Angelo Clary has been dealing with some of the toughest moments in his fatherhood over the past seven years. You wouldn’t know it, though. Not by the soft spoken words that carry his hometown accent, not by how he keeps his head up and his family together. The father who many were introduced through unfortunate circumstances sits down with MADAMENOIRE to share his grit and determination for Black fatherhood for Father’s Day.
MADAMENOIRE: It’s been a long time coming if you and I could sit down and have a conversation and I wanted to talk to you as Father’s Day approaches, because I personally feel like you’re a hell of a dad. I wanted to celebrate that and also share it with MN readers. Thank you for sitting with us and taking some time out to have this conversation around fatherhood and all things family and girl dad.
Yeah, it’s a lot though.
It’s a lot. What age did you become a father?
I became a father at 16—a young father. I returned the favor to my mother who also had my oldest brother at 15. My grandmother had her first child at 14. Good thing about being a young father with a stern mother, a loving mother, is that she made [me] do everything. So, I was a real father at a young age. My mother didn’t play. Unless it was on her time, you had to “babysit” your own child. If you want to be a man [that’s] the responsibility that comes with being a man. I was a single father. His mom was an absent mom at that time, going through issues. So, when I had him. I was kind of proud. My brother had his son early, so I was already like a father because I thought my nephew was my son. I used to keep them with me all the time.
How was single fatherhood?
Well, you know how they say that every child has to be raised by a village. I had a true village around me. I had an aunt I grew up with, a small sister, a godmother and I had a wonderful, one-of-a-kind mother. My first child was the love child of the neighborhood. We come from the type of era where [everyone is] family. I had the help of the whole village.
That speaks to black community and family, for sure. I hear an accent in your voice. The way you said area. Is that Baltimore?
Yeah, that’s Baltimore. West Baltimore. During that time, the community was filled and didn’t have so many abandoned homes. You could walk up a block of 35 homes and somebody occupied each home. I’m originally from the West, Family was everything. The community is everything. You know, that’s how I was raised up.
So how many children do you have now in total?
I have six. I have five now. One of my sons just passed away on April 25.
It’s sad—it’s something no parent should ever have to go through. Well, I understood it years ago when I lost my nephew. He died by gun violence and it’s the same thing. Like, you never can heal from that. But you understand why the cry is so loud. A lot of communities need therapy, a lot of communities need real help to get past certain things.
Right? Yeah, there’s absolutely some trauma around that gun violence, particularly in black communities, and then how we deal with stigmatizing, mental health and just like, emotional health and wellness. I agree with you. I tend to agree with you there. Like, we really need to move past that so we can not only heal our communities, but even tamp down some of the violence and some of the anger that we have that leads to violence against one another. I definitely agree with you on that. What does family and being a father mean to you?
Being a father is everything, I take the good, the bad, the ugly. One thing, I don’t compromise. I was told by my father, and we had to realize that we had a stern father. My father instilled meaningful teaching through his discipline. It made me understand how important it was to be a father, how important it was to have understanding and to be accountable as a father for the things you didn’t do.
So, me being a father was everything. When I had my children, I had a chance to grow up with them. From my youngest to my oldest, I have done everything other people say they couldn’t do with their child. So, when I say that I did the dance class with my daughter, I said I was the best friend, but I never compromised who I am as a parent. I’m a father 100% of the time.
You take this roles very seriously, it sounds like
Very serious, very serious. My kids don’t play with me too much. My children understand that I’m a father. I’m a real father. I could sit back, even with my oldest son, even with his siblings, my youngest kids, my daughters, we can talk about everything because I’ve done everything with them. I ran basketball, played football, I taught them how to work out. I was involved. We swim, we play cards, we have family time. That’s important to my children.
Right. With parenting there’s a huge responsibility attached. From what you’re telling me, a lot of what you’ve learned about being a parent and how you pour into your children as a parent comes from your community, right? Your village, your mother and your father. I’m curious, what was your relationship like specifically with your father outside of discipline
My father was always a rolling stone. Even though he’d been married to my mother. I learned to love my relationship with him. I learned how to love my father. I love my father for the good, the bad, the ugly. That’s something my mother made sure of. Even though they went through what they went through, to say ‘Forget dad, you need to leave dad.’ Nah, that wasn’t something we could say. I have a great relationship with my father. He’s always been there. Stern or not, he always was a father when I needed him to be.
How many daughters do you have?
I have two daughters.
How is it being a girl dad?
I tell you, it’s always amazing to raise young queens. It is all things a little easier because they come from you. Queens, they melt your heart. They are born with a gift to melt their daddy’s heart. And that’s the easiest thing for them to do. Who wants to see their daughter cry?
I want to pivot a little bit. Many others and I became familiar with you through your daughter Azriel’s engagement with R. Kelly. I remember speaking to you early well, not early, but when I became aware of the situation. I remember you being vocal, but in a patient and very supportive way. One of the things that you said, if I can remember, was that you weren’t there to shame your daughter but to embrace her when she was ready to return, that you would keep open arms waiting for her and you were willing to understand what she was going through psychologically. And that really impacted me. We had that conversation about five years ago and I want to know from you why that approach was important?
[I] had [my] share of relationships and understanding of different aspects of life. So, when this happened, I understood what it was and the power of having an older individual who is experienced and taking advantage of a child. When intimacy is involved, two things can happen. You can become the biggest enemy to their situation. I won’t say relationship. It was a sick situation.
Exactly, a predatory situation … or you can remain on the side and wait for them to open their eyes. Even though I was doing a lot of other things to pursue her, to get her away from him, like traveling [to wherever she was], popping up, anything a father could do, but without bringing too much pressure to her, and not without understanding. It was like a fight within the fight, but [I] had to kind of make sure the deck was stacked in [my] favor to let her know [I’m] not making an enemy situation.
I had to keep loving her, loving on her, even though she was doing something that made no sense. She’s a part of something that made no sense to the world. But we had to stand there and still be parents. Imagine being a father humiliated worldwide and people expecting you to do this and do that and you have to still be open-minded and considerate to what your child may be going through being preyed upon. What side is she going to see of her father? Will she see the father who can’t hold himself together? I was full of rage because that was his power. His power was watching the fathers, the parents, leave their focus on being a parent. He was taking advantage of that and using that against parents. I picked up on it and I understood it. I started reading different things and learning different things about people who have been through these abusive situations and why they stay and why they couldn’t come home, why they felt like it was more dangerous coming home then staying in that. And I never wanted her to feel in danger at home. I wanted her to know that we love her the same as we loved her before she left.
Azriel eventually had a change of heart. That was such a powerful moment for, I think, many Black women who were outraged by the situation. And not just Black women but the Black community. It was a powerful moment to watch her return home. Can you share the feeling you had when she returned home?
I went and got her. My daughter called me and I went and got her. I just never let people know that she was home. All we did was love on her. In my eyes, it was my 17-year-old daughter who just was asking about “Dad can I do this and dad can I do that?” I never really physically saw my daughter for about three years. I saw her from a distance when I invaded his hotels in New York, I saw her from a distance walking with a whole bunch of security when I was traveling back and forth to Chicago to see what it was.
How was it when you got that phone call?
I’m going to tell you the crazy part. My mom had just gone through a bad illness and I had to leave. We got a phone call that my mom was in the hospital. So, we rushed over to the hospital, me and my wife. We were in the hospital not even 20 minutes, and I got a mysterious phone call. My daughter was like, “Hey, come get me. I got to go please.”
Before I can hang up the phone, it’s like, I got to go. My wife asks, “what’s wrong?” I was like that was Azriel and she said to come get her right now. I was getting ready to drive home to get dressed. My wife looked at me and was like “Oh no, we ain’t got time for that.”
I bought a flight for almost $800, a last-minute flight straight to Chicago. I was blown because I was so happy to see her. But I realized this wasn’t the little girl, my little angel, she was a woman.
Even though she saw me and was blown away, she grabbed me, hugged me and all that. It was a situation where we couldn’t enjoy that moment. We had to go. I think I drove until I got out of Chicago. Then I stopped and I pulled over and I said, “No, we can’t go no more. Get out.” And I pulled over to an old gas station or something. And I said, “I just need to hug you.”
What a realization though, right? It’s just incredibly powerful, knowing you have a dad who will go great lengths for you. Before we move along, I just want to ask you one question about your response to the trial and the conviction.
Allah takes care of everything that needs to be taken care of. His conviction was something that was coming. I think when it happened, the world was shocked. I wasn’t. I still have no sympathy for a grown man that takes advantage of children. I think it’s terrible how grown adults can sit there and still side with this individual and justify any action.
The sad part is it’s a whole black community still shaming the victims and shaming the families because this man is now convicted of something that he openly participated in.
Where are you today? Where are you today mentally, spiritually, and emotionally spiritually?
I’ve been more spiritually inclined over the last five years.I’m probably a little bit more protective of my kids now, a little bit more humble with my relationship with my kids now, especially after losing my son. I don’t want to lose another child or lose another relationship with my child.
Fathers’ Day also falls on Juneteenth this year. How would you spend your Father’s Day?
My kids usually do something where they all come together and have me at one spot. We do a lot of things, eating together and stuff like that. They try to outdo each other. Ice always wins but Azriel is a big planner.
Sounds like a testament to the great father that you are to them. So, let them duke it out. Let them duke it out.