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Moment Of Clarity

Lessons Learned: Tommy Ford of “Martin” Fame

“If everyday I’m told that I look just like my daddy and in the next breath I hear, “But he wasn’t sh*t”, then my definition of me is sh*ttyness.” ~Tommy Ford, Actor

 

Unfortunately, 33% of boys grow up without a father. In the African American community, 57.6% of  children are living without the presence of their father. The statistics show that the absence of a father has serious, negative implications in the life of their children, especially these young men. Here is the experience of one man who beat the odds but continues to fight the ghosts of growing up fatherless.

Tommy Ford is known for being “Tommy” on the hit show Martin . Tommy is a big man and it’s easy to spot him. At 6-foot-four, he towers well above the average person and has a hearty, contagious laugh. While many people know of his professional success and community service, what many people don’t know is that his biggest fear is being like his father.

Tommy and I talked for hours about what is was like for him growing up without his father.

“My biological father was in prison most of my life. People have said to me, “You ain’t gonna be sh*t just like your dad.” and, “It’s just a matter of time before you’re dead or in prison, just like your daddy.”

Please understand, I’ve always had the love and support of family. My mother remarried and Harold Pierce became my dad; he was instrumental in making me the man I am today. Despite the love and support of my mother and stepfather, there were times in my life where I felt alone even though I had family. So, I think that fatherhood was powerful for me because my father left and it made me wonder, was I not worthy enough to be loved?

Wow, I’ve never said that before.

So I guess as a child I spent a lot of time trying not to buy into the fear of “I’m going to be just like Robert Ford.” If all I’ve heard growing up was that my daddy was nothing, his daddy was nothing, and men are not any good, then it’s just a matter of time before I start believing what I’ve heard.

There was a point in my life when I didn’t love myself because I believed that my father was a horrible person; that’s all I ever heard anyone say. I began to wonder, am I worthy of being loved because I have his DNA? Am I worthy of overcoming poverty and overcoming drugs because he was a heroin addict? Will I overcome alcohol because he was an alcoholic? Or, violence because he was a gangster?

That was what I heard about my daddy.

Even though I had a family of love, hope, and educated people, a lot of things didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand why I felt like a failure when I had aunts and uncles who loved me, were professional people, and went to college. Why am I feeling “less than” when I go to church and I hear the scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength?”

So, as a young man I had to decide whether or not I would be like my father. I chose not to become my father.

Growing up, the few times I had contact with [my father], I did not recognize the man I heard so many people describe. He was the kindest, gentlest, warmest individual I’d ever seen in my life. He would sing to me — and there was a piece of calm there. So it was confusing as well because I heard mama and other folks say how horrible he was. I just did not see evidence of it.

Instead, I saw the results of [my father’s] politeness and I wanted to duplicate that. [For example], my father was so polite that the old ladies would say to him, “God bless you, baby.” And, to this day, when I see an old lady, I say, “God bless you, mother.” I wanted to tell people, “See, he is not a monster. What are you all talking about? It was a lie. He’s not a monster like you told me!”

As I look back on the relationship between my father and me, it was clear that the only reason I saw the good in my father was because of my dad, Harold Pierce. You see, it was my my dad, Harold, who encouraged me to see my daddy and gave me the courage to forgive him. For that, I will always be grateful.”

LESSONS LEARNED:

1)   Forgiveness is powerful. “Anger is one letter from danger; and, when you release anger, you lessen danger. That can only be done by forgiving yourself first and then those who have hurt you.  Before my father died of a drug overdose we became friends and I got a chance to spend a lot of time with him as an adult. He apologized for my pain and I forgave him. We rekindled a love, a friendship, and developed a relationship.

2)   We often run towards the thing we run from. If my entire life is focused on not being like my daddy, he becomes the theme of my life and I hold him up as the title of my movie.

3)   Release the regrets. I gave my dad and me a second chance. I gave him a chance to share some of his experiences with me: wisdom and mistakes, successes and failures. I also gave him a chance to say, “I’m sorry, I did the best that I could.” For me, I gave myself a chance to hear him say, “I love you” and got the chance to say, “That’s my daddy.”

As a therapist, it is important for me to emphasize that every child needs to see the best in each parent, even if you believe the other parent is a genuine screw up. For parents who have a hard time finding something nice to say about the other parent, try this: close your eyes and feel how much you love your child; allow that to swell inside of you. Now, let that love be stronger than your hate. It’s easier to find something positive to say from a place of love.

Thank you, Tommy, for sharing your lessons learned. We wish you continued success on your journey. With love and light …

Jinnie Cristerna, LCSW

Do you have a question for our “Moment of Clarity” JET Therapist, Jinnie? Email us at digitalpitches@ebony.com. We’ll be sure to keep it anonymous and confidential. 

Jinnie Cristerna, affectionately known as “The High Achievers Therapist”, works with talented people to help them release emotional pain and psychological roadblocks so they can achieve their personal and professional goals. Specializing in psychotherapy, heart centered hypnotherapy, vibrational energy, meditation, and personality development, Jinnie has a nearly 90 percent success rate with her clients.  Sign up for Jinnie’s High Achiever newsletter here or join her on Facebook and Twitter!