How Hip-Hop Defined Fatherhood For One Miami Native

Sep 24, 2018

Miami-native Juan Vidal considers himself a "Rap Dad": a father who has been raised with and informed by hip-hop culture. That's also the name of his new book, which examines the intersection of hip-hop and fatherhood.

In the book, Vidal details his life as a traveling hip-hop artist, a father of four kids and a successful writer and music critic. He examines fathers in hip-hop who are changing the mainstream narrative about fathers of color being absent in their children's lives.

Vidal launches his nationwide book tour on Sept. 25 in Coral Gables at Books and Books. He joined Sundial to talk about his book and how growing up in Miami with hip-hop shaped his vision of what a man should be.

WLRN: How did you approach writing this memoir?

Vidal: I had to dig deep. I had to revisit a lot of things that I didn't necessarily want to revisit. It's a very personal story and gives you a trajectory of me growing up in South Florida, being a son of Colombian parents with a father who is machista. So I saw a lot of things that I wish I hadn't seen. I had to start interrogating and asking my mom what was this about. I gave her hell through the process of writing this book because I wanted to tell a very complete story that gave a sense of a narrative arc. I had to really tell some of those less than flattering moments of my upbringing and even a lot of the upbringings of my friends.

A big part of the story and the first part of the book is about growing up in Miami. Help me understand how you understood Miami as a child. What did it mean to you? How did this city shape you?

I grew up between Fort Lauderdale and Miami and why I love Miami is because it's very Caribbean. I actually live in Atlanta now and I've been there for a year and a half. I actually moved there to finish this book. Some of the things that I really miss is the Caribbean culture, the very diverse scene and the vibrant arts and cultural scene. I was exposed to a lot of things here as a kid that weren't so flattering. In the 80s and 90s drugs were huge here in South Florida and a lot of them came from Colombia which is my background. It's a story that we've seen told as far as some of the foundational elements. I think a lot of that shaped me because it gave me a broader worldview and understanding of an international city.

One of the challenges of growing up for you was your father. He is a very polarizing figure in your life. He struggled with drugs. He was a womanizer. How did seeing him disengage from his family shape you as a young man but also shape your views of fatherhood?

It definitely tainted a lot of those views of fatherhood because I saw things that I really shouldn't have seen. Even though I didn't have a lot of context for some of those memories because I was so young, as I grew older it made me realize that wow like men don't just have to be one way. Men and women are very complicated. Humans are very complicated. We have a lot of complex emotions and we don't have to fit into these stereotypes of for example what a Latin man should be. A lot of us grew up in these certain households with fathers and uncles that did a lot of womanizing. As we grow older we really have to make those choices of how we're going to treat women and how we're going to respect them in a variety of ways.

You talk about Latino machismo. How did you grow up with that? How did you make sense of what it meant to be a man?

I struggled for a long time with concerning what it meant to be a man because it was always the more girls you have the more of a man you are. That was the view we had in even late elementary school, to middle school and high school. I have kids now and I can't imagine the things -- my oldest who is 10 -- running through his mind. I just had to dig deep I had to make a very conscious effort to not be a certain way and to not fall into traps.