I’m doing a radio interview for Father’s Day this Sunday, and so earlier this week a producer got in touch to clarify a few points about who I am.
It’s a question I ask myself sometimes. Having thought I knew exactly who I was for a while, my life was turned upside down by the death of my wife at 33, and I’ve never been exactly sure ever since.
Am I what’s on the inside or what people see?
Am I how I feel or what I achieve?
Am I how I live at home or how I function at work?
Is there even any difference these days?
Conscious of time and the producer’s need to keep things simple, after sharing a couple of hundred words we settled on two key details: ‘widowed father’ and ‘diversity consultant’.
I read these emailed words back and was struck by how what I am and who I am have become so inextricable; I am a diversity consultant because I am a widowed father.
“Where are all the Black people?” my son probed one afternoon when I took him to my old office about two years ago.
Having found my campaigning voice, which had until this point focused on trying to make the lives of other bereaved families even just a little bit better, I had begun to grow dissatisfied in my role as PR consultant – promoting products and services that often lacked any depth. My son’s reflections on colour really spoke to me, but I wasn’t yet sure how.
I began searching my pigment-free soul on behalf of three people who, through sheer force of nature, came into existence in three different shades of human: my late wife, our son and me. Then something (or perhaps someone) told me that I needed to shift my focus towards making sure that he would never have to ask that question again.
And so I would become what we made me. Three people, who could barely be more similar, would play their own distinct roles in helping make businesses more diverse: one the deceased yet ever vibrant and beloved soul of a Black woman; the next a bereaved yet ever spirited and socially conscious mixed race child; and the last a widowed father who found, from grief’s sometimes strangely motivating ashes, just enough determination (and probably white privilege) to try to make a difference.
In my role as a consultant, my aim is to make diversity everyone’s business. In practice, this means making everyone in an organisation somewhat responsible for building and supporting more diverse and inclusive business practices. This can be very challenging work for companies to take on. The people we meet in a professional environment have to be willing to listen, learn and change. Perhaps where it’s most challenging, though, is when it gets personal. I believe that to truly listen, learn and change, it’s work that rarely stays in the office. It’s work that stays with you.
For me to take on this new career path, the practice had to begin at home. It had to really become be who I am and how I parent. I had to make diversity my business, too.
This has meant taking more conscious responsibility for teaching my son about racism without turning to anyone who has already shouldered the burden for too long. It’s meant being focused on raising an antiracist child.
It has meant never genderising jobs or responsibilities and showing that I am willing and able to take anything on myself (and teaching him that he should too).
It has meant opening my son’s eyes to difference and educating him on what it is to be human. It has often meant taking us both out of our comfort zones and into environments that challenge our own biases.
It has meant seeking out places to visit that prevent my son from living a sheltered life. And many times this has meant watching him give every penny he has to people less fortunate without even being asked because, he tells me, he has more than enough.
So as we approach Father’s Day and I’m inevitably asked what it means to me to be a dad, I’ve realised that it’s the wrong question to pose.
It’s what it means to be a parent that matters.
To take responsibility regardless of gender, regardless of race.
Just to be a parent who makes it their business to do what needs to be done.