Chris Bivins on The Dad Advantage

    Being a dad wasn’t in the script aspiring filmmaker Chris Bivins had in mind for his life, but when he discovered he had the role, he dove into it. Today, the in-demand creative considers father-hood to be one of his most rewarding endeavors.

    “It’s crazy,” says the 34-year-old single dad. “I’ve found that there’s a love I have inside of me that I have never experienced before—feelings that I’ve never had for a woman.” And while sharing custody of his son has required some creativity as he juggles a demanding career as a producer for BET, he’s not felt taking on his family responsibilities has held him back. Indeed, the experience has actually been an advantage, he believes.

    “I’m happy this happened because it has made me work harder,” he tells WayMaker Journal. “It has given me more drive. It has given me more focus. If I have had to put the brakes on at all it has been a good thing, because I was driving a fast-ass car and I didn’t really know how to.”

    Not that it’s all been plain sailing. It took some time to come to a good agreement about shared custody of his 8-year-old son, Kaeson. However, he has done it well enough to find himself fielding questions from some of his 1.1 million Instagram followers about how he does it.

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    Bivins’ single-dad-parenting isn’t as uncommon as some people might think, though “there is often a presumption or even outright assumption that Black fathers have little or no involvement with their children,” according to matrimonial and family law attorney Joleena Louis, writing in Family Lawyer Magazine. Actually, when it comes to nonresidential dads, “Black fathers are more involved than Hispanic dads and share more responsibilities and generally co-parent better than white or Hispanic nonresidential fathers,” notes an article at the Institute for Family Studies website.

    Bivins credits his own parents with giving him the capacity to grow and become a father. Dad was a successful doctor who encouraged education and application, while Mom was a concert promoter who gave him his first glimpse of the entertainment world he would fall in love with.

    “So, I had both those dynamics, but at the end of the day, they both allowed me to do anything and everything I wanted to do. Any type of camp, if I wanted to pick up an instrument, if I wanted to do karate, if I wanted to be a Power Ranger—they supported it,” he remembers. “It was like, ‘OK, do anything you want to, but at the end of the day, just make sure you’re happy with whatever you pick.’”

    The oldest of three, with his brothers five and 10 years between, Bivins got to see how his parents raised those younger siblings. Together with his parents, those brothers—“my best friends” (Bivins combined their names, Maeson and Kennedy, to create Kaeson)—form the “Team Bivins” that helps him with his son. Kaeson is the first grandchild, “so my parents are very hands-on. They and my brothers are super proactive. If I ever need Kaeson to be babysat, that’s never a problem.”

    I have never, ever in my life wanted to fight for something… like my kid.”


    A good provider
    Fatherhood didn’t just expand Bivins’ experience of love, it also brought out his protective side. “I’m not super cutup or anything like that, but I have never, ever in my life wanted to fight for something or someone like Kaeson,” he says.

    Bivins had started to change even before his son was born, however. When he learned he was going to be a father, Bivins began reevaluating some of his relationships. “The dynamics of the people I was around changed instantaneously because I was like, ‘I don’t think I want my kid around you. Would I let you babysit?’ If the answer was no, then you’re out, or at least, if not completely cut off, I’m distancing myself.”

    Being a dad has also sharpened Bivins’ sense of ambition—and not just for himself. His big hope for his son is that he would “want for nothing,” he says. “I don’t want him ever to be homeless or to be sick and not be looked after.” That fuels his desire to be a good provider. “It sounds crazy, but money changes everything, you know. Money lets you travel; money lets you mess up because it can fix things. And it buys you access, the privilege of being near the right people. I want my kid to have access. When you have problems, they can be solved with money or access.”

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    Growing up as a big fan of Michael Jackson (“he showed me that anything’s possible”) and graduating from Stevenson University with a degree in film, Bivins broke into the entertainment business as one of four musicians featured on the CW show The Next in 2012. Picked out for personal mentoring by rap star Nelly, Bivins headlined the BET College Tour with Luke James and Mila J. That brought him to the attention of the folks at BET, where he landed a hosting gig. His The Flava Zone web series was sponsored by Coca-Cola.

    Transitioning to more behind-the-scenes creativity, Bivins freelanced as a producer for BET for several years before taking a staff post a year ago. As a producer for the media sales department, he is responsible for creating commercials and vignettes. In his side hustle, he helps other artists develop their personal brands, and has his eyes on moviemaking in the future.

    That career track was interrupted during the college tour. He went to a Christmas party with a young woman he had met “and one thing led to another and, boom, nine months later, a baby.” He admits to being shocked that “here was an intimate moment that we have to deal with for the rest of our lives.”

    Even though he knew he didn’t want to be in a long-term relationship—“it was cool for what it was, but that’s all I had really signed up for”—walking away was never an option. “That would be such a disappointing thing to do as a man. I could never have done that,” he says. “My parents at least instilled that much into me: don’t be a ______. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a dad; I just didn’t want to be a dad at that time.”

    He and Kaeson’s mom did try to make a go of things together briefly, but decided it just wasn’t going to work. “I think we weren’t meant to be more than great parents to our kid.” Coming to agreement on what that looked like was rocky, Bivins says. While he wanted to do the right thing, “I was still figuring out who I am as a person, you know?” One of the things he had to come to terms with was, though he didn’t want a steady relationship with Kaeson’s mom, how he would feel if she started dating other guys: “There’s going to be other men that’s in my kid’s life.”

    A single focus
    Those early days as a dad were scary. “I’m thinking I’m going to break his arm, trying to put him into those little clothes,” Bivins recalls. “I remember making sure he was still breathing all the time, putting my fingers under his nose and all that.”

    Now there’s a rhythm to it all, with Kaeson sharing time with his dad and his mom, who lives 30 minutes away from Bivins’ Baltimore-area, Maryland place. Inheriting his dad’s curiosity and creativity, Kaeson loves accompanying Bivins to some work settings and wants to have his own YouTube channel when he’s older. Sometimes the two of them will head to a Barnes & Noble not far from Bivins’ apartment, where Kaeson will explore the books while Dad works on his laptop.

    Bivins has enjoyed seeing his son (“my little best friend”) develop his own personality and interests. “He really is a good kid. Whatever good I have in me and whatever good is in his mother, he got all of that. He’s very much like both of us, but I think more like me in regard to he’s super-inquisitive.”

    While not dismissing the reality that not growing up in a mom-and-dad home has its downsides, Bivins sees some positives in Kaeson’s situation. “I think his understanding of life and social dynamics is so much better,” he says. “I don’t think he would have gotten that if me and his mom were together, and I love that for my son. He is going to be smarter than most.”

    With more of his Puerto Rican mom’s lighter coloring, Kaeson doesn’t just move between two homes but two worlds. Being with his Black dad has opened his eyes more to social justice and social dynamics in a way that “at an early age prepares him for life,” Bivins says. And though being a single dad has its negatives, there are some pluses. “I’m only going to be a dad in this situation,” he says. “I don’t have to worry about all the romantic stuff with another person and, honestly, that’s pretty awesome. We just have to agree on pickup time and I just have to focus on this little kid.”

    Bivins downplays the challenges of solo parenting. If your child is pretty well-adjusted, most of it’s about management, he says. “Can someone watch him because I need to go do this; that’s usually the only time that I think kids are ever a problem. If you have a good kid, then all you need is to make sure he eats and is breathing. Did he go to the bathroom, brush his teeth? Very simple things. It doesn’t require much.”

    If you have a good template of what parenting is supposed to look like, as he did, “even if your parents aren’t together, you get a good idea of how to be a good parent.” In fact, “it’s kind of hard to be a bad parent, in my opinion. Like, you have to be a bad person to be a bad parent, to just not care. Who doesn’t want to show love to little people?”

    It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a dad; I just didn’t want to be a dad at that time.

    A legal nightmare
    What advice would he give to others who find themselves in his situation? “Empathy is the biggest thing,” he says. “I keep using that word because it means so much to me; you really have to empathize with each other. You really also have to try your best to communicate effectively and think about things, not short-term, think about things long-term—what’s the best possible outcome for that kid?”

    As part of that, he offers, do whatever you can to avoid having to go to court to work out the arrangements because the emotional and financial costs are just not worth it. “Save your money,” he says. “You’ve got a baby to worry about. There’s going to be costs you are just not ready to even expect, especially if that little baby gets sick or anything like that, or you’ve got to take time off. You need this money for this kid: Pampers, babysitters, daycare, aftercare, all that type of stuff.”

    His legal tussle was “a nightmare,” he says. “It was the worst thing you could ever go through because you have other people that have no idea about the dynamics of you and this other person and then this kid dictating how this should all roll out. You’ve left your fate in the hands of other people who could just be having a bad day.”

    With the benefit of hindsight, he cautions single dads to be careful about how they try to navigate things. On reflection, he acknowledges he “could have done better” around discussions over Kaeson. “I could have been a bit sweeter,” he says, quoting one of his mom’s favorite sayings, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

    You have to take into account a mom’s natural protective instinct toward their baby and also recognize that some courts lean in favor of women, he says. “I’m not saying that’s a bad thing or a good thing, but for me in that situation, it sucked, because I had very little say.”

    Still, he’s content with the way things have worked out. And since becoming a father, he has intentionally focused on self-development. That has included attending events where he can learn and drawing on others’ wisdom through the Clubhouse forum. “Having these conversations with lots of different people has allowed me to think differently,” he says, “learning from their different walks of life. Growth comes from exploration; not necessarily physical; exploring other people’s thoughts.”

    Bivins does a lot of his reflecting while he is driving. “I don’t play music,” he says. “I just allow myself time to think, to be creative, to be in my head. It’s almost like meditation… that’s when I come up with ideas either for my brand or for a client’s brand or whatever; it allows me to find the answer, ‘What’s up, baby?’”

    Chris Bivins: My WayMakers
    My dad, hands down. Financially, he gave us access to go to a really good public school, and also private school when we wanted to. Without him, those opportunities would not have existed. Then there’s my mom, being able to provide for us emotionally and have those talks—even still to this day.

    Keith Lawson [senior vice president of brand solutions at BET] is my current boss and he’s the one that found me and picked me up as an artist. He’s the one that gave me the biggest opportunity in my life, which is working at BET. He’s like a godfather of entertainment for me, a person that still to this day I can call.

    Louis Carr [WayMaker founder and president of media sales at BET] has taken me to the next step in my career. He’s put me in the position to be around great men to also make myself a great man. I’ve seen him do that for other people, too. It’s an honor to be a Louis Carr mentee.

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