{My Four Sons} Love, Respect and Nestle Snipes


Depending on the day of the week, the situation, or the reading on the crack me up! meter, I have a legendary list of aliases for the mighty-mighty-MIGHTY Barnes brothers. But my man Silas, the baby, my 4-year-old, he holds the title for the most monikers: Sydnee Potch-yay. Nestle Snipes. Richard Browntree. Sy-Money. The Chocolate Boy Thunder (paying homage to my man Pete Rock!). And my favorite the Darker Brother.

Every nickname is a reflection of how sweet he is, his pint-size, yet powerful level of compassion, his silly but sincere displays of public affection, and the obvious his smooth, Russell Stover-inspired, Couverture-chocolate complexion. It ain't hard to tell. The ladies love Silas, and you better believe that Silas loves the ladies.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those ultra-macho pigs, or chest bumping fathers that advocate any sort of distracting (and I can't believe I'm about to say this) sexist behavior at such a young age. I mean, I'm not over here building a gigolo factory. Furthermore, there are two P-words that are not allowed and will NEVER be uttered under my roof pimp, player, or any derivative of the words, i.e. playa, playboy, mack daddy, macaroni, Don Juan, etc. No haps. I'm trying every single day to groom MEN real respectful gentlemen.

Don't Black boys have a hard enough time just being Black boys? Aren't they bombarded with enough negative, damaging, oversexed images of themselves? Often times these images are perpetuated in pop culture by Black millionaire fathers posing as hip-hop stars (see Snoop, Lil'-Bitty Wayne, or insert some other chump, sorry-sack excuse for a Black man here). And how come I've never heard a hip-hop record about just simply being a man (that's another column for another time)?

Sure there may be the occasional gas and flatulence episodes from my boys, but Silas will open up the door for a lady even if she's one hundred yards away from the building. They say “yes, ma'am” and “no, ma'am,” kiss their mother goodnight. Most importantly, they watch, attentively, the way I treat her, how I sweet talk her, the way we converse, how we dance in the middle of the kitchen floor, me asking and taking her out on dates, picking up flowers (just because) and running around to the passenger side to open her car door. And to be real with you, I'm a gentleman even when I don't feel like being one sometimes, because my little guys observe every miniscule thing that I do. I know this.

But even with all of the good that a brotha does, recently there was still a rather light debate between Tink (my wife) and me. Occasionally at the dinner table, I tease Silas about his little sweethearts at school. It's all in good fun; I do it to all of the boys. Tink frowns on such banter; she doesn't encourage it at all. She contends that if we had three daughters that I would never ask them, jokingly of course, which boy in the class makes her little heart go pitter-patter, or which little rascal at school is dropping off a fist full of fresh dandelions and a fragrant potpourri of Lemonheads, Red Hots, and Nerds candy at her desk. She seems to think I'd be one of those shotgun toting, growling, overprotective dads.

Not only do I disagree, but I thoroughly explained my reasoning for razzing the fellas every now and then about girls. For starters, my guys are young: ages four, six, and 10. But I treat them and talk to them like young men and young men-to-be. It's called relationship building.

Even though I'm joking with them, it allows them to open up and feel comfortable talking to me, not only about girls someday, but a multitude of issues that will definitely be discussed over glasses of Pepsi, during long road trips, or hushed late night meetings that only fathers and sons can hear. Like I said, my guys are young; they haven't begun to smell themselves yet, like my grandmother used to say. But I can't wait until then to try and build a functional two-way line of trusted, valued communication.

It's a gradual process of respect and trust that I'm working on. And it’s already starting to work; I can't tell you how many times all three of them have come to me, out of the blue, in private, and shared some very personal and touching feelings or thoughts with me.

If we did have a daughter would I feel as comfortable talking to her as I am with the boys? Would I think that her innocent talk of cute boys be something that would get a fourth grade boy a beat down? I don't think so, but I do recognize the differences. For example, Silas is crazy about one of the young ladies that serve as a councilor at the school; a young lady in her early twenties named Ms. Addison. He talks about her all the time. Once when I picked him up, he blew her a kiss goodbye. He has even told me that he didn't want to leave with me, but would gladly go home with Ms. Addison for the weekend. Of course, I laughed it off, and chalk it up as innocent jibber-jabber from a nutty 4-year-old boy.

But how innocent would it be if it was my 4-year-old baby girl saying that she'd like to go home with a 20-year-old Mr. Addison? I wouldn't crack even half of a smile. Quite frankly, I'm embarrassed to admit that this does reveal a smidgen of male piggery in my hypothetical treatment of the boys and a daughter. Sue me. Although there is some sort of father-son tribal understanding that occurs when it comes to discussing the opposite sex, I don't think I'm alone in being a little more protective of our daughters.

But as my hypothetical daughter matures, there is one thing I wouldn't be in denial about we are hopefully developing and raising healthy intelligent young adults with eventual urges and desires.

If it's not already present in your homes, it'll be there soon enough. That train is never late. The Smelling of Thine Selves Express will arrive with a head full of steam. I just don't think it's ever too soon to start discussing interactions, reactions, and dealings with the opposite sex. And with Sy Money strutting around here smooching his mother's and grandmother's hands like Pepé Le Pew, and asking me to hit him every morning with a shot of cologne or oil (Solo is guilty of this too), I can't afford to wait until he's ten or twelve to start gauging his interest in girls. I wouldn't be doing my job.

Just last month, we had a little get-together at our house and some of our oldest and dearest friends, the Best family, were invited. They are a Bajan/American family, and the dad, my man Trevor, has been one of my boys for over eighteen years. We go back like receding hairlines.

Well Trev and his lovely wife Stacey have twin 6-year-old Bajan/American daughters; a couple of the cutest, cocoa-brown, sparkly-bubbly-sassiest personalities this side of Barbados. Guess who's smitten over the little princesses? That's right. Nestle Snipes. He ran up stairs, sprayed his little neck with some of my High Karate, ran down to the kitchen and grabbed them a couple of juice boxes and tangerines. I think he even peeled them. For the remainder of the evening, if I saw the twins, Silas was plopped right down between them. He was so giddy, he didn't know what to do with himself.

At the end of the evening, I asked one of the twins how the Barnes brothers behaved, in particular Silas. She looked at me and batted her long lashes. Then she looked at Silas and grinned. Silas looked at her and cheesed even wider. She looked back at me and said just what I hoped she would say.
They were nice. He was such a gentleman.

I knew it. I let out an unnoticeable sigh of relief, and then slid my man some dap.

Richard Browntree strikes again.

The BBD hip-hop joint of the month: The Light-Live, by Common, from the album Like Water For Chocolate

Derrick D’wayne Barnes is the author of eight children and young adult books, including the literary middle school masterpiece, “We Could Be Brothers.” He’s given his insights about fatherhood on GreatDad.com, has been featured on NorthParan.com, and is an incredible role model for brown babies everywhere. He lives in Kansas City, MO, with his wife and their three sons. Read more about him on DerrickBarnes.com.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Very nice. I don’t think there are many things more important for little boys than having a living, breathing model in their house of what this “man” thing is supposed to look like. How much better this place would be if more little brothers had that. *this is me giving some dap to Dad*

    • Thanks, Nick.
      I’m swapped in calculus notes right now (big test tomorrow!).
      But I do check in on MBB . Always feel good to hear positive words from a pretty cool dad.

  2. Wow…this is an excellent piece, Denene. Thoroughly enjoyed.

  3. “I cant afford to wait until hes ten or twelve to start gauging his interest in girls. I wouldnt be doing my job.” Right on Mr. Barnes! Sometimes, I don’t think we give our kids enough credit in certain areas, especially the area of interest/attraction/sexuality. We spend those early years treading along, afraid of establishing a platform because we aren’t comfortable having certain conversations. Well, newsflash, while we may not “be ready”, many times, they are. Like you said, its extremely important for our children to feel comfortable enough to come and have those conversations with us. Better us first, than their friends! With a 7 year daughter old who is going through early puberty, waiting until she’s 10 to start noticing what she’s noticing, and recognizing how she feels about herself and others, would not be a good call.

    Great post!

  4. I loved this post! Can’t stop laughing at “Nestle Snipes.”

    You seem like an amazing father.

  5. You seem to have a loving family and congratulations on that accomplishment. I believe that you can always have an open ear when the concerns of your partner, learn the reasons behind it, and look for more progressive ways to accomplish this same goal. I believe bridging your relationship with your sons by focusing on girls is not the way to go. Grooming your sons for male interaction and bonding can be done on a higher more beneficial level for all involved.

    My Feelings On The Subject:

    1. It’s my observation that what parents focus on becomes a focus for the child. If you put the focus on an activity or a talent they loved, it’s highly likely that each boy would gravitate toward that passion in school, and not necessarily to an adult relationship with a female teacher.

    2. Please, don’t think it is responsible to use others as a bridge for anything. In order to have your little boys come up to you and share deep feelings, how about put the focus on who they are and on their feelings? Instead, why not skip the middle man (or middle girls and women) and share the real deal from the start? Then, your sons may end up being as close to their mother in revealing deep feelings (if this is not already the case) and not feel the need to repeat that bonding experience exclusively with you in private conversation. If male bonding means female exclusion, this is not the ideal.

    3. When you approach bonding from a gender focused arena, discussing women…it could deepen the connection to men, but it also cuts emotional connection off from women- these, are instead the object being discussed and not a source for deep emotional connection. I’d like to ensure that the boys are just as likely to share those deep secrets with their mother as they would with you …to ensure that they will see girls as equal opportunities for friendship and full honesty- highly unlikely if they are primed in discussions with their father to focus on romance with girls from an early age.

    4. While some men do grow up bonding through discussing women, it’s a secondary type of connection. It isn’t as valuable as simply talking about their own interests, what’s most passionate in their hearts about life, and the highs and lows of the day. True bonding doesn’t necessitate using someone else as the bridge for communication and I honestly don’t believe it’s fair to female children or the male children who grow up with those subtle references for expressing themselves, perhaps learning over time that a large part of their identity is defined by their connection to the opposite sex…Simply put, kids can be kids.

    You referenced how your discussion with them is talking to them as if they were men…I wouldn’t go that route…

    4. But, If I was laying the groundwork for them to be responsible men (which is apparently your aim); I would put the focus on their true identity as individuals, not on the expectation that little girls are a big part of their life. I would discuss feelings openly, so that they would not have to leave mommy to have private discussion with daddy about emotional changes. I would have no middle woman for them.

    This, again, is a focus that likely reduces the emotional verbal connection to women in the long run…not putting the focus on women may be a change from perhaps your circle of friends and references, but it is about improvement at this point. And, since it is possible for boys to just interact from a place of who they are…this is the groundwork I would want to lay for responsible sons AND daughters.

    5. Even though they aren’t allowed to be overtly success with words, the forming of their most primary bonds is taking place in those discussions that you are steering towards sexuality…That division between the sexes is taking place in the most fundamental way. They don’t have to say “p” words to USE women and women or girls are (imo) being used. Expressing their identities, not through the innate passions within in them, but through their ability to retain the attention of people they may or may not care about is not ultimately positive.

    While bonding with you, they can talk about whatever guides their hearts as well as deep feelings that may or may not involve crushes- without the steering of the conversation to a sexual path, they will benefit immensely more in my opinion. Honestly, we all would.

    …I hope you consider it and make a change that sits well with with your wife, yourself and the boys.

    Tina Janelle

  6. 5. …overtly sexual with words,

    (not success)

    There are some other mistakes, but this one threw off one of my most important points! 😉

    Take Care

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