By Sonny Lee
The month of June is very special to me - it is the month we celebrate fathers. For as long as I can remember, Father's Day consisted of me walking into my mother's room and watching tears trickling down her face - and being reminded that her heart is hurting. Thirty years after my father passed away from a heart attack in front my 3-year-old eyes, my mother still vividly remembers his smile, his smell, his jokes and the look of the hands she held for a short 10 years. I can only imagine what it is like to find your true love and experience that feeling of completion only to unexpectedly lose it forever, leaving you feeling empty through no fault of your own.
I always wish my mother a happy Father's Day because she is the only father I know. For a long time I thought that a woman couldn't raise a boy into a man, but it wasn't until recently that my opinion changed - because I changed my idea of what a man is. Until a few years ago, I had never been fishing, never felt comfortable talking about cars, tools, stocks or golf - the things that I felt made a man a man. What my mother did teach me was how to ride a bike, how to respect others and myself, keep my faith and to never stop educating myself. For that I thank her.
I always thought my father was the person that inspired my profession, but it's been equally inspired by my mother. You see, I am in the business of nurturing young minds and hearts - specifically fatherless ones. It is not an easy task and without the help of committed volunteers and mentors it would be impossible to do effectively. The fact is that there are too many boys being raised without the presence of a father or male figure consistently delivering a positive message. For a variety of reasons - natural death, violence, willful neglect or imprisonment - these boys are struggling with the same issues I encountered growing up: anger, anxiety, depression and loneliness. How can we as a society expect a boy dealing with these issues to reach his full potential without nourishing him with mental health services, positive role models, or social and recreational outlets?
Too often we have high expectations for these kids without understanding each situation. We cannot lump them into a group and dismiss them if they do something wrong or label them "misfits" without putting all the variables that may cause them to misbehave into context. It takes a lot of work to mentor a child that isn't your own, but I would rather invest my resources into preventative measures than reactive ones. Then, I'm not only taking care of the kids but also helping to break the cycle of broken families. In mentoring young boys you don't just change them but the people around them also. My personal mottos are: Think differently, possibilities are endless, and inspire the next. All of these are approaches to mentoring. So to the men reading this - you don't need to join an organization to find a kid to mentor, because chances are you already know one. Take charge and I promise you it will be the most rewarding thing you have ever done. To the moms raising boys on their own - thank you and Happy Father's Day. The light within me sees the light within you. Lastly, to my first newborn son Tenzin - Daddy loves you.
Sonny Lee is the founder of Son of a Saint, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of fatherless young males in New Orleans. His father, Bivian Lee, was a defensive back for the New Orleans Saints from 1971-1975. www.sonofasaint.org