wasn’t able to do some of the things that were part of his normal everyday life. He would still try to do things and we would tell him to sit down and take care of himself. He went back to the hospital for the same thing almost a year later but this time he had more drugs in his system, hard drugs - not just the prescribed medication, “ he had been warned the year prior that if he continued to drink it could be fatal” this time he didn’t make it. Just like the first time it was a crazy time but it was less emotional on me this time. I took on a weird vibe that’s hard for me to describe. I felt like I had to handle everything. I became “the voice” on my dad’s side of the family. My dad left me as the beneficiary for everything, I was left to make all of the decisions and his brothers and sisters had a rough time accepting that. It was a time that I had to speak up and be a man. This time period made me thankful for all of the men that helped shape my life and for having a strong mother that guided me along the way.
Things that I deal with now as far as my dad no longer being here is missing the fact that I can’t continue building on the relationship that we started. Looking back at the years that we missed out on during my childhood and wishing things had been different. My dad was close to a lot of people so I have a goal to get in touch with as many of them as I can so that I can get to know more about my dad from their point of view.
When I worked at De’Lish there was a guy that came in a few times looking for me. When we finally met he told me that he was one of my dad’s friends. He knew so much about my dad and told me some of the things that they used to do. That made me do my own research and I found out that he has more friends like that out there with similar stories. I also have a couple of cousins that grew up around my dad and actually got to spend more time with him than I did as a kid so it’s nice to hear them share their memories of my dad. It’s a fine line though and I have to place limits on it because sometimes it becomes overwhelming. I find myself getting emotional and teary-eyed about things that I didn’t before. Even talking about him now I can feel myself getting emotional.
Two things that I deal with since my dad passed seven years ago is that other than my wife I don’t have that one person that I can go to and talk to about anything. I did have a cousin “Willie” that I looked up to like a big brother but he passed away not that long ago so two of the men that I was the closest to are gone. I have a wife now and it’s been rough not to have them to lean on when I have questions or need guidance. Even if they didn’t tell me the right things; just to have them there as a sounding board. That’s something that I deal with more often than I realize. The other thing is that I don’t know as much about my dad as I thought I did. I hear stories from my cousins and other people that spark my curiosities about him even more.
I missed my dad and broke down when I graduated. We had talked about it so much. He was looking forward to it just as much as I was and would always say he was going to be there, so I felt it that day, it hurt. Then my wedding I was like “man neither my pops or Willie are here.” It sucks that my wife never got the opportunity to meet and know my dad, she would’ve loved him and he for sure would’ve loved her and probably even tried to steal her from me, even though that battle would’ve resulted in a lost! Ironically my wife’s dad has a lot of the same characteristics as mine minus the habits. We have a very natural relationship that doesn’t require any force, I’m thankful for that and I’m sure, the universe worked her hand at that.
There has never been a lack of fatherhood for me. Had things been different or I traveled a different path I would not have had the perfect experience with fatherhood as I did. The men that helped shaped me all played a role in my development and have enabled me to say that I had the perfect experience with Fatherhood. I live my life trying to be a good person. I may not always right but my intentions are always good.
Frank "Buddy" Pitts Jr.
The Perfect Father
Lessons Learned From a Fatherless Childhood
Husband + Entrpreneur + Creative Director + Life Enthusiast + Brand Marketer + Educator + Beyond Superior + PSMD + Metaphorically Speaking + BR360 + Benjimen Syracuse
facebook: Frank Buddy Pitts Jr.