How does 31-year-old singer and actor Tristan “Mack” Wilds describe his first year of parenting during our phone conversation? “Scary, amazing, fun, and also daunting.” In December 2019, he and his wife Christina Hammond welcomed their first child, Tristyn, into the world. The Grammy-nominated artist spoke proudly of the most joyous and most challenging aspects of being a girl dad.
“When we found out that we had a daughter…the reason why I named her Tristyn…it’s so funny. I said, if I have a son, I can’t name him Tristan, right. That’s too much to put on a young man’s shoulders,” the Staten Island, New York native reasons soundly.” You got to walk in the same steps as your father etc. I don’t want to put that on him. Soon as we found out we were having a girl, it was like, nah…whatever I had, I could potentially empower her to be, to show the world what a woman is to be more than just my name.”
With many exciting projects on deck, like starring in the upcoming Apple+ series Swagger (executive produced by NBA all-star Kevin Durant) and approaching his Broadway debut role in the play Thoughts of a Colored Man this fall, the former HBO The Wire and VH1 The Breaks star’s career is steadily on the rise. While Mack Wilds has only been a father for a little over a year, he’s had decades of preparation, finding a role model in his own father and other male parental figures in his Staten Island neighborhood. Pivotal fictional fathers in Black culture whose parenting styles, although made for TV, also influenced Wilds’ personal dad demeanor.
“Uncle Phil,” he remarked naming his favorite Black TV dads. “Damon Wayans on My Wife And Kids as Michael Kyle, this is a really long list. Carl Winslow [Family Matters] was a great dad, he was irritable all the time, but he was a great dad.”
With current times so different from those ‘80s, ‘90s, and early ‘00s examples, Millennials are redesigning what families look like. According to Pew Research, about one-in-five millennial men are single fathers. Access to the internet and changing tides in socially accepted behaviors and political correctness have ushered in a new era of culture. Children today are not born into a world governed by the nonsense philosophies of therapy TV host Dr. Phil and Good Times’ hard-nosed Dad, James Evans. Hashtags and TikToks are a digital guidebook to navigating the world, for better and worse.
Updating parenting practices to manage modern motifs without losing essential traditions established through generations of child-rearing is no easy feat. If possible, parents would likely plug in, connect to Wi-Fi and update to the latest software to exist in sync with their contemporaries. Instead, it takes determination, understanding, bravery, and tenacity in what Wilds calls, “the craziest, most expensive fly, craziest job that you will ever have in your life that you’re not getting paid for, but it is worth every cent.”
He further added about the responsibility of parenthood, “for anybody who’s reading this job, this opportunity is not given to everyone. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. This isn’t something that you can just leave alone and it goes away. Being a mother or father, this is something that is a very big undertaking. This is something that will make you a better human being…I give this a 10 out of 10. I would fully recommend.”
Wilds is certainly in a new world of bliss. His life is lit up with love for his family, the one he and his wife have created gloriously. The ranges of topics he discusses hit on the changing world of parenting, how the actor manages to stay in orbit amid a pandemic, what it means to protect Black women, and more.
VIBE: Describe your first year of fatherhood in three or four words.
Mack Wilds: Scary, amazing, fun, and also daunting, that’s the word for it.
Let’s take it back to before you became a father. Who were some of the fictional characters or real-life people that you might have looked up to or adapted any parenting styles from?
Growing up in the projects you have different guys that you look to as father figures. My dad who was like, the neighborhood barber —everybody knew my dad, the way that he moved, the way that he looked at certain things in the world, I definitely take a lot from him. But other guys in my neighborhood that I would watch, whether they were young fathers trying to figure it out or, whether they were fathers in proxy. Meaning you know just from being around and raising us young ones, like my older brother, his friends, the guys around the neighborhood, my uncles.
Those are the people that I was able to pull a little bit from. Every single guy that I admired growing up, and to really create what it means to be a father, or hopefully, that Tristyn will be able to feel.
And what do you think it means to be a father?
It means a lot more honestly than just being present. It’s about being a provider. It’s about being a protector. It’s about showing right from wrong, not just telling. There’s a difference. I think being a father is guidance. Being a father is being a light we need. I think there’s so many different facets to being a dad now. Not even just now, you know, all of the great dads that we see from television, you know, the Uncle Phils of the world. You have to be so many different things at once, but to still be the dad. You still have to be the disciplinarian, but also be the joy. You gotta be able to have and be that balance.
How do you think fatherhood in some of those ‘90s sitcoms, as portrayed on TV, has changed in relation to what fatherhood is now as a millennial raising new children of a new generation?
The players change, the game stays the same. The basic ideas of being a father never changed. I’m talking about from today, all the way back in the day to prehistoric days. I’m betting the caveman even had to be the same protectors, the light, the same type of vibe. I don’t think the game really changes or being a father actually changes. You come across different things, different times. Especially now with information being able to be thrown at us at such a rapid pace. These kids are growing up way faster, so these dads kind of have to catch up with them. But being a dad, the idea of being the ideals of being that are still very much the same.
Have you adopted any new chores since you guys had your baby? How do you and your wife find balance? What kind of roles do you assume?
Man, I’ll tell you before we had Tristyn, I lived up to my last name, very well. After having Tristyn, I realized wild is in our blood, so now, I’m more of the clean-up dad. I remember being this wild and frantic and everywhere, now I got to clean up the house. The new chores that I’ve picked up are…it’s the same choice I’ve always had, especially you know living on your own since you were a kid and everything, but now it’s just elevated.
As far as parenting, how has the pandemic affected your household?
The pandemic actually, in my opinion, was the perfect catalyst. Us being in the house was the incubator to create. My wife is a great parent and I pray that I am a good reflection of her. I would say that the quarantine created the great parents that we are today. Think, you know, just being able to spend that much time together, understanding that we had to still figure out how to work, how to keep ourselves safe and keep our child safe amongst all of the other things that you got to do as a parent. That really cultivated us into being the parents that we are today, loving on her as much as we do, instilling the things that we instill in her. We’re really cultivating our daughter to be a brilliant human being.
Do you have any fears or reservations about being a “girl dad’? Is there anything you’re kind of fearful of raising a daughter in this world…and a black daughter as that?
I think the biggest thing for me is just understanding how having Tristyn made me dig deeper into understanding why we need to protect our Black women. I feel at the time, even myself, I was very much on the bandwagon of “yes, let’s protect our Black woman,” but I didn’t fully understand the extent that meant. If I see something going on with a Black woman, I’m stepping in, of course, but it goes deeper than that. It goes into our boardrooms, it goes into the workspaces, it goes into different home lives. It’s so much deeper than just rap.
One of the words that you use to describe parenting was fun. What is the most fun part so far, of being a parent? How is her personality?
She’s just a funny kid. I’ve been blessed with a kid who just has a lot of energy, a lot of character already. If you get on the phone with her, if it’s FaceTime if she’s not greeting you with showing you her foot or her new bracelet, it’s like she wants to take your phone and hold it to her ear. It’ll be a FaceTime, and she holds it to her ear and just starts saying whatever.
How do you think you will approach shielding your daughter from what she should be shielded from or allowing her to explore and be open and learn things on her own?
I think there are certain things that I might let her explore, and I think there’s certain things that we’re going to have to protect you from but, again, this is the age of information. If she’s not getting it from home, she can literally walk outside and receive any type of information about anything nowadays. The internet is considered a human right now. Water is not considered a human right, but the internet is. You have access to literally anything and everything, whether we [parents] give it to you or not. I think the biggest thing now as a parent is to, of course, protect her, make sure that she understands the rules at this age. When she becomes old enough, I think the biggest thing is just teaching her boundaries. Especially when you’re in this house, and you’re around your parents understand the respect, understand what that means and what we expect.
You described parenthood as daunting. Could you expand a little bit more on that feeling?
It’s probably the craziest, most expensive fly, craziest job that you will ever have in your life, that you’re not getting paid for but it is worth every cent. It’s something that can be tiring, it’s something that does wear you out at times, but it’s like a workout. You go to the gym, you work out, you work your ass off, and it’s like, damn, I’m beat…to shit, but I know it was worth it. I know at the end of the day it is going to be amazing. The only thing about parenthood that’s even better than working out is literally at a moment’s notice, she can smile and everything, every dollar, every dirty diaper, everything is worth it.
Do you [both] want more children? How many daughters and or sons do you think you can handle?
Man, I don’t know. I definitely want to have more. How many more? I don’t know yet. We may get to that next one and be like, ‘you know what, this is great, right here let’s just put it end right here.’ But I do know that we want to have at least another one.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.