September 17 2013

Likely, It Wasn't Just the Bullets that Made David Robinson's Son Fatherless...

Charlotte Hays

A story in the Washington Post a few days ago continues to make me furious.

The headline:

In D.C., bullets leave another child fatherless

It is the story of David Robinson, who, according to the reporter, “tried to escape the violence all around him” but was nevertheless killed four months before the birth of his son. The story begins when Robinson is dying from gunshot wounds in the emergency room of Howard University.

Robinson is the hero of the story, a failed hero but nevertheless clearly worthy in the reporter's eyes. It was, oddly, this laudatory sentence in the fifth paragraph that alerted me to what I consider the most important fact about David's impending fatherhood:

He had a full-time job that he enjoyed and a deepening religious faith; he was close to earning a high school diploma and excited to be an expectant father.

I’ll spare you the many, many paragraphs necessary to find the key fact about David Robinson's as excited, expectant father: he wasn’t married to the mother of his expected child. So, even if David Robinson, in some sentimental way, wanted to be a good father, it may in the end not have been the bullets that rendered his child fatherless. Reading the story, I felt almost certain that David's son was not going to have a stable life with a dedicated father.

Robinson, who is referred to frequently in the article by his infantile nickname—Day-Day—rather than escaping from his neighborhood was all set to perpetuate the kind of parenting he had experienced. David’s mother lived on public assistance, and he scarcely knew his father, something that appears to have caused him great pain. David was arrested for the first (but not the last) time in the ninth grade.

Regarding the pregnancy, the Washington Post reporter presents this information as good news:

In the summer of 2011, [David] reluctantly moved back to [his mother] Evon’s place, back to Shaw and all its hazards, figuring he would re-enroll at Maya [Angelou Charter School]. In the courtyard outside her apartment that July, he met the woman who would become the mother of his baby.

Jamisha Houston was 23 then, a Starbucks barista rooming with a co-worker in Washington Apartments. “You know how boys be chasing girls, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get you!’ And he did,” she recalls. “He got me.” Jamisha, who already had two toddlers, soon found out she was pregnant, and 19-year-old Day-Day was elated.

“He couldn’t wait to have a child,” Jamisha says. He planned to take night courses for a diploma while working full time at Home Depot. He vowed to immerse himself in his son’s life, to be the kind of father Big David never was. He and Jamisha agreed that the boy would live with David in Evon’s apartment until David graduated from high school. Then Day-Day would get a place of his own and devote his life to his child.

Father and son, together in Washington Apartments.

And this:

In the final week of his life, David and Jamisha visited an OB-GYN and watched a three-dimensional sonogram of their unborn child.

“You should have seen him,” Jamisha says of David. “His eyes getting all watery and stuff.”

The above two sentences are the ones that made me see red. Does a Washington Post reporter, undoubtedly well-paid and the product of a good education, really think somebody is preparing to become a father because his eyes get "all watery and stuff" at the sight of a sonogram?

David had had a hard time, no doubt. And it is better to welcome a child than not to welcome a child. No doubt about that either. But getting teary over a sonogram is not the same as becoming a dependable father. In the last month of his life, David was given $220 by a relative to buy himself a pair of Nikes. A man who was truly preparing to be a father would have saved the money instead of buying himself expensive shoes. It was the Nikes that got David killed, when somebody tried to steal them from him.

The Post reporter writes:

His killing, still unsolved, is the story of gun violence in Washington.

Well, not really.

It is the story of a culture that is so non-judgmental that unfortunate young men like David never know that being a father is more than getting teary over the sonogram and then stashing the kid with mom.

Instead of being critical, we are asked to pretend that David was heading in the right direction.

If David Robinson had really been on the verge of becoming a father--and not just the man who caused a pregnancy and then got all giddy about it--then he very likely would not have been wearing the shoes that caused his death. He would not have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I realize that reporting is supposed to be a presentation of facts, not judgments. But it is clear that the Post reporter sees David not as somebody who was carrying on a sordid tradition but as somebody almost noble trying to escape the streets. But David was very likely heading towards being the kind of father his father was. He may not have wanted to be that kind of man--but then probably neither did his father want to be that kind of man. The reporter is blinded to reality and part of this is a refusal to hold people like David to the standards to which they hold themselves. Only judgmentalism can save men like David--and his child.

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