Answering call to serve as dad
June 14, 2013
Paris Coleman may have never been in love, but he is no stranger to the emotion.
"I've never been married," said Coleman, contract specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- Huntsville Center's Contracting Directorate. "I don't know if I could every say I've been in love, but I know what love is because I love my kids and I'd do anything for them in a heartbeat. I'd give my son and daughter my last breath without a moment's hesitation. They're what gets me up in the morning."
It all began with a phone call. Getting ready to deploy to Iraq with the Army, it was his cousin who delivered the news -- Coleman's son Jadan, then one and a half, was in some "pretty bad living conditions," and he would need to make the drive to Ohio to see him. The conversation he had upon his arrival from Ft. Benning altered the direction of Coleman's life forever.
"They said, 'You've got to stay here because you're going to get custody of your son," Coleman said. "We were going to Iraq in four days. I called up my unit and told them. I couldn't believe it. I didn't even have a change of clothes."
It only took a few moments with his young son to realize that it was more than a change of clothes that he was lacking.
"I didn't know anything about being a father," Coleman said. "Driving back from Ohio he was just screaming for his mom. The first thing that popped into my mind was, "McDonalds" because his mom had always given him French fries. He threw them at me and just kept crying. I pulled over and just started crying myself because I was thinking, 'I made the worst decision. I'm going to mess up this boy's life.'"
Taking a cue from his mom and aunts, who encouraged Coleman not to shirk his responsibility and step up to the plate, which he did as a single father, doing his best to raise his young son and serve his country all at the same time. While all the Soldiers at Ft. Bragg would jokingly give him Mother's Day cards and compliment him on his Kool-Aid making abilities, Coleman paid them no mind.
"Me and my son have grown together and not too many people can say that," Coleman said.
Some of the most difficult times came when he was stationed at Camp Mackall, N.C., where he was put on shift work. Getting off at midnight, he'd go to pick up Jadan from the babysitter's, dead tired, while his son was wide awake, ready to play with his father. When Jadan's babysitter threw him a 4th birthday party on his 3rd birthday, Coleman knew that he had had enough of passing his son off to someone else while he was at work. Something would have to give -- either life as a Soldier, or life as a dad.
"That was when I knew I was getting out of the Army," Coleman said. "I was paying this lady to raise my son. It just can't happen. How can I instill in him what I want to instill in him when all the time I'm spending with him I'm sleeping?"
Getting out in June 2005, Coleman and his son moved to Huntsville, where Jadan has excelled both in athletics, as a talented basketball player, and academically, making straight As. He also serves as an excellent example, Coleman said, to his younger sister Kamari, 5. One would never know that a decade ago Coleman had to wait until Jadan had fallen asleep to check him into a hotel on that fateful drive from Ohio, for fear that if he did so while he was awake and screaming for his mother someone would think he had kidnapped him.
"He's a good kid," Coleman said. "I've been lucky. He's a great kid. He's made it through a whole lot."
Like Jadan, Coleman too has grown in their time together, learning to keep it all in perspective when it comes to his parenting.
"I've become more selfless, but definitely where I've changed most is on discipline, and remembering that I was once a kid," Coleman said. "Before I was holding Jadan to an impossible standard, to the standard of a Soldier pretty much. You can't do that. You have to remember that you were a child, remember those days, and don't hold them to impossible standards. Hold him to Jadan's standard, to Kamari's standard. What changed most and made me a better dad is calming down and realizing that it's not the end of the world, and how little this stuff is that can get you upset with your kid. At the end of the day it doesn't matter."
From his own experience as a Soldier, having deployed to Afghanistan, and just through his life of trial and error as a father, Coleman has taught his children about the truly important things in life. It's a lesson he attributes to Jadan's ability to hit the game winners on the court.
"Pressure is relative," Coleman said. "You only feel pressure because that's what people have told you to feel. Whether it's 4th down playing football or 3 seconds left in basketball, that's not pressure. Pressure is being in Afghanistan, you're running out of ammo and the enemy's got you hunkered down. Pressure is having two kids and not having a job. Those things are pressure. Making a free throw with 3 seconds left isn't pressure because at the end of the situation everything is going to be all right and you're going to get a hug."
Coleman lives for the little things in life, like those post-game hugs, and the tradition he and his kids have of bringing it in for a group hug, and on the count of three shouting, "Coleman!"
"That's my best thing, is my hugs and my kisses from my kids and just looking in their eyes," Coleman said. "No matter what, it's going to be all right. How can I be sad when I'm looking at them?"
A decade since he shed his own tears on his journey with Jadan, while there have been curves in and speed bumps along the way, it is a walk he has taken with his children every step of the way. Reflecting on this Father's Day, Coleman encourages all dads to follow suit and be a father not just this Sunday, but every day.
"Step up," Coleman said. "It's unfortunate that we live in a society where a lot of men are dads but they're not fathers. Too many are pretty much donors. Step up. It's not about you anymore. I don't want to hear, 'I don't get to go to the club.' I stopped going to the club a long time ago. It's not about you, it's about your kids. Just remember that. Spoil your kids because they're only a kid for so short a time. These are the times of great joy. It's never too late to step up. You should always try."