I had the Boyz n the Hood story. I was Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character in the movie. I grew up in a gang-affiliated neighborhood fascinated by that southern California lifestyle. Early on, living in a single-parent household, my mother was working three jobs and going to school so she couldn’t raise me by herself. I had to go to my father’s mother’s house. It was then that I was taught by my grandmother that “to whom much is given, much is required.” We were growing up in public housing and she had six or seven foster kids at a time. And it was tough for us to get food and the essentials. At the same time, she was always so giving.
I didn’t really have a father figure during that time because my dad went back to North Carolina to become a minister and go to college. So around my early teen years, I got a little rebellious, hanging out with the wrong people, shoplifting, got arrested, fighting, not listening to my mother. She said, “You’ve got to go live with your dad because you need a man in your life because you’re walking around here thinking you’re a man.” All my other friends were going to jail and getting shot and she thought that was going to be me.
So I went to North Carolina, when I was about 12 or 13. I remember the first day when my dad picked me up from the airport. On the car ride to his house he told me, ”I’m going to deal with you like a man.” At the time my dad was probably only 30 years old. He had me at 17. He’s like ”I’m going to deal with you like a man. I’m going to talk you like a man. If you disrespect me, I’m going to handle you like a man. We’re going to deal with each other as adults.” From that day on, we never had a problem.
If I was doing something at school that I wasn’t supposed to, he talked to me about it and we handled it. I had never been called a man before. I had never been dealt with as a man in that sense before. There was a lot of affection in my father’s household, but there was no pampering or babying like at my mother’s house. Through the ups and downs, whether my father was there during certain times or not, that moment when he told me I was a man definitely shaped me. It molded me into who I am today.
When it comes to manhood, being a provider is something that is essential. Whether I’m giving financially or giving of myself, I think a man should always provide. A man should always attempt to be a provider. So giving back absolutely correlates to manhood. As a father, I feel it’s my duty to instill this in my children. I say to them all the time, “Sharing is fun; Giving is fun. Giving is way better than receiving.” That can be a tough concept for a 3-year-old to grasp. But because they understand the concept of fun, they understand the joy in giving.
We’re placed on this earth to pursue happiness and so whatever makes you happy and makes you feel like you have an abundant, fulfilled life, then that’s what you should do. However, the more you can give, the better you’ll feel about yourself. To know that at the end of the day you gave it your all, that’s amazing. Whenever you can give of yourself, you are putting into the world.
In addition to being the host of America’s Got Talent, Nick Cannon is a seasoned television and film actor/producer. Through his NCredible Entertainment production company, he executes the TeenNick HALO Awards, which recognizes teens who work hard to make the world a better place. He is also an advocate for the Lupus Foundation of America and the National Kidney Foundation bringing awareness to kidney disease, lupus and healthy living.
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(Photo: Earl Gibson III)