The clouds of self-doubt can and will take us all off the path we feel is our life’s purpose. The foggy haze of our thoughts, feelings, and negative rumination of our decisions is a divine use of misdirection to guide us to where we belong.
I was in an interesting space in the spring of 2018. Strife, drama, and trauma prompted me to become both weary and wary of my creativity. A few months earlier, I wrote a post called The Death of Single Dadventures. It was meant to be a pause-and-pivot towards a different direction; but I didn’t renew the domain name and was more than okay with it.
I had all but accepted my regular 9-5 (it was really 6:30am-3:30pm) was my life and gave up on all my creative endeavors. Almost anything I’d posted on social media was an attempt to find a spark. I knew my life in the moment was not who I really was; perhaps it was a cry for help and support to dig deep and find a new voice.
One evening, my mother walked up to me, dropped off a Canon EOS m6 mirrorless camera with two kit lenses and told me “God told me to give this to you.” At first, I thought to use the camera to take high quality pictures of my daughter and nephew as the grew up. Within a week, I had a new idea.
“I’m gonna make a documentary about black fatherhood called Superman With Timbs On!” I told myself.
The concept of Superman With Timbs On wasn’t a new one. Some years prior, I coined the phrase because it was supposed to be the title of my memoir. By 2015, I’d written well over 100,000 words of the manuscript and abandoned it; I felt I needed to live a little more to create the body of work I felt it was supposed to be. Months later, the concept evolved to some of my other friends who were fathers to write a few essays and give their perspective on their experiences as black fathers to further answer the question “What happens when the first hip hop generation grows up and becomes fathers?”
The premise behind the phrase Superman With Timbs On was rooted in concept I first learned in college, black identity stasis. I played on what I’d learned a decade earlier to the concept of Superman. To the world, he was Clark Kent, a mild-mannered-yet unreasonably brolic-journalist from who’d migrated to the big city of Metropolis from rural Smallville. Clark Kent was an alias used to poorly hide he was also Superman, the vigilante who fought crime and kept the streets of Metropolis safe from harm (I still have never understood how no one ever put two-and-two together the two muscular men with the same haircut with the one draped curl were not the same person). While Clark was good at his job and Superman was a celebrated hero, he was neither of them: he was Kal-El from the planet Krypton. The balance of all three identities is a circumstance black fathers could relate to.
The original idea for the series was to film 10 fathers, born between 1980 and 1990 and edit into five episodes. Each episode would focus on two fathers who answered the questions, back-to-back, which would compare and contrast each other’s viewpoints and at other times, finish one another’s sentences.
I had this camera and an idea; but no idea how to execute my vision. I reached out to my cousin, Brian Freeman, a talented photographer to inquire what kind of lens I needed. He advised me to buy a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens for $150, a wireless lavalier mic, and a tripod. Within a week, I had all three and needed 10 subjects to tell their stories and journeys into fatherhood.
I had no idea what I wanted to ask my subjects. I came up with the six questions I asked all of the fathers involved in this project off the top of my head and wrote them in my phone, right before I drove to the Bronx and shot with Fritz, my first subject.
By the end of the first shoot, I knew I had something. However, the sound quality was poor because I had no idea how to configure the mic to my camera. I learned overnight how to set up my equipment and was better prepared the next afternoon for my shoot.
I purchased Adobe Premeire Pro and edited the film as I continued to shoot. In spite of twenty years of experience mixing and editing audio, I was a novice with video. Superman With Timbs On was how I learned to produce and direct video. As I learned to cut and place each clip, I realized the vantage point of all of my subjects was one of people born and raised in and around New York City. I leaned into this concept and New York wasn’t a backdrop for my fathers, it was a character in the series. I wanted the ubiquitous and omnipresent noise of New York City to be heard in every clip because it is part of what comes along with living in New York City.
I wanted a true representation of New York City. I needed at least one father from-or residents-from all five boroughs of New York City and the Tri-State area: Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut; and a transplant who now-considered the Big Apple home. Except for New Jersey, I shot in every place I previously mentioned. Each subject needed to talk about New York and how it shaped their views on the music and how they became fathers.
The pandemic and subsequent quarantine ceased production for Superman With Timbs On. I had 15 fathers who’d all spoken about fatherhood for about 40 minutes and around 75% of the whole series edited. I have no fathers born between 1987 and 1990. However, I think it worked out. The two fathers born in 1991 acted as a control for the rest of my cast, born between 1979 and 1986; a collective who mostly feel out of place labeled as either Generation X or Millenials.
After two years of learning how to shoot, edit, produce, and direct a project on the fly, the first part of Superman With Timbs On was released June 19, 2020. It is my love letter to black fatherhood.