To Be a Man

man n the personification of qualities traditionally associated with the male sex, including courage, strength, and aggression, or somebody with such qualities
—Encarta World English Dictionary

The hands of two of the greatest men to walk this planet raised me. The first was my father, Emmett A. Turner, an articulate, passionate native of Harlem, N.Y., who moved to Utica in 1977 to ensure that his two sons had a chance to live a life full of promise. He wanted us to be free from all restrictions that a confined space can set in place.

Well respected by youth and peers, my father's love was genuine. He spent the majority of his life trying to make men out of boys, and protect little girls from little boys who thought they were men.

Stern and strict, my father understood the internal organisms that made children tick. His disposition was challenging, to say the least. His favorite line was "Use your head for more than a hat rack!" Whenever we had a question, his response was either "go find out," or "what do you think?" He would force thoughts to travel through minds like molecules of air being forced to travel through lungs. He initiated this process so naturally that we didn't even think about it. And just as the ability to breathe is essential to living, my father knew that the ability to critically think was just as important to our survival. He made us think so much that we don't think about thinking. We just think.

I can remember looking through old photo albums that my parents had, seeing black and white photos that dated as far back as to the late '50s. I saw images totally in line with the picture that was etched in my mind of the man I called father. But what became truly astonishing is how illuminated those pictures seemed when I looked at them with the focus and scrutiny inherited by my Southern birthright to the heirlooms of Jim Crow.

To always see my father surrounded by children of all complexions, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, and to watch the adulation that others had for my regal Nubian father, was a testament to what it means to be a man. Before Martin Luther King Jr. made it hip to cross the deeply ingrained lines of race and class, my father was a pioneer. A friend and mentor to youth and adults who sought his counsel, he gave his all until he had no more to give.

The second of the two men that molded me was Samuel Roberts, my mother's father. He was rock solid, mentally and physically. Even in his 60s, he farmed multiple acres of land on his own to provide food for his community. In the winter he would cut wood for the community's elders, who were lifelong friends that he grew up with who could no longer take care of their own. He made sure that his family was well fed and self-sufficient. He attended church every Sunday morning. In fact he left church one Mother's Day morning so that he could go back to his home, which was about a hundred yards away, and pass away on his porch in his wife's arms in the same place where he spent any given afternoon.

He was strong, in a mythical John Henry sense of the word. He worked as if he could do nothing else, carrying the load of his family on his shoulders when most men were out only strutting manhood and putting it on display like a proud peacock that had not yet realized that they had been captured.

He understood the value of education, even though he only had made it to the sixth grade. He was a survivor, and that's what he taught, survival. He led by example. My grandmother never worked for pay a day in her life, even though she could read and write better than he could.
To be a man requires more than to just carry the genitalia. It means to epitomize those characteristics that define us as human beings without the need to strut your genitalia. Two real men taught me that.

Carlton Turner is a musician and teacher in Jackson.

Previous Comments


dear sir.i dont know whou are .and ill probably never meet you.But i want you to know this was a very inspirational,and awsum moveing story.And not to mention so true.So well put.They dont make the men like that anymore.And im speaking for myself also.The men today dont realize how easy they have it nor do they appreciate it...god bless you!and god bless the men out there that r similar to these.... glenn goodin...



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