On Father’s Day of this year, I awoke to a bear hug from my four-year-old, Theodore, and drool from my nine-month-old, Otto. My wife, Ashley, had gathered the boys early enough to surprise me with breakfast and a gift—some new Air Jordans. Groggy and barely awake, I thought to myself, “What is this for? Why am I being celebrated?” It didn’t make sense and still doesn’t make sense now.

Ashley and I found out we were going to have a child when I was in graduate school at Penn State, and although we were not financially prepared (who is?), we were beyond thrilled by the news. I committed myself to supporting Ashley through her pregnancy, and worried about how I would provide food, clothing, and a place to live and generally support a brand-new human. My innermost struggle became thinking about what kind of father I would be. My thesis work focused on the school-to-prison pipeline of men of color, but it became more complicated as I feared my child becoming part of this system. I found it difficult to see the subject of my thesis objectively.

The moment we found out we were going to have a boy, I began to think of the men in my family. Historically, they had graduated only from middle school and were encouraged to find full-time work as soon as they were able. For example, I worked part-time at a Christmas wreath factory from the age of thirteen, and my choices were to attend high school or start working full-time. I chose school and made a promise to myself to ensure the financial circumstances that would allow my children to have an education, too.