The most taboo question in Toronto’s Caribbean and African communities is why half of black fathers refuse to help raise their kids. One father, the son of an absent dad himself, has a simple solution
From left: Kwasi Peasah, Brandon Hay and Marlon Osei-Tutu.
Last year, a group of gangbangers got together at a community centre at Jane and Finch to talk about what it’s like to be a dad. They ranged in age from 15 to 24, and some had already served time in jail more than once. Because these young men belonged to different gangs, the location of the meeting was chosen carefully to be on neutral ground.
Each of the participants had been cajoled to attend by a parole officer, a case manager or a gang prevention worker, and each received $20 for making it in the door. At first, they were skeptical, their jaws set, reluctant to speak at all. Brandon Hay, the group’s 32-year-old facilitator, introduced himself by revealing his own background, that he’s a father too, of three boys, and that it’s the hardest job he’s ever had. Hay is tall and balding and heavy-set, with lion cubs inked down one arm. His smile is magnetic and his eyes serene behind octagonal glasses. He told a story about his first extended outing alone with his eldest son, Tristan, then less than a year old. On the way home, Tristan began to scream and cry in the back seat, and Hay couldn’t console him. He frantically pulled off the highway into a gas station, drenched in sweat, and called his girlfriend to ask what he should do. The next time his son threw a fit, he was better prepared. The point was: you just have to keep trying. Hay invited the others to tell their own stories, which they did one by one, and suddenly there was a nearly imperceptible shift whereby Hay was no longer in the conversation and the guys were talking among themselves.
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