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by Katy Otto

I first encountered Skribbly LaCroix at a Metropolarity event in West Philly. He's a force to be reckoned with - a performer, a poet, a photographer - a jack of all trades. We became fast friends, and he has been painting my world brighter colors ever since. I talked to him about fatherhood.

Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.

I've been performing for most of my life, But I've only recently come to understand what I've been up to. I'm a performing artist with my hands in several disciplines... I say that because everything I do is a performance. In 2010 I picked up a camera, but I didn't just do that. I chose a persona that would be attached to that, which is different from my "poetry/acting/Richard Pryor" career. With that, people know me as St. Skribbly LaCroix. With the camera, I'm D1L0 - which in my mind was a part-man, part-android, who was to be Skribbly's personal photographer, but eventually became much more. There are people who know only D1L0 and people who know only St. Skribbly LaCroix. I never wanted my real name attached to my creative work. Especially with the Internet being what it is, I wanted to protect my private life. Some people know one aspect of my creative identity and not the other. I keep them separate - and that in and of itself is a performance for me. There are different images for each, different clothing, I might even talk in a different way with the various personae. I may say "he" for D1L0 but D1L0 is genderless. I have a desire to detach my personal self and body from what I am sharing with the world. It becomes difficult at times to juggle the two but it is all going on in my head at the same time.

As far as parenting is concerned, I will say this. I was a very reluctant parent. I did not want to become a parent. It wasn't really my choice. The decision to have a child was left in the mother's hands. I wasn't ready, she wasn't ready - it wasn't an ideal situation. It wasn't how I envisioned becoming a parent. That was in 2007, which was when I was also really kicking into my performance career as Skribbly. My main concern was time, and how much time would be consumed by being a father. There was a bit of a complicated mentality around that. A lot of that is because I am Black (I am African-American) - and there is a great stigma around Black fatherhood. I often found myself punishing myself for being selfish with my time. Even to this day, as a full-time dad, I still have a deep, deep stigma when I am not with my kid - I think about what I am doing when I am not with my kid, and it is almost as if I am under surveillance. I am wary of people seeing me living my life the way I used to, that I would be thought of as a bad dad; not taking care of my responsibilities. A lot of that is not me. It is about a public perception, but it exists within my body and my mind. It is like a colossus towering over me. That is a very real thing. That has definitely affected my art in some very serious ways.

What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?

When I had a kid, my creative life came to a standstill. To say my creative life didn't even play into my mind would be an understatement. I didn't even consider myself as having a creative life at that point. I did not have the luxury of being creative. I had to get a job. I had to start to provide. It was this monumental, herculean task for me. I had always been a freelance and an entrepreneur - I just had to provide for myself. If I didn't make enough money in a month, it only affected me and I was not going to starve. But when I had a kid it completely changed my life. For a few of his early years I was not as involved in his life because his mother and I were not friendly. He lived with her and I did not see him as much. My creative life went on. In that time, I thought that I could sustain my life and take my creative life to the next level to support him and me. It didn't really happen that way. I got into some endeavors that didn't pan out. Those things had an extra weight because all of a sudden I was not producing - I was not providing.

There was the pressure also of maleness and masculinity connected to this. To this day - my son is eight - this is something I am fighting within my own psyche. I am a bit private about it. The other people in my life who are dads are all men. They are who I consider to be "men". I am not what I consider to be a man. I mean as in "go out and work yourself to the bone" men - I am not that. I have always been a self-starter. I've tried to hold on to jobs I did not like and I have never been able to do that. I can't endure it - it is not who I am. My father is an entrepreneur, self-made - I worked in his store very early in my life. We are now pretty estranged. I got my self-starting nature from him, but I also got my stigma about hard work from him as I worked for years in his store. Lots of hours and hard work.

When I started thinking about my creative life I realized I wanted very much to make it lucrative enough so that it would allow me to provide for my family, but it didn't work that way. I didn't learn that the hard way - I already knew that in the back of my mind. I knew if I wasn't already on my feet making money from my artistic work by the time he was born, it wasn't going to happen. I had to be realistic. I am still a creative. But when he came, it all of a sudden got real. I am educated, but I don't want to do a lot of the stuff people want me to do. I want to make things. I went to school for theater and African World Studies. But school didn't necessarily prepare me for anything. Most of the things I've learned related to the work I wanted to do I learned on my feet. I started a photography business. In this time, social media was also starting to rise and artists were starting to take advantage of that.

What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?

Everything I am doing now, I was already doing when I became a parent. But all of a sudden there was a lot of pressure to produce, especially for a two or three year period. I had pressure from his mom and my own pressures on myself about being a good dad and making money - struggling with the question of what it means to be a good dad. I still struggle with it. I will never work a regular nine to five job. I will freelance and do other work. I have this thing about going on job interviews. I have never wowed anyone at a job interview even though I have wowed tons of people in crowds as a performer. I've always been interviewed by some white dude who asks what I could bring to his company. And if you get asked the question "where you do see yourself in five years" at an interview like this, you can't respond honestly with "I don't see myself here." You won't get the job. So you have to make up bullshit about how I am going to grow in this job. You can't say, "I would like to make money here until I can quit this job and move on." Maybe it's radical honesty, but I can't lie like that.

Anyway, my creative life was severely impacted by the need to produce income so that I felt okay about being a dad. That's horseshit, though. I only wanted a job so that I could feel okay. It wasn't about being a dad. It was about not feeling like a fucking deadbeat. It wasn't about changing diapers, watching my son grow up, or fatherhood. I've only learned about those recently.

How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?

So as things started to cool off with my son's mother and me, I started to have more time (with my son). When she and I later on were okay, I had him here and there more often. Recently, I started to have my son full-time and he came to live with me. That was a big adjustment. We're talking school schedule - pick up, drop off, homework, bedtime everyday.

Now, I am a filmmaker (I wasn't as serious about it in '07, when he was born). I need large amounts of quiet time to sit and edit uninterrupted. The reason why people don't get any work done at work is that they are constantly interrupted. You lose productivity that way. I've always known that so I've always worked at night. There are no interruptions at night. Midnight until five am, no interruptions. But that was before when I was a night person. Now I am waking up at six thirty in the morning - to make lunch, get him in the shower, get dressed, make breakfast, take him to school. I can't work through the night and do all that. That became a severe challenge and it really took away from my writing. I found time to edit, but I couldn't write. When you are editing you have very specific goals in mind and things to do. There is a technical acumen to it so you can get into a groove and just chop - "edit."

With writing, it is generative. You need free space and free time. You have to make things up. So I stopped writing altogether for almost the entire time that I have had him - the past year. But his mom took him for this past summer, so I have had five days a week to work the way I used to work. That has been very refreshing. But I was severely impaired and I started to go a bit stir crazy. I stopped performing. I stopped going out. I used to have a very active nightlife. That's how you and I met. I kept doing photography. It really helped that I had a monthly gig - I would go to Rockers! to shoot photos every month. I carved out one Saturday of the month to stay out - I found time for that.

But that was it. All the other days of the month I was in full dad mode. That might be part of the stigma too - it never goes away in my mind, and I don't think it ever will. And I love being a dad, I love being a father. When your creative life is also your industrial life, your income - it is a drain. I hesitate to take an out of town gig if it means I will be out on a school night. I wanted to take a job in New York for a big photography company that I love. They were looking for a filmmaker, but I would have had to move to New York City and I couldn't do that. That wasn't an option. There was nowhere else for my son to be if he wasn't with me. And this was a dream job. Hopefully an opportunity like that will come again.

What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?

I didn't make an adjustment. I completely let go of my creative life. We have a tendency to think of our creative lives as trivial in the face of parenting. What made me a good parent was completely investing my entire self into parenting. I wasn't afforded the luxury of maintaining my artistic pursuits fully, or even halfway, and be a dad all at the same time. My son is still young and requires a lot of attention, time and positive reinforcement. He just wants to be in a room with me. That's freaking awesome but it doesn't lend me to my creative work.

What do you tell your children, if anything, about the role of creativity in your life?

He doesn't know anything about my creative life currently. I have a partner who helps me with him, though, and she is also an artist. We are constantly nurturing any creative notion he has. He is eight and he is always coming up with things.
Do you talk to them (if age appropriate) about the role of creativity in their lives?

Yes. He will be in his room, as I used to be, with his toys, creating stories. We just let him go with it. We never stop him or tell him it is silly. We also speak to him about the programming he watches to talk to him about it and make sure he understands how things are made. I am very hands off though when it comes to what he decides to make and create himself. I want to see him do it, to see how his wheels are turning. I have my own point of view and I don't want to shape his in any substantive way. I tend to be hands off with how he is processing creativity. I don't talk about creativity overtly, but it's by letting him run with his imagination. I can look at my own creativity right now and point to times in my life back when I was young where I got that from. My freedom to create back then is exactly where I got this from right now. It's not my ambition to interfere with him in any way because of this.

In what ways do you think being an active artist/writer/musician/creator helps make your parenting stronger?

Like I said, I am probably the most radical "compartmentalizer" there is. That's how I can be a performance artist and a photographer and have those be completely separate entities. My creative life does not inform my parenthood in any way. They are completely separate things.

In what ways do you think being a parent has made your artistic practice stronger?

I think it has made it weaker in a certain way. I wish I had more time to devote to being an artist. I remember when I didn't even have to think about this. It's not so much being a parent. It's my own complexes around fatherhood - being a Black father, not wanting to be a disappointment, not wanting to be a deadbeat, wanting to build up a Black son in this world who is strong and can say, "my dad taught dad showed me." This is in part because I grew up with my dad and I knew how strong that made me. How resistant that made me. That's what I want for him.

Are there other people who inspired you in the ways they approached creative work as a parent?

Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are a great example. Ideally, that is who I aspire to be as a parent. If my son grew up to be like Jaden, I would be okay with that. If he grew up to be like Willow, I would be okay with that. It's difficult because I am Black - we are Black - and freedom means something else. It almost comes with a caveat, that a free Black kid is ten times as free as a white kid but it is ten times as dangerous and it is ten times harder work. That's my circumstance. That is our reality. I want to be able to cultivate a free child in this world, and a lot of our kids aren't free. They aren't free to make choices. They aren't free to be themselves, and they aren't free to explore the way their counterparts are.

When I look at Will and Jada, they have this freedom, but they are also millionaires. They have access and wealth, influence, affluence, prestige...I feel the weight of economics. Some no name Black father and Black son don't get the same reverence - the same options.

But there is another parent who is a major influence in my life and her name is Rasheedah Phillips. We've been good friends for many years. She was around when my son was born. She knew some of the things that I was going through and I knew some of the things that she was going through. Her child is amazing. Her child uses the pronoun "they." They are very awesome. Rasheedah has done a marvelous job as a parent. We would often argue sometimes - we are very close - because at times I thought she was being too hard on her child Alyx. I hope you get to interview her for this project. She is an example, and if we were in a race, she is who I am trying to catch in terms of being a parent.

I have other friends too. Chris Macklin, who is a drummer. Very prominent drummer in the city. Played in a band The Spades, currently plays with Sheena and the Nosebleeds...he's a dad and he is terribly influential. He's also a very nice guy. I see how hard he works and how much he loves his kids, plays with them...that is a big deal. I know he is someone I could talk to if I was having an issue, but I am also fairly private about being a parent. Not a lot of people even know I am a parent.

What does your child think of your creative work?

He doesn't really know. He's not old enough right now. My writing is very adult, a little obscene. It is not palatable for a kid. But my filmmaking and my photography, he knows about that. I teach him little things here and there, we show him things. He has little patience for the technicality of photography right now - he is eight. But he knows that I do take pictures, and I've taken his picture. He's very interested in it.

Do you think creative communities are friendly to children and parents and encourage their presence? Are there any ways these communities could improve? Feel free to be specific if you would like to.

No. I don't think so. Why not? To be quite honest, the DIY community which is sort of the art and music scene that I am in is a young person's game in many ways. A single person's game. And parenthood is not. That is because of the large amounts of time you have to spend growing a child. Teaching them how to live in the world, teaching them how to protect themselves.

When I became a parent, I had to almost entirely remove myself from that world. I didn't have the time anymore. I didn't have the energy anymore. When I am sleeping, it is not to recharge to do art, perform, go out - it is to parent. That is my day. And there is nothing that anybody in any art community can do about that. That's my personal responsibility, and as a private person that is how I take it. I don't think it's someone else's responsibility to carve out space for me. I find that arrogant to even suggest. Either I am going to do something or not. That is just me as a private person. I don't want to be a burden to anyone else.

Part of why I don't have time is that I don't rely on babysitters, perhaps other than close relatives like my mother or my brother. And even then I do not leave him with them for more than a couple of hours or something, then I'm right back home after a gig. And while I'm out I'm constantly worrying.. If I am not with my kid, he is perhaps with his mom but not other people. That was a big issue though, because she does rely on babysitters. This was convenient to her, and we had a lot of disagreements about that. There are parents who need time away from their kids. That is not how I do things. I am not saying it's absurd to want a babysitter. This is my personal choice and how I go about things. If I go to Rockers! or any other gig or event, like the time we met at the Mitten, I arrange for things to be okay for my son with my mother or brother. I am lucky to have brothers and sisters who are adults. They are responsible and can handle it. I put way too much pressure on myself to do it all, but my family offers great support. I have a community and a safety net, but I still struggle because of the notion of being a good dad. It's always staring me down. It's a colossus, as I said.

I don't expect the creative community to cater to or even acknowledge my situation. It's not like that with jobs, or if you have a 9 to 5. I disagree with the idea that every event should be built around children or parents. Events don't start on time - that's just the way it is. I don't believe that just because I became a parent, the world should automatically adjust to fit my needs. That's definitely not how DIY works. Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu would often make people wait an hour or two to play! If you are in the musician game, you know that that is just part of it.

How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?

Well, all of a sudden I was absent. Honestly, all of my creative partnerships are with my friends, and they already knew I was with my son. That has to do with your personal relationships with people. Everyone was supportive of me so no one wanted me to worry about it. My main creative partnerships are with other parents or people who are close to other parents. I did not take a hit in that way. I was only affected by the fact that I stopped performing. And if I have to be a dad somewhere, everybody gets that... I've never had anyone tug on me externally in that way... I mean I have a pretty strong personality so I doubt people would do that anyway. People generally just give me my space... But I don't have a manager or anything making demands on me and I'm not so heavily booked that it becomes an issue. Not yet anyway.

Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.

This is a really stacked question, but I think there is the potential for a lot of great ideas here. I've already kind of touched on this. I am obviously a guy, but I think for me the racial component plays into this more than being a guy. There is a lot of pressure in being a Black parent. Black parents are walking around with ten times as much weight on their shoulders because of the stigma of being a Black parent in America.

As a Black male in America, and a parent, I am supposed to be at the bottom of the cesspool. How dare I go somewhere where I am enjoying myself? God forbid I was a rapper! Who the fuck would believe that that was a real gig?

A lot of people used to think that I used to just go out all night. I used to throw parties - big, giant warehouse parties. Obviously we would do them on the weekend. I would take photographs, organize - it was a job for me. I would have the issue of knowing that it was work, but it was also a party - lots of people, music, women - and I was having a good time too. It's fun but it is work. In the back of my mind I would struggle with being gone from nine o'clock at night until four o'clock in the morning. I was in a space where there were drugs, and I like drugs - but could I do them? Is that fucked up? That's a conversation about freedom.

This is reminding me of a conversation I witnessed among white women on Facebook, where in response to the stresses of having newborn twins, a woman was told repeatedly by many of her friends to drink tequila and get hammered. As someone seven years sober, and a new parent, this was a strange conversation for me to witness. It was so casual. And I thought to myself - how would this be framed if this were a public conversation between women of color? Do white women, or white people, have a different permission to talk this way and not be viewed as fucked up parents? Well, of course they do. It goes to what you are saying a bit. But these were white professional women. And there was a lightness about it.

This is a real thing that we deal with. The moment we take a break from parenting, we are welfare queens. We are living off the system. We are the worst of the worst. Now, I am a free person. I don't believe what these people say, but we can say that and still be affected by it. I have been hearing this shit for my entire life. You know who you are inside, but this is there. This is the way I have been impacted. The main part is getting over this stigma and knowing that I am a good parent.

Has your creative community been supportive of you as a parent?

I don't expect any support.

Do you have any more thoughts to share with other prospective or current parents about preserving and nurturing one's own creative efforts while raising children?

The real things I want to harp on are not to be like me. Don't listen to the voices in your head. Be as free as possible. If you take time for yourself, it's okay. For parents of color, I would say - you know when you are handling your business. You know how happy your kids are. Sometimes you may be away from your kids, but that can be okay. They are going to be fine and you are going to be fine. It becomes detrimental to our mental health to listen to those negative stereotypes and ideas and not take time for ourselves. I had a bit of a severe breakdown a year or so ago. A lot of that was because I no longer had a creative outlet. I shut myself off from it - and I shouldn't have done that. I would tell people that it is okay to carve out that time. There is so much on the internet about parenting like we are all in this together, but we aren't. It's an individual thing. You as a parent have to figure out what your roadmap is. Your individual decisions are your own. Fuck the internet and fuck these parenting books.

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