A Tale of Two Jordans
Actor Michael B. Jordan’s compelling roles on two underappreciated TV dramas illustrate the need for biblical manhood and fatherly guidance in our society.
As an avid Portland Trail Blazer fan, I never thought I would enjoy saying this again, but I’ve been having a great time watching Michael Jordan in his prime. I’ve seen some amazing, compelling performances from him. He’s all over my TV. The only weird thing is, his dominant sport is football, not basketball.
I’m speaking, of course, of Michael B. Jordan, rising star in Hollywood. Early fans knew him as Wallace on HBO’s The Wire. Since then, he’s been on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Burn Notice, and Lie to Me, to name a few.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching him most recently on two shows in particular. In the fifth-and-final season of Friday Night Lights (currently on DirecTV, later to air on NBC), Jordan plays quarterback Vince Howard, a troubled kid who gradually becomes a team leader under the tutelage of legendary coach Eric Taylor. Jordan also plays Alex, the unlikely love interest to teenager Haddie on NBC’s Parenthood.
The most striking thing about both of these nuanced, three-dimensional portrayals is that they seem to typify the need that young Black men have for older male role models. Every time I watch his self-assured, vulnerable humility on-screen, I think to myself, ‘that guy needs better men in his life.’
I realize the last thing we need is another piece on Why Our Young Black Men Need Fathers. It’s obvious. If you don’t already believe that, you have bigger problems than this article can address.
It’s also obvious that impartations of manhood are not limited to fathers, and that they’re most necessary in situations where fathers aren’t doing their jobs. For most of Jordan’s run on FNL, Vince’s dad was in jail. Meanwhile on Parenthood, Alex’s dad was an alcoholic.
What’s not always obvious is that this impartation happens in ways that defy our expectations and preconceptions of manhood is supposed to look like.
One man to another
But before we can explore this, we have to define our expectations. Manhood is imparted when one man calls it out in another; when he recognizes it, validates it, and supports it. That’s how it’s shown many times over in the Bible; that’s how it works. This is one of the lessons of To Own A Dragon by Donald Miller and his mentor John MacMurray. A great read, Dragon (which was recently revised and re-released under the title Father Fiction) is a window into the impact one man can have on another when he chooses to live as an open book. It’s a stunning portrait of discipleship, one interaction at a time.
It should go without saying that this impartation can only happen through men, because you can’t pass on to someone else something that you don’t have yourself. Unfortunately, this is no longer common knowledge. The Root recently featured an exploration of professional women considering single motherhood, which, considering the plight of today’s young Black male, is naïve at best and destructive at worst. Just because there have been many single Black women who have done a great job compensating for the lack of men in their sons’ lives, doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist.
The good news, though, is not just that you don’t need to be a father to impart manhood, but you don’t even have to be an official “father figure” … you don’t have to join a mentorship organization or program. You just have to keep your eyes open, and make a difference where you can.
You see this if you watch my man Mike B. in both of his recent roles. Men who were not his characters’ biological fathers were still able to make meaningful gestures to impart manhood. Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), Adam Braverman (Peter Krause), and Vernon Merriweather (Steve Harris) all made decisions and had conversations that served to affirm the character of Vince or Alex. None of them were particularly affectionate or emotional, yet all of their interactions were meaningful.
(I’d say more, but you know … spoilers.)
Great results, great expectations
In a recent interview, Michael B. Jordan admitted mild frustration at having such a famous namesake. On that level, I can sympathize. Yet, I believe it’s no coincidence that he’s turning out such impressive performances. With famous names come great expectations. And there’s something about high expectations that help young people respond well.
This is the main lesson we’ve learned from the Tiger Mother phenomenon, as documented by right here at Urban Faith by writer Kathy Khang. We do our young ones a disservice when we lower our expectations for fear of them crumbling under the pressure. As Cliff famously said to Theo, it’s the dumbest thing ever.
And yet, it’s not enough to have high expectations. We’ve got to be able to help our young men navigate the battery of hazards and pitfalls that accompany great talent and great expectations. My heart was heavy as I watched fictional quarterback Vince Howard’s father illegally negotiate with Division-I schools, knowing that real-life quarterback Cam Newton of the newly-crowned BCS champion Auburn Tigers, is still under investigation for the same thing. (And by the way… Newton’s father is a reverend. Lord, have mercy.)
Clearly, we need more men in our country who can and will continue to take the opportunities around them and make positive impacts in the lives of our youth.
Find a spot, and take it
That’s one thing I consistently saw from my own father, a reverend himself, growing up. If I had to pick only one positive attribute that I could take from him (trust me, there are dozens), that’s the one I would want to emulate. Even now that he’s retired, during outreach events, church services, or on afternoon bike rides, my father is always on the lookout for a young man who needs an impartation of hope and destiny. And when he sees an opportunity, he goes for it.
It’s for this reason that, as I’ve continued to grow as a musician, he implores me to continue doing hip-hop music that offers hope and models discipleship. And that’s why, if someone is feelin’ our material, they should just go ahead and take it.
Because whether it’s in the context of doing Christian hip-hop music, coaching football, leading a church ministry, or just talking straight with the young man who wants to date your daughter … every man has an opportunity to call out manhood in a young man who needs it.
And you don’t have to be Michael Jordan to make it happen.
The series finale of Friday Night Lights airs Wednesday, Feb. 9th, on DirecTV. NBC, which co-produces the series, will begin its broadcast of the final season on April 15th.