I attended high school in Guadalajara, Mexico. At 16, I spent most weekends hanging out with my brother at local shopping malls or dancing at Club Daddy-O. I looked a couple of years older than I was and the bouncers liked having us, so I would never get carded. (Ironically, my bro, who had a couple of years on me, had a "baby face" and would often get stopped...lol.)
We loved music and dancing, so we went to clubs to dance, not to drink or chase girls. In fact, I never drank, not one drop. As the only "black guys" in a Mexican club, we got mad props from the DJ and attention from girls....and when I stepped on the dance floor, I always drew a crowd. Yeah, I was "the man.” One night, a movie producer approached me and asked if I would like to be in a movie. The role would be as a gangster and I would be paid. I was like, “Fo sho!”
Sunday morning, my mom was in the kitchen making huevos rancheros and I told her about the offer. She was so excited for me! I ran to tell my dad. Without missing a beat, he said, "Absolutely not, not my son." My father, who was a history and political science professor, ironically, was not a man of many words. But when he spoke, his words had weight. In one moment, elation turned to despair. He said, "Boy, I did not bring your butt to Mexico for you to portray yourself as anything less than the man I raised you to become.” Wa-wha-whaat? I was devastated. I felt robbed of the opportunity of a lifetime.
The next day, he found me, put his arm around my neck and explained that I had an obligation to myself, as a young black man and as a "Howell," to always represent who I am in the best possible light; that my personal integrity was not for sale. He said that who I am on-screen is part of who I am in the world and to be careful of how I portray myself and the example I set for young men who look like me. I called the director and turned down his offer.
This singular lesson has informed many subsequent decisions in my life, and I can't be grateful enough to have had a father who, despite the emotions of the moment, had the presence of mind to see the deeper meaning and use the opportunity to teach me a life lesson that was worth far more than any movie role, money or potential "stardom.”
In this age of screens everywhere, my dad's words reverberate across time: Who you are on-screen is part of who you are in the world. Be careful how you portray yourself and the example you are setting.
Cecil John Howell lives in Chino, is a youth and parenting coach locally and works internationally as a matchmaker and recruitment career consultant.
I like you. A lot.
Cecil, Great to see your article.
I've met and had lunch with Cecil. He is raising some amazing kids. My impression is that he's a great father, coach, and role model.
More of us men should live life, and raise our kids like Cecil does. :-)
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