I spent majority of my boyhood and part of my adult years calling myself “different,” or “other than” because of my inability to connect or relate to other guys. It turned out I was wrong!
As a black kid growing up in East Dallas, I didn’t fit in all too well. From being forced to attend a Special Education course, to being bullied and teased for wearing glasses, speaking proper English and enjoying the finer things in life like books, newspapers and music of multiple varieties, life was tough during my boyhood. Friendship was not usually long — term if at all existent.
Naturally, I was anxious. Every school day was a stress-induced nightmare that I somehow managed to survive by way of a praying mother, an overactive imagination, and incessant daydreaming.
I grew up as an only child, which meant that while mom and dad were doing their thing I was left to my own devices, not to be confused with smartphones or tablets. They haven’t come out yet.
It didn’t help that the TV show Family Matters was very popular and kids would tease me for my nasally sounding speech and my glasses as they referred to me as “Steve Urkel.” The only redeeming quality from that is the fact that Jaleel White who played “Steve Urkel” played the voice of my favorite cartoon character and video game hero, Sonic the Hedgehog on ABC Saturday Mornings.
Those were my struggles during Elementary school. Middle School brought with it a host of new and peculiar challenges that only made the stories I heard about Puberty understated.
As a boy, I knew that I was different. But, I hated to be and I didn’t know how to snap out of it. I wasn’t into sports. I was not quite loud, rowdy and rambunctious. I was into art, writing, and creative expression of the like. In the hallways or on the school bus black classmates would consistently ask me, “hey, why do act white?” or “why do you talk white?”
As I got older, my struggle became a two-fold battle that was racial and cultural as I fought to defend my place in the world as a black young man, while trying to avoid the stereotypes and labels as a result of my resistance.
Being one of the guys was something I longed for and often envied. Growing up, I would see other boys roughhousing, goofing around and playing, wishing that I was in on that. I would see other guys excel in sports and activities that typically highlighted real masculinity, only to be reminded that it was a world that I didn’t fit in.
The world I was growing up in as a boy seemed to praise the quality and standard of man that I wanted no part of, especially as it pertained to being a black man. I was still trying to figure out boyhood, trying to play it safe, avoid fights and keep from getting in trouble. I was great on playing a “good boy,” but wasn’t sure if I was ready to play the role of a “good man,” much less understood what that looked like.
As a teenager, it felt like all I had was my academic background and my squeaky clean reputation. But, that didn’t bring satisfaction to my masculine soul at all. It was just a good way for me to pose. And unfortunately, a lot of adults fell for it.
Little did I realize that rejection from my boyhood, plus my own rejection of any aspects of masculinity that pertained to me, led to a lot of confusion in my life.
During my adulthood, the questions began to rise up. Where did I fit in? Am I really a man and if not how do I get there?
From boyhood to manhood, I would refer to myself as “different.” Yes, a man, but just “a different kind of guy.” But, deep down, I hated the feeling of timidity, the feeling of being walked over, overlooked, and insignificant. And I couldn’t do enough or accomplish enough to make those feelings go away forever.
That mindset made its way into my career in Journalism, my work as a writer and cartoonist, time in ministry, and anywhere that required me to just be who I genuinely was.
At the time, I didn’t think I could cut it in a fast pace world of news, so I left Journalism indefinitely, and found myself wandering in the wilderness of life in the call center of a major bank.
I made a lot of money at the time. It was the purchasing of things and items that really helped to temporarily soothe the pain of not feeling quite good enough or not quite living the life I felt called too.
Just when it seemed like my life was over, an older gentleman who worked within the cubicle jungle of my office approached me with a question: “Kendall, what do you think a man is?”
Like anybody in my position would do, I posed and faked my way into an answer that seemed to make sense. But, the man wouldn’t let me. He could see right through me. He could see the scared and lonely little boy that was in the body of a 28-year-old man.
That day, my life slowly began to change. We began to hang out during lunch and talk about manhood. We also talked about news, politics, social and racial issues.
But, more so, he got to actually know the real me. Our friendship developed as he began to share with me his life story and his struggles as a man. Most of the men in my life before this time seemed to have a wall, daring not to share their true selves. His openness and integrity led me to open up and share parts of my story.
The more I shared my story, the less uncomfortable I became. I wasn’t laughed at or looked at as weird or “different,” but instead accepted and received as someone unique, real, genuine! I also met with intrigue and interest. He actually cared and that was refreshing.
My mentor also encouraged me to accept and receive the challenges of life that was only right for a growing young man to experience. Those challenges were tests of my faith, tests of my manhood, and tests of my resolve to what was the truth in my life and what was a lie.
During this time, I found myself reading the Bible a lot more, drawing closer to God. I also began to read a lot of books like “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge and get more engaged in my creative writing and my cartooning. To add, I started seeing a counselor and began to work through some of the deeper issues that plagued my identity. Around the same time, I began serving in my church’s youth department and learned to develop my leadership and social skills.
My masculinity was tested with my involvement in activities that developed healthy growth, healthy relationships and healthy activity that put me in positions to share, give and help people. Though I was not the strongest, I was still able to help family and friends with moving heavy items. Though I was not the smartest, I was still able to help cousins and nieces and nephews grow intellectually.
When I began to engage, and step outside of my box and give up living and focusing inwardly, my life changed. Over time, I became more diverse in my interests and life experiences and even in my career path.
One of my freelance writing and reporting jobs put me in the middle of a high school football stadium, something I never, ever thought would happen. Doing such work made me a fan of football, though not as intense a fan as some. And that’s fine. I can appreciate sports now for what it is and what good can come out of it.
Everything that was happening in my life as things changed put me in places and spaces that were a part of the world of men, a place I felt either uninvited or excluded from.
Because of the mentoring and the development of healthy relationships among men that I now consider friends and brothers, I concluded that I was not as “different” or “unlike other guys” like I thought. I’m not alone in the daily fight to be a man of strong character and integrity. Other brothers are going through the same kinds of struggles.
I’m genuinely me, the man that I was called and created to be. And more importantly, I’m learning to be who I’m supposed to be for God, for my wife, for my family and for my friends and associates. And now more than ever, that’s what the world needs men to be.