A Son Deferred: Why I Bought a Box of Condoms Today
By Scott A. Hayes
An Open Letter To My Unborn Son: Xavier Lawrence Hayes
I bought a box of condoms today.
Did that sound as awkward for you to read as it felt for me to write? You’ll have to excuse me, but I never imagined that I would need to have this conversation with you so early. Nevertheless, here we are. And it’s just as awkward as I’ve heard other parents say it is. But I have to admit that I didn’t buy a box of condoms today so that we could sit, look awkwardly at each other and have “the talk”. I actually bought them because at this moment, I’m not sure that I can provide everything you need to be able to survive in this world. The truth of the matter is that you are a little more than the sparkle that I see when I look into your mother’s eyes. That’s right; you’re not even here yet. Not even in your mother’s womb, but still there are some things I want you to know, so listen up.
I have thought about the prospect of being your father for years. I tell each of my friends that I just know you’re going to be a boy – my first child, my first son. See, I picked the name Xavier Lawrence a long time ago (even though your mother wasn’t a big fan of it at first). I always imagined that your boys would call you XL, because you’ll have this larger than life personality. Witty, sociable, serious when needed, always smiling and cracking jokes, able to fit into any situation – kinda like your Pops.
But you’d be XL to me and your mom for a different reason. See, it will always remind you of the underlying expectation for you to excel – at everything. Because that’s the only way that you will achieve the hopes and dreams of your childhood. And what your mother and I want more than anything for you is the chance for you to understand that you can be anything you want to be, but you must be willing and able to be the best at whatever it is you choose to pursue. I have all of these things that I want to teach you and I know we have a great deal to teach other, but the fact still remains that I bought a box of condoms today.
Anyway, I want you to know that God has been preparing us for you. I finally got my clinical licensure a few weeks ago, so that means I got a raise at work. Oh, and your mother and I are getting ready to buy a house! That probably doesn’t mean much to you now, but I want to make sure you grow up having a place to call home, you know? None of that moving from apartment to apartment every year or so. You’ll have a house with a yard for you to play in and some grass that you’ll eventually be cutting to earn your allowance – just like I did. I’m doing everything I can to make sure we’re ready for you, but still, I bought a box of condoms today.
My Dad, your grandfather, taught me everything I needed to know about manhood. And just so you’re prepared, he’ll probably be happier than anybody to finally get a chance to meet you and harder on you as you grow, as he was with me. When I was a kid, he always had a story to share that would help him in explaining those hard lessons he had to teach me – the ones that required that I have harsh consequences in order to make me understand that life isn’t easy and nothing worth having in this world will be given to you. So in preparation for your arrival, I’ve been thinking of all the things I want to pass along to you and gathering my stories as well.
I am going to tell you about Ralph David Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery and other well-known Civil Rights pioneers while I’m sure your Mom will want to give you the full gamut of knowledge regarding Ella Baker, Diane Nash, Septima Clark, and many of the other women who were involved, but are not often recognized as being part of the Movement. I also have to tell you about some of the injustices of my day involving people that look like you: Sean Bell, Ammadou Diallo, Troy Davis, and others. Those will be hard to explain, but I’m ready to show you how you can avoid finding yourself in some of these situations simply by learning to choose your friends wisely, being cognizant of the places and things you allow yourself to be involved with and not getting involved with the legal system if you don’t have to be. There’s so much I have to teach you, but still I bought a box of condoms today.
I know I spoke previously about my heavenly and earthly fathers’ efforts to prepare me for your arrival, but today, I simply don’t know if what they’ve offered is enough for the challenge at hand. See, I know that I can show you the importance of walking upright in the physical and the spiritual realms. I can teach you how to be a man of integrity, to walk with confidence, to speak life and peace with your words. I can show you how to dress appropriately, how to tie a tie and how to line your belt buckle up with the buttons on your shirt and your zipper because Hayes Men are always well dressed and prepared. I can even teach you how to respect women, your parents, your elders, and your fellow man. But I bought a box condoms today because of the things that I can’t teach you.
I don’t have the tools to show you how not to look suspicious to the George Zimmerman’s of the world. What can I tell you that would assist you in looking less threatening to a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who might follow you with a 9mm handgun as you are armed only with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced tea? I don’t know how to teach you to stay calm or not fight for, scream for and beg for your life when you’re scared to death of a strange man with a gun who has walked up and grabbed you for no apparent reason. I don’t know how I would tell your mother that you were lying in the morgue for a full 3 days with a “John Doe” tag on your toe because investigating officers never thought it was possible that your family lived in the gated community where you were assumed to be preparing to commit a crime. How would we cope with your life being taken from you, from us or from the world just because you’re young, black and unfamiliar to a person who doesn’t know and doesn’t care who you are? How do I teach that? What advice might I delve out that would save you from a man that represents a society that preaches equal opportunity for all Americans while simultaneously preparing for and systemically arranging your demise?
I have no idea how to explain that to you XL. No idea how to steer you around it. No idea how to save you from it. And as you can see, I have way more questions than I have answers so I took the only other step I could to save you. I bought a box of condoms today, and I decided to never give you life. Because even though I’d teach that almost nothing in this life is guaranteed, I don’t want you to have to learn what Trayvon Martin did – that as a black man in America, your 18th birthday is no guarantee. There’s not much more I can say. Just know that I loved you son – even before I knew you.
What are your thoughts on Scott’s letter? Does it resonate or not?
Scott A. Hayes is a Licensed Cinical Social Worker and the current assistant Chief of Social work at Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta. With a strong sense of community, he is an avid writer and advocate of the black family. He tackles topics ranging from love, and relationships to politics, religion, race and anyother subject matter in which his words can be used as a call to action.