Keynon Lake: My Daddy Taught Me That
By Beth Browne
Keynon Lake says that the hardest thing he ever did was saying a final goodbye to his dad. “For thirty-three years, he was my best friend,” he says, “we had a special relationship.” Keynon’s dad was not just a great father, but also something of a celebrity.
As a young man, Bennie Lake played basketball with the world famous Harlem Globetrotters. He gave up playing professionally to settle down in his hometown of Asheville, where he worked for thirty years at the Juvenile Evaluation Center as one of the lead social workers. Keynon’s mom, Robin, worked there as a cottage parent. “I was truly blessed,” he says. “I had two wonderful parents who worked hard, and I never wanted for anything.”
In addition to working with youth at the Juvenile Evaluation Center, Bennie led a program called The Hot Shot, a camp for the state’s best basketball shooters. He also started Up Front Sports Management, a business that mentored youths interested in sports and encouraged their educations. All his life, Benny worked with youths and families, helping them succeed in life.
Benny also encouraged Keynon, whose first love was basketball. They were a “basketball family,” traveling around the country for tournaments and basketball camps. When he played ball in high school, both parents attended every game. He loved basketball so much that his parents used it to motivate him to do schoolwork.
Keynon’s basketball skill earned him an athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. After a year, he transferred to North Carolina Central University in Durham where he earned a B.S. in Sports Medicine in 1996. After graduation, he briefly played professionally overseas.
In between jobs, Keynon found himself at loose ends in Asheville so Bennie suggested a temporary job at the Buncombe County Department of Social Services. Keynon had no intention of following in his father’s social worker footsteps, but he reconsidered after learning that the salary was $10,000 a year more than he had been making. “It just shows you how God has a plan for us,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.” He found the work incredibly intense but rewarding and soon realized that he had discovered his passion. “I was always taught that if you can look up, then you can get up and also pull others up—out of the darkness into the light. That’s what I try to do and how I try to live.”
While working at DSS, Keynon noticed that the majority of cases involved single moms. “I’m here, I’m there, and all I see are single moms. Where are the men?” Keynon wondered. Fathers called asking Keynon to check on their children with whom they had no direct contact. Since his father had been so devoted to him, Keynon was disturbed by so many families without fathers. He started wondering about the effect on families and children in our society.
Keynon has worked tirelessly at DSS on behalf of children and families for the last eleven years. When his dad passed away in 2010, Keynon was devastated, but he says their strong relationship gave him the confidence he needed to succeed at his job. And, as often happens when life deals us a blow, Keynon recovered from the loss and came out a stronger man.
As a memorial to his father, he wrote a newspaper tribute that he showed to his friend Ralph Roberts, a local publisher, for feedback. Roberts liked what he saw and suggested that Keynon expand the memorial to book length. Fourteen months and some twenty-thousand words later, Keynon published his first book, My Daddy Taught Me That. As a special tribute to his dad, Keynon hopes the book will enlighten people about the effects of absent fathers and the resulting problems in our society. He hopes to motivate men to “get on board” and to provide better for their children.
According to research cited in the book, in 2011 there were 13.7 million single parent families in America with a shocking 84% headed by single mothers. Keynon figured that for every ten boys, eight-and-a-half were raised by women with no help from a man. This puts a lot of pressure on mothers to be everything for their kids, and the children miss seeing life from the male perspective. Keynon says, “If you are raised by a single mom, then you know how women handle things, but you never really get the male point of view.”
Keynon points to other research proving that children raised in single-parent families do not perform as well in education and have an increased incidence of criminal activity. He also says that mothers tend to favor their sons and give them more leeway than girls, which can cause boys to be irresponsible. Keynon has seen this in his family. One of his cousins is a single mother with two girls and a boy. He noticed that her daughters were expected to go to church, but that she gave her son a choice. Keynon says this sort of lenient behavior sends the boys a message that they are grown-up and responsible without any expectations of responsible behavior.
Keynon cites an example of a preacher who broke up a fight between two high school boys. One of the young men protested saying, “Get your hands off me, I’m a man.” The preacher asked the boy, “Where do you live, and who pays the bills?” When the boy admitted that he lived with his mom, who paid all the bills, the preacher told him he was not a man because he had no adult responsibilities and still depended on his mother.
The presence of a father figure is also important for girls because they learn how a responsible man treats a woman. Keynon notes that if a girl has a father who treats her like a princess, takes care of her and protects her, then, when she gets out into the world, duping her into doing things for men who abuse the privilege will be difficult.
Keynon was troubled by what he learned in his research and what he saw firsthand on the job at DSS. He resolved to make a difference. “If I see a problem, I want to go fix it. I’m a doer.” He developed a program called My Daddy Taught Me That, after the book title, to meet the needs of boys ages 12-19 and to help them grow into responsible adults. He conducts discussion groups with the boys twice a week. He wants youths to be responsible and accountable for their decisions and actions. He recruits professional women to talk about how women want to be treated, what women look for in a man, and what women want to see in men. He also offers life lessons that prepare the boys for life beyond high school. Finally, he focuses on job skills such as filling out job applications and tying a tie.
His program is more than talk and discussions. Keynon takes his boys camping, and on field trips including professional football games. A friend with a small airplane takes the boys flying and Keynon has connected with the Civil Air Patrol. In addition to group activities, Keynon also mentors the boys individually.
One of the young men Keynon has influenced is Kelman Simpson, his cousin. Kelman says that his own dad was not involved in his life when he was young and that Keynon often stepped in as a role model. When Kelman was in trouble at school, Keynon talked to him. “He told me that life might be hard but I can’t just quit trying, that I have to keep pushing forward. It really inspired me and pushed me more.” Today, Kelman is one of the top running backs in Western North Carolina and a successful rising high school senior. He hopes to receive an academic or athletic scholarship to attend college after graduation.
Keynon has funded the My Daddy Taught Me That program out of his own pocket, but hopes to achieve non-profit status this summer for additional funding. He says, “I want to try to make a difference and help as many as I can. My dream is to get My Daddy Taught Me That statewide and eventually to every young male in America who needs it and to be able to help as many young men as I possibly can. I want to address our youth and give them that fighting chance.”
Sixteen-year-old Shaheed Davis has only been in Western North Carolina for six months, but he’s enjoyed participating in My Daddy Taught Me That. One of his favorite sessions included a talk given by Asheville’s mayor, Terry Bellamy, who told the boys that they could be anything they put their minds to. Shaheed liked her suggestion to write their dreams on a piece of paper and look at them every day. About Keynon, Shaheed says, “He does a good job teaching us about being a good man and growing up. I look up to him; he’s a good person.”
Keynon is constantly looking for trends that influence youths in America today. Keynon says a recent study showed that 80% of high school graduates in New York State have no basic skills in reading, writing, and math. He says people are inclined to blame the teachers, but he believes the fault lies in our government. Our government spends $40-80,000 a year per person on prison systems, but only $8,000 a year on education. Keynon says he was always taught, “Where the heart is, is where the person will be.” He says we must stop taking the funding away from our educational system.
Keynon is grateful for the support received, from Robin Lake, his mother; his friends Ralph Roberts and author William Forstchen; and Candy Kilgore, who designed his website; Mr. and Mrs. Procter of the non-profit Take a Village; and his colleagues at the Buncombe County Department of Social Services. He says that, above all, he strives to live as a man of God, as did his father, and Keynon gives Christ the credit for all his accomplishments.
To spread the word about My Daddy Taught Me That, Keynon recently started a radio talk show to shine light on topics concerning young adults. The Keynon Lake Show runs on SIBN Radio. More information can be found on the show’s Facebook page and on the My Daddy Taught Me That website.
Beth Browne is a determined writer, reluctant farmer, delighted mother of two and addicted to sailing. She loves to read almost as much as she loves to eat and thinks her job at The Main Street Rag Publishing Company is very fun. Occasionally, she indulges in a spot of knitting but she practices yoga every single day. When she was five, she starred in the school play as The Ugly Duckling, even though she would have much preferred to have a lesser role as a Beautiful Swan. When she has time, she enjoys sharing her journey at: bbwomenswrites.blogspot.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.