Anthony Blankenship came from a broken home. He knows that pain, he’s lived it. He suffered through family dysfunction, trauma, abuse, and poverty. Maybe you have too, but he believes you have the power to break those cycles. In his new book, First Generation Father, Anthony shows you how to find balance within yourself, how to heal, and build a healthy and happy home for your family.
This book is brutally honest, entertaining, and insightful and a must-read for anyone raised in a challenging environment who wants to avoid passing down generational scars.
Drew Applebaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Anthony Blankenship, author of First Generation Father. Anthony, love that you’re here, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Anthony Blakenship: Drew, thank you so much for having me, incredibly honored to be here.
Drew Applebaum: To kick us off, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Anthony Blakenship: Yeah, for sure. Thank you for asking. This book, First Generation Father, I myself am a first generation father. To explain what that means, I’m currently happily married, father of two, been married to my wife for almost 20 years. We have a 12-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl, so our family is incredibly full and rich, and I couldn’t be happier in that regard, but my personal background is quite the opposite of that.
My mother and father were never married and, as I talk about in the book, my home life had a lot of early dysfunction, a lot of early trauma. My father ended up doing 10 years in prison at one point, there was domestic abuse, there was exposure to drugs and poverty. There were a lot of problems that plague society in general.
The main crux of this book is, how do you get from that beginning to where I am now? How do you come from that trauma and that dysfunction and break that cycle, and get to a place where you’re genuinely leading a healthy and happy family?
Drew Applebaum: Now, what was the inspiration for writing the book now? What’s going on in your life that you decided that you needed to write this?
Anthony Blakenship: That’s a great question. I wish I could say that I saw a need in society and aimed to fill it and filled it quickly but, as you know, you talk to a lot of writers, I’m sure you know that the process was incredibly long, it was painstaking. There are parts of this book that I started writing 17 years ago when it wasn’t even this book. I didn’t necessarily know what I was writing, I was just writing honestly for my own healing.
As I’ve grown and evolved as a husband, as a father, as a person, things just kind of took shape. Over the last 12 years of being a parent, I realized that this is a thing that affects so many people in our society, this cycle of coming from trauma, coming from dysfunction, seeing unhealthy relationships, all these negative family dynamics, and wanting to break the cycle and wanting to do better but not knowing how.
Fortunately, my time in the military taught me a lot about leadership. I spent five years in the US army, two years as an enlisted soldier, and three years as an officer. In my time, I learned a lot about leadership. Things just came together when I realized through introspection, how I could apply the principles of military leadership to genuinely lead a healthy and happy family.
A Spirit of Service
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, can you talk about that military background and how it has influenced your approach to fatherhood?
Anthony Blakenship: Sure, absolutely. I want to put people at ease who may think, he’s acting like a drill sergeant with his family or what have you. That’s absolutely not the case. In fact, when you come from a dysfunctional background, oftentimes, you may think leadership, like leading your family, is ruling with an iron fist, I’m in charge, I’m running the show, I’m making the decisions.
Early in my relationship, embarrassingly to say, that was a little bit more my mentality but as I learned about genuine leadership, where the lightbulb kind of flicked on for me, was when I realized that leadership is actually having a spirit of service to the people who are under your care. Leadership is service and that’s a theme that I repeat in the book often. When you’re in the military, being in charge of a group of people is really putting those people in front of yourself, and making sure that you’re setting those people up for success, and providing them every opportunity they need to be successful on your mission.
I take that and apply it to the family dynamic and try to help men understand that you really need to have an attitude and a spirit of service to your family, and then I’d provide actionable steps on how people can get from the early trauma dysfunction they saw in their lives, to a healthy and happy dynamic in their current home.
Drew Applebaum: I feel like we have to talk about this and this might be the most difficult question of this whole interview. But it is pretty much the basis of your childhood and a lot of the story in the book. Can you tell us about your father?
Anthony Blakenship: Yeah, absolutely. You know, like a lot of guys, especially guys in the military, society doesn’t necessarily create a safe space for us to talk about our feelings, to talk about the pain that we’ve experienced, to talk about our trauma. A lot of us suppress that. What we end up doing is going through life, being driven by parts of ourselves that we’ve never really faced. We’re making unconscious decisions in our life, we’re making decisions within our relationships, we’re making financial decisions for our family, we’re parenting our children from a place where we’re not really aware of what’s driving us ourselves.
In order to break that cycle, we have to face those parts of ourselves. For me, that meant really being honest about my relationship with my dad and how it was affecting me, both early in my life and then as I progressed into manhood. My father, right now, we are good, we have a good relationship. I don’t see him often. I talk about this in chapter 14, which is the last chapter of the book and is about forgiveness, but I went and saw him after not seeing him for many years. We sat down and we went through the closure process of making sure that everything from the past was talked about and healed.
Before we were able to get to that point, there was a lot of pain that happened in our early relationship. There were instances of abuse where he abused both my mother, myself and other women around us. He was an off-balanced person and a lot of this book is about finding your balance and what I call your three primal energies, which we may or may not have time to get into later.
He was incredibly off-balance, which caused him to hurt himself and to hurt others and eventually, landed him in prison. Him being off-balanced affected me. I feel a lot of men in society aren’t comfortable really exploring how their relationship with their father could potentially sabotage their relationship with their wives or girlfriends or children.
My father was a source of a lot of pain in my life, especially early in my life but, ultimately, that pain became the gift that has freed me up from repeating that cycle. That pain really caused me to wake up and be conscious of the way I’m living my life with my family. I break down within this book how other people can do that because I feel like a lot of people are going to have to. In the book, I talk about what a broken home means. It can mean a bunch of different things–it doesn’t have to mean extreme physical abuse. In some cases, it does, but it could be divorce, it could be a father who is there, physically, but he’s not emotionally present for his children and the effects that that has.
It could be a father who is not supportive of the lifestyle that a child lives. You know, the child feels like they’re not supported in that way, there’s a lot of different ways that a home could be broken.
Drew Applebaum: Now, you talked about forgiving your father eventually, and that’s a very powerful part of the book. Can you tell us about some of the steps that you needed to go through to learn to forgive your father and how you managed to also forgive yourself for past mistakes?
Anthony Blakenship: Yeah, that’s a great question and it’s funny you mentioned that because forgiving yourself is in one of the subchapters that I talk about. It is an incredibly important part of really getting balanced within yourself and leading a healthy and happy family, but that’s a great question about how you get to the point of forgiveness. It starts with that a lot of men fall short of forgiveness because they’re afraid to go to the vulnerable places of themselves by acknowledging that something hurt them.
You can’t even start the healing process if you deny how you’re feeling, if you’re too either caught up in ego or caught up in this machismo idea of I can’t present any sort of honesty about how I’m really feeling. I can’t show any weakness. When you’re caught up in that mindset, you don’t have the courage to say, “Hey, this hurt me, and I don’t want to pass these generational scars down to my own children.”
Really, you asked a great question, how do you come to the place of healing? The start of that is genuinely being brave enough to acknowledge when something has hurt you in the first place. Even that step is one that, if a reader can take that from this book, they’ll be on the path to healing themselves. Ultimately all healing comes from within and, you know, as I talk about in the book, ultimately when we forgive somebody, we forgive them for our own piece, but you can’t do that until you’re genuinely brave enough to say, “These things hurt me.”
You know, a lot of times, as men, we put something out of our mind, I call it the get over it trap, we say, “I’m over it.” This means, you stopped thinking about it consciously but there is a healing process. You know, I work in the medical field and I have for years. I explain in the book this whole process of a malunion. I worked at a pediatric hospital, a children’s hospital for years, and kids would come in with broken arms and we can fix them up well, and the kid’s back out like nothing ever happened, if we take the proper steps to realign the bones and allow them to heal properly.
But if we don’t do that, a malunion forms and this is where the injury never heals properly, so it causes pain later on, because there are deformations, and it causes a lack of mobility. It never healed right. The analogy is that there are a lot of us, a lot of men, especially when we’re hurt and we just say, “Get over it,” but we don’t really heal. We have this limited range of emotion, we’re not capable of being the men, and the husbands, and the fathers that our families need.
This book provides actionable steps on how you can face your pain and then learn to heal it and move through it and past it.
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, you’re talking about the healing process and how you actually turn pain into personal growth.
Anthony Blakenship: Absolutely.
From Pain to Personal Growth
Drew Applebaum: Would you mind going into a few of those steps that you’ve used in your own life?
Anthony Blakenship: Of course. To keep kind of an overview and to keep it simplified for time constraint purposes–the perfect example is, when I was young, there was an incident where my father was high, he was taking drugs, and he took a match and he burned my face with a match. He put a match out on my face, basically.
I have this circular scar that’s in the middle of my cheek. Now, granted it’s been 35 years, so it’s faded quite a bit. I love that example because not only was it emotionally and mentally scarring for me, it was physically scarring, right?
When I was young, I would see this scar on my face every single day. And when I was young, it was a constant source of pain. It was a reminder of all this trauma that I came from up to this point, and I cover it in the book. In my early life, there was a lot of trauma around it. My parents were in a mixed relationship, my father’s black, my mother is white, which meant I was disowned from one side of my family because they didn’t approve of that racial aspect.
My mother didn’t have a place to go, and she dropped out of high school to have me. She put me in foster care, she came back to get me, fortunately, but this physical scar on my face reminded me of all of those things. As I grew emotionally and mentally, I realize that this scar, it was actually a gift, because it reminded me of the cycle that I would continue myself if I did not learn how to heal and that no one was coming to save me.
There was no one coming to save me. That may sound a little jaded, but it is not. It is actually quite empowering, because when the readers realize that you may have every excuse in the world to carry out the same trauma and dysfunction that you came from, but you have the power to make different choices. You just need to understand that you are capable of making a choice. It is a waking process. You know a lot of this book is about personal growth and personal evolution.
It is really a wakening up. It is critical to leading a healthy and happy family. The world is too complex, our families need too much of us. You are not going to luck into leading a healthy and happy home where you have a marriage that is thriving and both parties feel complete and fulfilled, and self-actualized, where your children are balanced and well mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. You are not going to luck into that.
You have to wake up and consciously lead your family to that, and taking your early pain and learning to pull strength from it is a big part of that, especially when you come from trauma.
Drew Applebaum: Now you mentioned the abusive cycles that often happen, and you don’t want this for your kids, but a lot of people find it hard to hold back some of the anger they hold inside, and they revert back to exactly what happened to them in their childhood. Ultimately, you still need to discipline your children. So, what was your approach to disciplining your children?
Anthony Blakenship: Well that’s a fantastic question and you know, these things are cyclical. So, oftentimes you think you’re past something, and then when you enter a new phase of your own life, it pops back up and it is an opportunity for you to re-evaluate it again. So, where I felt I was past any physical abuse from my early life, all of a sudden when I had my own children and now I am the disciplinarian, uh-oh.
Now, all of a sudden there is a whole new room tucked deep inside of yourself that you didn’t even realize was there. Now it is, “How do I discipline my kids?” And a lot of times, that underlying script that is already written in our minds is that whatever we were exposed to when we were a kid. So, for me, it was intimidating them or being loud with them, or it was a super short leash for any perceived disrespect.
I really had to do a lot of soul searching, and figure out, “Hey, this is just another part of me figuring out how am I going to consciously choose to be as a parent.” That is the big thing, Drew, every time you advance within your relationship, within the finances of your home, as your children grow, there is always a new layer and a new level for you to meet yourself. There is no “I got it and now everything is great.” Hopefully, if this book is successful, there will be a new level for me to meet myself at, and go, “Okay, how am I going to conduct myself in the face of this new challenge?”
I realized that more times than not, there is going to be an old script that I already have that I am going to have to look at it, and shine a big bright light on it and then say, “Is this what I want to consciously choose?” And that is the empowering part.
Three Primal Energies
Drew Applebaum: You just mentioned it and I thought it was really interesting that you actually bring finances into the book, especially first gen fathers. Because getting out of that loop of poverty is huge. So, can you tell us a little bit about the financial advice you’d have for folks who want to get their finances in order?
Anthony Blakenship: Yeah, for sure. So, you know the two go hand in hand, broken homes often times are linked to poverty and people from poverty often are from broken homes. Of course, nothing is always. So, for us, my mother was, like I said, she dropped out of high school. She was a teenager, all of the things that of course led to poverty. We were on food stamps for a long time and welfare.
Like I said in the book, I know firsthand that government cheese isn’t just a punch line to a joke about poverty. It is a very real thing. As I said, I have eaten so many government grilled cheese sandwiches and am probably still digesting some. Just like the scripts that we talked about for the relationships that we see in disciplining our children, we have these financial scripts that we tell ourselves.
We are comfortable with certain financial lack, and what I am trying to help people do is understand how to break that. You know, we haven’t really touched on it a ton here but if you look at the cover of the book, basically the whole answer to this question of, “How do you break the cycle of being? How are you a first-generation father?” It is really balancing yourself in what I have discovered to be three primal energies.
These are the energies that govern our thoughts, our words, our actions, and they govern every aspect of our life. The first is your warrior energy, which is your willingness and your ability to fight and overcome challenges and obstacles. If you are going to be a first-generation father, you’re going to have to fight. I don’t want anybody to hear that and think that means going around and punching someone physically, but it means facing challenges. Oftentimes, honestly Drew, it means being brave enough to fight the lowest parts of ourselves to overcome our base instincts, to overcome fear, to overcome the negative parts of ourselves that need to be overcome for our family’s sake.
The other circle that you see is the blue circle, which is our intellectual energy. This is our ability to understand things using the processing of thought and logic. It is our ability to formulate plans, to see things, extrapolate information, to see what is happening in our lives, and extrapolate how we contributed to the situation. What did we do to cause this situation? It is really our ability to understand what is happening around us and tie that to what is happening inside of us, so then we can make conscious decisions moving forward.
The last thing I talk about is our spiritual energy, and this is what connects us to something greater than ourselves. It is our spirit, it is our essence.
To get back to your question about how I tie finances into this, or how I tell somebody to break finances to break those cycles of poverty, there are a ton of already existing people out there who talk about how to break out of poverty and they have great stuff. Most of it is very similar–have six months savings, save 10% of your income, how to finance, and all that jazz.
All of that stuff is fine and well, and it is good, but a person is not going to get that from me because you can get that anywhere. What I talk about is how to take your warrior energy, your intellectual energy, your spiritual energy, tie them together, stand in the middle of those three, which is what I call the golden zone, and learn how to break the poverty cycle from there.
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, I am glad you brought up the primal energies. I found those really interesting and really thinking about where you are and where your perfect place is within all three. Anthony, who should read this book? Is it for fathers only, or are there other people who can learn from your writing?
Anthony Blakenship: Drew, I fully believe that any person who picks this book up, with an open heart and an open mind, will put it down a better person than they were when they picked it up. In the introduction, I spell out that, although it is called First Generation Father, it is applicable to women. There are a ton of women out there trying to break the cycle, just like men, trying to break the cycle and do better for their children, and for themselves, and for their finances, and for their mental and emotional health, then the examples they saw growing up.
So, women readers are absolutely welcome, LGBTQ members are absolutely welcome. There are a ton of people in that community who were scarred in their early lives as well, and now they are stuck with the responsibility as an adult of healing those traumas so that they don’t subconsciously pass them along to either their own children or prevent them from sabotaging their own relationships, which happens a lot.
Then also, especially for that community, for a lot of them, they have to do a lot of coming to grips and understanding with themselves. In the second to last chapter, extension, I talk about growing and evolving even if that means leaving behind some people who may love you, but they just can’t quite understand your path. Anybody who is looking to grow and evolve, I guarantee will get something from this book that helps them along that path.
Drew Applebaum: Well Anthony, as you mentioned, it was a long journey to put this book together. So, I just want to say congratulations on getting it finished and published.
Anthony Blakenship: Thank you so much. Like I said, parts of it started 17 years ago when I didn’t even have kids. I didn’t even know what I was writing but it was part of my healing process and I realize now, all of it was necessary. The personal growth, the coming to understand exactly how my past was affecting my present, understanding how to take control of my present, growing to the place where my warrior, intellectual, and spiritual energy were all balanced.
There are two whole chapters in there about marriage and that whole dynamic, which was a whole other beast for me to tackle. I have a chapter dedicated to raising sons and avoiding this toxic masculinity trap that so many of us fall into. I have a whole chapter dedicated to raising daughters and for fathers, how to balance their own masculine and feminine energies so that they are not one dimensional and that they’re fully evolved.
They can help their daughters be exactly the best version of themselves. I feel like this book offers so much to readers and I am incredibly excited to get it out into the world.
Drew Applebaum: Well, Anthony, this has been such a pleasure. I am excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called First Generation Father and you could find it on Amazon. Anthony, besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Anthony Blakenship: Actually Drew, I want to say this before I go. This is one of the things I am most proud of, you asked who should read this book. You know I feel like I gave a genuine answer to that question but, I created an opportunity for people who support this message but maybe feel like the book isn’t for them. I have created a donation option. So, if you go to my website, which is anthonyblankenship.com, you can donate a book or part of a book to readers in need.
I have three particular options set up, you can donate to military families, you can donate to families that are in counseling, or you can donate to people that are currently incarcerated, in prison, or jail. I have a neighbor who is an older woman and she said, “The book sounds great, I don’t necessarily feel like I need it, but I want somebody who does need it to have access to it.” So, she went to my website at anthonyblankenship.com, and she donated two books.
I have those books now to give to somebody in need. Oftentimes the people who need this book the most, their life is on fire. Their personal life is on fire, so they don’t have necessarily the means or the wherewithal to seek it out but if someone, a counselor, the prison library, FRG, which is the Family Readiness Group who I am in contact with, with different military installations, if the FRG is able to say, “This book can help you and here it is for free, donated from Drew.” Then you have an opportunity to contributed to somebody else’s healing and I am incredibly proud of that.
Drew Applebaum: That is amazing, truly virtuous. Anthony, thank you so much. Wish you the best of success with everything and thanks for coming on the podcast today.
Anthony Blakenship: Drew, it was fun. Thank you so much. Peace.