By Derrick Barnes
My eldest, Pretty Boy McCoy, has been an avid reader ever since he was four.
He. Reads. Everything.
When he was seven he became my unofficial proofreader and editor. We bought more book shelves for his room, and he wouldn’t even leave the house without a book beneath his armpit. As a matter of fact, it’s because of E that I implemented the rule that each and every Barnes brother MUST leave the house with a book, and at least five bucks in their pocket. You never know when your mother may want one of those OKF Aloe drinks, or we may need one of them to pay for parking. Who knows? But having a book with you everywhere you go cures boredom and remedies an idle mind.
He’s read every fantasy, mystery, anime, dragon laden book ever written. Plus, he loves Riordan’s stuff. LOVES IT! I joke with him all the time that Riordan’s kid is not collecting my catalog. I don’t even know if Riordan has a kid, but it just reminded me of an old Chappelle Show episode. In one skit, Dave’s son idolizes Nick Canon, and even calls him “hilarious.” Dave scolds the boy and says, “Glad you think he’s so goddamn hilarious. He just ran off with your school clothes money!”
Which brings me back to E’s role as not only my proofreader but one of my key supporters. So he has read every single manuscript that I have written in the past eight years. But there has always been one manuscript/book that he’s never laid eyes on—until now. It was partly because when the book was written he was four turning five, and only six when it was published. It was my first teen novel, published by Simon Pulse in 2006, “The Making of Dr. Truelove.”
“Truelove” was the novel that I slaved over as I worked every odd job known to man in New Orleans besides sanitation and adult entertainment. I’d come home after working a graveyard shift somewhere, grab a couple of strips of bacon, a banana, a Diet Mountain Dew, and then got back to typing. At the time, Cecily Von Ziegesar’s new series, Gossip Girl, was huge. I wanted to create a Black version, but told from a teen boy’s perspective. I wanted it to be filled with all of the anxieties, social pressure, awkward first experiences that boys have with sex. Remember being completely unsure about your own body’s weird happenings, but attempting to clumsily mesh with somebody’s daughter who had a lot more physical changes going on than you could ever imagine? I wanted to capture that in a humorous, genuine, and innocent way.
But the book has been banned in a couple of states and libraries, partly because of the semi-raunchy language and situations that teenage boys have experienced since, I don’t know, the beginning of time. It’s really tame compared to what really goes on. Some of the experiences were my own, some were those of my high school buddies, or stories I read about in Esquire or some sleazy men’s mag that my brother use to keep in a box at the top of his closet shelf (sorry, bro). I was cleaning out boxes in the garage, ran across a copy of “Truelove” and felt that it was just time for Ezra to proofread, or post-proofread, maybe give me a post-review. I dusted it off, walked it upstairs where he was playing that new Madden game, and tossed it in his lap.
“I think it’s time. You’re old enough now.” I told him.
He put his game on pause and looked up at me like I had just given him The Manual To All Of Life’s Great Secrets and Mysteries. If Ezra doesn’t like a book, regardless of who wrote it, he puts it down after the second or third chapter and never even looks at it again. But if he digs it, you’ll see the book in different rooms in the house, in the car; and most definitely beneath his armpit. He wants it accessible so that he can jump right back into it. That’s what he did to “Truelove.” Sure it was the content, but I’d like to believe he was into it because it was dope writing. I no longer worried about the sex talk in the novel being too much for him to handle. Sex talk with the Barnes brothers is really a piece of cake for me. It’s never too early to start talking about body parts, urges, desires, and most importantly, interactions with the opposite sex. I never wanted my boys to hear about it from somewhere else, because more often than not, it would be some exaggerated, distorted version of the truth.
I always want them to feel comfortable talking about anything. ANYTHING. That includes everything from kissing, spontaneous and embarrassing erections and masturbation, to that deep tingly feeling you get from holding hands with the girl you’ve always had a crush on. I never want them to feel like I’m going to judge them, because I won’t.
So two days after blessing Pretty Boy with “Dr. Truelove,” we’re in the van on the way home one Sunday evening from one of their favorite spots, SkyZone. Solo, the 11-year-old, was with us as well. I asked E where he was in the story, and it just opened up a flood gate of questions about Diego Montgomery (the 16-year-old protagonist in the novel). He also wanted to know where I got all of those crazy ideas from. So I decided to be transparent and share with them some of my early experiences with girls, when I was their age, and in some cases, younger. They couldn’t believe their ears and even cried from laughter. I told them how young I was when I lost my virginity, which prompted Solo to say, “Man…I wouldn’t even know where to begin! I wouldn’t know what to do!” That saddened me for a second and I felt sorry for that adolescent me that just didn’t know any better. I was just following the cues from my big brother, and other “boys” in the neighborhood. My brother started bringing girls home when he was in middle school. My mother worked so much, we only saw her in the morning, on Thursdays (her off day) and the weekend. The house was ours. There was no real man there to 1) keep us occupied with something other than our school work, or, 2) to have meaningful and sincere conversations about girls and sex that didn’t include that age old macho-speak.
“How many girlfriends do you have?”
“Take a few of these rubbers. I know you’re gonna have sex any way. That’s just what boys do.”
We talked about how the dearth of Black fathers, historically in our community, contributes to, among a multitude of other things, the number of teen pregnancies in our community. It’s a miracle that my brother and I avoided many of the trappings that come along with being raised in a single parent household, but most notably, not becoming teenage fathers. Boys need discipline, and real talk that include some of the same things that we may say to our girls about responsibility, prioritizing, their future, and self respect. The whole package. I shared with them a side of my life that they’d never heard before. I think its important that your sons see you more than the dude that just buys stuff, prepares them for football season, grinds away on a laptop, that fixes things, keeps the house safe, and kisses on their mother all the time. They’ll go through pretty much the same things that I went through. Your kids need to see you as a human being, and to talk about human being experiences. Click To Tweet
E has about two chapters to go. I can’t wait to chop it up. There will be more questions, more laughs, and I’m going to give it to him straight up; respectfully, honest, and responsibly because that’s what he deserves. It’s exactly what the young man deserves.
Young man. Felt strange even typing that.
My young man.
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Derrick 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, and is an incredible role model for brown babies everywhere. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife and their four sons. Read more about him on RaisingTheMighty.com.
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.