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My Son, Too

Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby

I can’t stop the water.

He’s gone.

And I know that, really, my tears are perfectly ridiculous. I mean, the boy had to grow up some time, right? His moving out was inevitable—the starting of his life without us as essential as water.

The sun.


And besides, this was the point of it all. We raise our children and love on them and pray for them and prepare them as best we can to go out into the world and succeed. Maybe even be better than us. And if we’ve done our jobs right, then their leaving should be met with pure, unadulterated joy.

Still, it’s the leaving that’s the hard part—the day you hug them and kiss them good-bye and close the door behind them, knowing full well that when the lock catches and your hand, clammy and unsteady, loosens its grip on the knob, everything is… changed.

I can tell you this much: I didn’t expect that I would feel this way about Mazi going on to college. If I’m being really honest, I didn’t think I would feel this way about Mazi ever—at least not in the beginning. He is, you see, my son. But not really. Specifically, he is my stepson, the product of my husband’s first marriage. I’ve known Mazi since he was a 1-year-old and, despite my better judgment at the time, I’ve been in his life since he was three. When his father and I decided to date, I was of the firm belief that while Nick was a perfectly lovely guy, I didn’t want a long-term relationship with a man who already had a son. I had no interest in raising someone else’s child and plus, I wanted to share in the first-time parent experience with a man who didn’t have to split his love between our child and another who wasn’t mine. Naïve and selfish, I know.

But then I saw Nick with Mazi; he was loving and responsible and fully vested in his child’s upbringing in a way that reminded me so much of the way my dad was/is a father to me. And I realized that I was getting an up close and personal view into the kind of father Nick would be to my own babies—a valuable trait that played a huge factor in why I said, “I do” to the man. And why I said “I do” to being Mazi’s step mom.

Being a step mom wasn’t always so easy. In the beginning, I was none too pleased about losing weekends with my husband, who was busy traveling four hours each way to visit Mazi where he lived with his mom. And when Mazi came to visit us, especially after I had children of my own, I walked the delicate tightrope between treating Mazi in every way as if he were my own and being afraid to treat him like he was my own because, well, he wasn’t. How do you mete out rules for and discipline a stepchild without being viewed as the wicked step mom? How do you gain the respect of a child who calls someone else mom and you by your first name? How do you not resent the bond between father and son, who, in their excitement to see each other in the small spaces allotted non-custodial parents, seemingly close out the rest of the world to focus on each other, to the detriment of your own girl children? It was an uneasy arrangement, but an arrangement I signed up for and had to make work.

Things got especially testy when Mazi’s mom made the incredibly brave decision to send her son to live with us. He was 14 and having one-too-many Boyz ‘N The Hood moments and needed the firm man hand on his shoulder to usher him through the testiest of adolescent and teen years, and that safe haven had to be with us. I expected Mazi to come to the home I’d made with my husband and our daughters and turn it upside down, but who was I to deny Nick the chance to be a hands-on father to his son—something for which he’d prayed for 13 long years? The boy needed his daddy. His daddy needed him. Compared to that, my needs were inconsequential.

But the slow fusion of our worlds—the blending of our families—was valuable. For all of us. Nick was blessed with the ability to parent up close. Mazi was blessed with the ability to learn what it takes to be a real man—smart, respectful, dedicated, strong—from his father, in a world where all-too-many black boys never get that honor. My girls, who’d always adored their big brother, got to bond with him in ways that never would have happened had he continued to live in another house in another state. And I got to see just how special this child was—how funny and protective and responsible and loving he could be, even to a woman who hadn’t given birth to him, but was/is an integral part of his life.  We bonded over music (we could discuss a Jay-Z rhyme or a Go-Go beat by Wale for hours on end), food (our family makes a point of sitting down to dinner every night, schedules be damned), girls (the boy was never shy about asking why all those little girls he called himself dating did what girls do) and football (he plays, I watch and learn). And the day he called me “Mama” instead of “Dee” was absolutely unexpected and unforgettable. Our bond was cemented.

And now, he is gone from here. And every time I pass by his room or think to tell him to take out the garbage or hear a new Wale song or see his status updates on FaceBook or get an update from his Dad, who helped him settle in on the campus, I get teary all over again.

Everything has… changed.

I haven’t told him this. Maybe I won’t ever. He doesn’t need to stress about my sadness. I think I’ve hid it well. When Mazi left, I avoided the big, slobbery “good-bye”—just hugged him hard and told him to “behave” and “make me proud.” I know he will. Mazi is a good kid.

A good man.

His father, mother—and I—had a hand in making this so.  

Click here to read more MyBrownBaby musings about Mazi and other stories on Denene Millner's personal blog.