Nominated by both Victoria Coit and his wife, Simangaliso Smith, for being a supportive father to a blended family
Q: What did it feel like when you became a father?
A: I always knew that I wanted to be a father. When my son was born, I felt in that moment like I had become a man. I knew that my responsibilities had shifted from being self-centered to all-encompassing. The labor made me appreciate what a woman goes through.
Q: What can you share about your children?
A: I’ll start from oldest to youngest. My son Jabari Smith is 19. He is a sophomore in college and is my artistic child. He’s won many awards for his art and is very creative. Kai Smith is 18 and a freshman in college majoring in biology. She wants to be a doctor. She is my super hard worker — always on task, scholarships to school, very focused. Next is my 15-year-old stepson Isaiah Johnson. He’s the one that challenges my patience and that is super independent. He’s also a great dancer. Then there are two 11-year-olds: Jayda Johnson, my stepdaughter, and Sanaa Smith, my daughter. Jayda is just like her mother. She is very organized. She’s the first one up every morning; she’s the little mother of the house. Sanaa is a straight-A student who loves to sing and dance. She currently wants a set of drums. Lastly is our baby, Erin Smith, who is 6. She has a bombastic personality and is just like her dad — a ham, a talker and a people person.
Q: What was your relationship like with your father?
A: He was an awesome father. Everything he did with us I always wanted to emulate. Everybody in the community looked up to him as well. He was a star athlete and had a master’s degree in education. When I was in high school, he served as the president of my school’s PTO, which was unusual because it’s usually a mom. He was very involved with our education and stressed the importance of education. He worked for the Federal Department of Education, and my mother was a teacher. They also kept us busy with sports and enrolled us in any extracurricular activity that was available and inexpensive.
Q: What wisdom did your father share with you?
A: First: Don’t place value on the things that you can buy for your children, but place value on the experiences that you can give them. We never had a lot of money growing up, but we always had a good place to live that was clean, and we always spent a lot of time together as a family — vacations, summer camps, church. He also instilled in me the value of hard work. They didn’t buy us brand-name sneakers or video games. When it came time to buy new school shoes, he’d say the lawn mower is out back, go ask the neighbors to cut their grass or offer to shovel snow. I learned, if you want something, you have to put the extra effort in yourself to go get it. And he taught me to serve my community.
Q: Why are fathers important?
A: Fathers set the tone and expectation. Nothing can make you feel better than a father’s reassurance from a pat on the back, and nothing can make you move faster to correct yourself than a father’s grip on your shoulder. Also, dads provide a sense of security that everything is OK. If a dad is relaxed, everybody in the house is relaxed.
Q: Is there anything you do as a father that would surprise people?
A: With a household with four girls, by default, I end up doing a lot of girls’ activities. I end up seeing a lot of movies you wouldn’t necessarily think of a guy going out to see and listening to music you would not expect a 46-year-old black guy to be grooving to — the teen musical genre is big at our house. But that’s what they love, and I want to stay close so I can understand what they are engaging in and what their influences are.
Q: What’s your opinion about commonly held stereotypes of black fathers?
A: No. 1 is that we’re not here and that we’re not accountable. But I guess it depends on who is in your circle. When I look at my circle of friends, they are all amazing fathers — and not just to their own children, but to other children by serving as mentors. They are responsible fathers that support and spend time with their kids and ensure their children have the things that they need and some of what they want.
Q: Any advice for dads?
A: Time moves quickly, and your children will be out of the house, be adults and may not have much time for you. So make the most of every moment and put in the time now.
Q: What is one of your favorite moments with your kids?
A: We no longer buy Christmas gifts — instead we travel. Each holiday we take a major vacation as a family. Last year we went to Mexico and saw the Mayan Ruins, spent time on the beach and visited several historical sites. The kids had fun, and it was a memory they will never forget. This year, we will be taking a Caribbean cruise.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: Reach out and reach down. This means that every father has a responsibility to reach out and be a father figure to children outside of his own household. Then every father also has a responsibility to reach down and mentor younger fathers on what to do and what not to do.
– Interview by Ashley Kang, The Stand director