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How My Son Became Me

Updated: Jan 5

Sons want to become like their fathers. Fathers desire their sons to be an extension of themselves and reflect their values, character, and accomplishments. Fathers and sons have mutual expectations, a healthy co-dependency whereby father and son depend on each other to fulfill their roles. I never wanted a Ron Alexander Jr, any kid that would look, talk, act, or think like me. Where did my apathy come from? Or was it apathy?

Liz was a one-night stand with whom I never intended to have a relationship. She was young and impressionable. She was beautiful. I was attracted to her thick locks of curly black hair. We met by chance on a street corner. I lured her into having sex with me without forethought that taking her virginity would result in her pregnancy. She was not a girlfriend; she was a trophy, a sexual conquest, a faceless, nameless gender, the target of my lust.

My son was an accident. He was born without my knowledge on October 31, 1971. I was eighteen; Liz was sixteen. My mother knew; Liz's family knew. I was nowhere to be found after having sex with her. While she was bearing the lonely burden of carrying a child, I was living carefree, running the streets of Philadelphia without care. I could've cared less.

I never knew my father. That guy, John Duffy, seduced my mother when she was seventeen while he was on military leave in Philadelphia. He rejected her. He never acknowledged me. I learned of his existence only when my grandmother accidentally blurted out his name when I was thirty; this was a secret I was never to know. I subsequently discovered that John Duffy had retired from the military before he died, he was an alcoholic, and he fathered another son who was a heroin addict who died from aids. John Duffy did not leave me a birthright, except for being identified on my birth certificate as my father and instilling the gene within me that would lead to my twenty-year drug addiction. In other words, John Duffy had left me the worst of himself.

I was a narcissist. I lacked honor, obligation, principle, and character. I failed to provide financial support to my son other than parading him around my girlfriends as if he were a medal of honor. There was no emotional bonding between us, no pride within me, or acknowledgment that my son was a little boy who would one day need the guidance of a father, a role model, and an example of what manhood and fatherhood aspire to be.

At a time when I should have been parenting my son, I was indulging in the pleasures of cocaine and suffering the consequences. I was frequently homeless and jobless. I went in and out of drug rehabs and mental hospitals. The agony of addiction made me more of a narcissist; I was consumed with finding creative ways to buy cocaine. Isolation, loneliness, and mental illness were the bubble I lived in until the miraculous moment when I decided to kick my addiction. By that time, however, twenty more years were tacked on when I was not parenting my son.

Years later, I attempted to make amends to my son when he was a young man working in real estate. We met for breakfast. He posed a simple but direct question: Why didn't you help my mom? As straightforward as his question was, minutes would pass before I could answer him. I spoke the words that rushed into my mind. I answered him that I was selfish. I could tell by the expression on his face that he needed to hear more. I didn't want to blame my negligence on my father's rejection of me. In my heart, I wanted to take full responsibility for abandoning him, believing that speaking the truth to him would demonstrate my sincerity. So I explained to him what a narcissist is, that during my life, I was self-obsessed, self-centered, and incapable of love and empathy for other people, but I had changed. As I spoke to him, I prayed that he would understand and forgive me.

After our conversation, he contacted me several times when I was using drugs. He bought me food; he gave me money; he would meet me wherever I was to encourage me. I was embarrassed by my appearance; He seemed not to judge me. I felt un6deserving to his kindness yet thankful too that I have a son who cares about me. The little boy I rejected grew to become a man that recused me.

In later years, my son married and adopted a daughter. I was appreciative and grateful he allowed me to have a relationship with his daughter. I swore to him that I would love my granddaughter unconditionally. I would not make the mistakes I made with him.

I realized my son had become me when he left his wife of 26 years without warning for another woman; he walked out on her, ignoring her chronic illness and the recent passing of her mother. His wife had been instrumental in establishing his real estate business. Yet he renamed his real estate business, removed her name, and took on a new business name that discarded her contributions to the business's success.

He inherited the worst of me by exposing his ten-year daughter to his extramarital relationship, even using her to help him cover up the relationship in the beginning. By not considering how his outside relationship would affect her, he was demonstrating a lack of sensitivity and caring, a failure of good parenting, a deliberate act of placing his needs before the responsibility of protecting the developmental years of his daughter--the very transgressions I am guilty of during his childhood.

What is more shocking is that his mom turned alcoholic and has been in a relationship with a married man for over 20 years, yet another reason why he might think it is morally okay for him to have a relationship outside his marriage.

Black men deserve a bad reputation for parenting their black boys dating back to slavery. It is historically accurate to acknowledge Black men could not bond with their children on plantations because, in many instances, babies were snatched from their mothers' arms. Men who wanted to be fathers to their sons were discouraged, and slave owners enabled those who shunned fatherhood to be unaccountable.

When do we stop blaming history? At what point does my son stop blaming me for his future? My son is 51 years old. Accuse me of your past but don't fault me for your future. Unfortunately for my son, he is surrounded by women who ironically enable his behaviors towards women when I am the one person—a man—who can teach him how to become a man. He trusts women when he should be trusting men. I've already made the mistakes he is making today; I could share with him what I had to do to become empathetic and compassionate. I could show him how not to be a narcissist, who, like me, 50 years ago, was selfish and self-centered.

Chapter from my forthcoming book, Bullet Proof Soul: Personal Essays. Pre-Order at


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