Father figures – they have added up over the years. I started with one – my mother Kristyl Thomas. Yes, I am the oldest son of a single-mother. She’d say to me, “I may not be a man, but I am going to raise you to become one. Until then, I am the man of this house. I am your mother and your father.”
I was intimidated at first. Over time, I quite naturally questioned how my mother could be both mother and father. I questioned whether or not I could identify one man who exemplified the characteristics of a father figure. I built relationships with mentors, teachers, artists, coaches, relatives, and strangers all of whom were men and women. I could say all of them were father figures. I saw them at their best and at their worst.
At his worst…
One mentor in particular, Andre Lee Ellis, a family friend and entrepreneur lives in Milwaukee where he produces Stage Theater. After one of his productions one night, my mother introduced me to him and told him he should put me in his next show. He said I’d have to attend his acting classes and audition as he recommends all of his actors. I wanted the opportunity to shine so I attended classes, but by the time auditions rolled around, his theater company closed.
At his best…
While he did not in fact have a theater company, he made it his sole job to train me to be what I wanted to be, an actor. He dedicated man hours to assure me that he would cast me in a show someday; if not I would be on the big screen. Until then, Mr. Ellis trained me when I wanted to compete in high school forensics in the category of Drama; to compete in NAACPs ACT-SO competition; and to audition for college theater programs. I don’t remember being on the big screen because it never happened, but I remember when he said, “acting means to always be art in motion.”
“Acting is more than saying the lines, you have to feel them with actions,” he said. “You have to make them feel real. You got to make moves, you can never fake moves.”
He was good at answering my questions. I always had questions. One question I never asked Mr. Ellis was whether or not he would open a theater again. I never asked because he always said that he would. But, he had much to say, much advice and many answers to my questions overall.
I asked him at one time, how my mother could be both a mother and a father. He said, anyone can be anything and actions speak louder than convictions.
His word proved to be true. He was right. My mother’s actions have exuded beyond the barriers of sound. She has raised me to be the man that I am to so many people. He was right. He did reopen his theater company. In fact, Mr. Ellis recently reestablished his theater company and became the owner of the first African-American performing arts group to have their own space to work in Milwaukee.
Time spent being trained by Mr. Ellis was about more than acting experiences, but object lessons for me. In my eyes, he exemplified the characteristics of a father figure. I would not go so far as to say he was a better father than my mother because she raised me to be the man that I am for her and others. I would say Mr. Ellis is a father figure who has dedicated valuable “Hours of Power” to help me become the man my mother raised me to be for my community. Bottom line, father figures help families.
Vote for PTA’s Million Hours of Power in the Pepsi Refresh project, then encourage everyone you know to vote for PTA. Your voting power can provide a voice for children who need father figures.