Two Fathers

Cooper Neill/AP Images

My son turned two months old on Wednesday. He’s the first child for my girlfriend and me. His name is Aaron LaRae Jones Jr., and he’s doing great. The first month or so after he was born was so good. With the quarantine and everything, Crystal and I just stayed with him here in El Paso, making sure we watched where we were going so we wouldn’t bring anything back to harm our little baby, making sure that he stayed healthy and strong.

COVID isn’t really a good problem to have when you have a new baby, obviously, but it does give you a lot of time to spend at home with family. Usually, I would have had to leave the day after he was born to go back to Green Bay to start the off-season program. So it was definitely a blessing for Crystal and me — in a very specific way.

Especially with my parents living here in town. We see them almost every day, and they love the baby so much. When I go to their house, it’s almost like it’s their baby. They just want him around all the time. They enjoy it. They love it.

I still remember when my dad held him for the first time. It was at our place, and my mom came in and I gave Aaron Jr. to her, and then she very gently gave him to my dad. That was something. I see things in how he is with my son all the time that remind me so much of how he was with me. He’s always around, always wanting to be involved, wanting to see him grow. He calls him his little buddy.

That first month was really such a happy time.

But then about four weeks ago, everything changed. And the way I felt about fatherhood changed, too.

I still love it, don’t get me wrong. My son is the light of my life. But I have a whole different perspective now because it’s not just me anymore. I have to worry about somebody else, and that somebody is an African-American child that I don’t want to grow up in an America that’s the way it is today, where the world’s not on his side. I’ve already imagined having those conversations with him — about how to act and behave when he’s out in public, and especially when he’s dealing with the police. I’ve actually had them with him a few times. He doesn’t understand yet, of course. But it’s almost like I’m doing it more for me, because I’ve definitely felt the need to start talking to him now.

To have the same conversation with him that my father had with me when I was a kid.

My dad told me then (and many times after) that life isn’t fair, and that an African-American man has to work a little bit harder — and be a little bit nicer — in order to be treated like he should be treated all the time, like a normal human being.

Four weeks ago, everything changed. And the way I felt about fatherhood changed, too.

But why is that? Why do Black fathers still have to have this conversation with their sons? Just because of the color of someone’s skin? That’s the only thing that makes us different — that makes me different from you. Like really? That’s just so crazy to me that you can get judged by the color of your skin even though you had no control over how you were born.

I think it’s time for a change, and I think people see that now. I mean, look how powerful an impact George Floyd’s death had on America — not just on America, on the world. You have people in Germany marching, you have people in Belgium and the U.K. marching for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

People see that it’s not right. And that it has to change. I don’t want my son to have to have the same conversation with his son. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Aaron Jones

I still remember when my father told me that he had grown up without a father.

I was only five or six at the time. He told us that he was so involved in our lives because he had never met his own dad. When he started having kids he’d told himself that he was going to do everything in his power to show his children what a man is supposed to be like, and how he’s supposed to take care of his children. And he continued to remind me and my twin brother, Alvin, about that fact all throughout our childhood.

He and my mom were both in the Army, both sergeant majors at Fort Bliss, here in El Paso. I grew up in the Army. The Army was Dad’s life — and it was such a good one. But he was also a really good athlete, and he was our coach when we were playing youth sports, whether it was AAU basketball or football — whatever we were doing. It was fun. He saw what kind of athletes we were, and he pushed us. But it’s different when your dad pushes you, because you know he sees something in you.

I definitely appreciated it. But some days you’re like, Man. If you didn’t have a good day at a practice or a game and you come home and your coach is your dad — you got to talk about it. And it was like, Man, I don’t want to talk about it!

But he was always there. That was the main thing — that was way more important than me getting bugged about something that had happened at practice. He and my mom were never far away. She was like the team mom, always driving us around in her magenta Nissan Quest. She would be bringing snacks for after the game, cutting up oranges at halftime. They were both always around, with encouragement and guidance. And they’re still there for me today. My parents have come to every game I’ve played with the Packers.

My dad saw at a young age that my brother and I were just a little bit more talented than the kids around us, and he told us, “Hey, there’s going to be a point where the talent gap is going to close, and you’re going to start looking around and seeing athletes just the same as you, who can do some of the same things as you. What’s going to separate you? Your work ethic and how hard you work, and the things you do when nobody’s watching.”

Aaron Jones

And he coached that way, too. In basketball, my dad was known for defense. When we got to the gym, the first thing we’d do is be playing defense. And playing with intensity and, excuse my language, balls to the wall. My dad, he’d have us pressing the whole game — like 40 minutes of pressing.

But it wasn’t just defense. He made Alvin and me work for everything. At night, after we finished our dinner and our homework, he would take us to the gym at Fort Bliss and put us through workouts — ballhandling, shot mechanics. And only after that could we join the soldiers in the pickup games that were going on. We were seventh graders on the court with grown men. And some games, the seventh grader would be killing a grown man. He had us competing against men all the time. I think that’s really something that’s helped us.

Those lessons he taught me on the court and on the field, they stuck with me. I’m not in the NFL without them.

The sad fact is, of course, that sometimes hard work is not enough. That’s where it becomes difficult to be African-American. In America, it’s like you’re born at a disadvantage if you’re Black. And that’s sad. This is a great country — I’ve seen it. My parents each served it for more than 30 years. They fought for it. And I know we can do better.

I’m actually pretty lucky. Here in El Paso, you don’t see much of that because it’s majority Hispanic — we’re all minorities here, so I would say I haven’t really faced it much. At games, I’ve been called the n-word and different things like that, but I just let it go in one ear and out the other, because I’m there to do my job. And I’m not going to let somebody get me off my game by using words.

But I also feel bad that I didn’t have to deal with racism much, if at all. I know my father faced it some before he joined the Army. He told us how he had seen a man beaten by the police when he was five years old. Right outside in his neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia. And he got chased home one time when he was a kid by some white teenagers and adults calling him the n-word after he went to a five-and-dime in a bordering city.

He always told me, when they’re just words, to be the bigger man.

And the truth for me is that I’ve had a bigger man to look up to all my life, setting the example, leading the way. My dad is the greatest man I’ve ever encountered. The things he’s done for me in my life — he’s been there every step of the way. He taught me everything. He taught me to keep God first — that with God, anything is possible. He taught me to believe in myself.

He showed me how a man’s supposed to be a man.

Jacob Gonzalez/AP Images

My dad’s still pushing me to be better, still the coach. He has a JUGS machine set up in his backyard. There’s a pool to swim in. And he’s turned his garage into a gym. I’ll be ready whenever the NFL does start up again.

I’ve had Zoom meetings with the coaches back in Green Bay pretty much every day for more than a month. Mostly it’s with the running backs and Coach Sirmans — Coach LaFleur pops in every day to say hi and listen in and see what’s going on — but we also have full team meetings here and there. Everybody on Zoom.

You can prepare that way … but you also really can’t. The meeting part, and all of that, you can do from home, but you have to be able to practice together. You have to be able to develop that chemistry with each other. And that doesn’t happen on Zoom.

But one good thing about all those virtual meetings is that we have been able to talk about what’s going on. Like in 2017, that was my rookie year. We all, as a team, would sit down and have real conversations in our team meetings. We knew that the kneeling protest was never about the flag. We knew it was about inequality. And as a team, before the games, we decided to lock arms as brothers in solidarity. We all come from different backgrounds. We’re all different colors. But we’re out there for one common goal. That’s what brings us together.

So we have been talking about what’s going on in the country, but we haven’t decided yet how we’ll handle it next fall. Our coaches have told us that they will support us whatever we want to do. They’ve also told us that if we want to talk to them, they’re there for us. I appreciate that.

I appreciate them being open, because fixing this problem has to start in everybody’s heart. You have to look past color. Everybody has feelings. Everybody bleeds the same. Everybody breathes the same. Just because my skin color is different from yours doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to do the same things that you do.

It doesn’t mean that my son shouldn’t feel safe when he leaves the house.

It’s time for a change. You’re living life as a little boy, and you see things, and then you start to grow up, and then you have your own child, and you’re like, Hold on. I see why my dad was having these conversations with me. I see why he had a fear like that could be me one day, and he might get old without a son, or my son could grow up without a father.

It’s a cycle that has to stop.