From the Writing Prompt, What do You Wish You Had Said to Your Dad Before He Died?
My biological father is still alive, although I have no clue as to his medical condition and no relationship with him to speak of. Of course, that was all by his choice. I do understand that he has some chronic illnesses associated with age and he may have a mental problem of sorts; he was a semi-professional boxer so I assume he took a few hits resulting in brain deterioration. We are not friends and we were only momentarily father and son. I know very little about him that’s real; I only know how he treated my Mother and me, and eventually my sister, and that I have his name.
I believe I will never get a chance to say anything of real meaning to my father in person. At 58 years old, I ‘m really OK with that. The most painful memories should be left in the past where they belong so that you can move forward. His anger died with his strength, so when God calls him to transition and to review his path in this life, he will have some explaining to do.
Here are what may be my last words to my father, before he departs this mortal coil:
I have never had a meaningful conversation with you. I have never heard any supportive words, nor have I ever heard the words “I love you.” There was no emotional support or lesson from you other than how to be violent. As a boxer, you were trained to hurt your opponents. Therefore I only learned that side of you. Due to your chronic alcoholism, I only know you as an abuser. That is the legacy that you chose to be remembered by in this family. You could have been so much more to your family, but especially to yourself. Yet, despite the lack of interest and support on your part my mother and sister and I carved out a very happy existence.
Sometimes having no example is a good example, so I have been told. You chose to never pay a day of child support. You were never around for Father’s Day; I always felt like the odd kid in class drawing Fathers Day cards for a Dad who I didn’t know if, or when I would see you; you never picked me up on weekends so I eventually gave up on you and stopped expecting a call, or a visit.
You came of age at a time when Black men, through sheer force of will decided “enough was enough” so, while it wasn’t incumbent on you to go out among the masses and throw Molotov Cocktails, “stick it to the man” and be a member of the Black Panthers or the Fruit of Islam, you had more than enough examples of how a man should want to treat his family—how a man should want to protect them, and nurture them, and ensure that they had someplace safe to be . . . ”by any means necessary,” to quote Brother Malcolm.
You chose otherwise.
I never saw you be affectionate with my mother except for one time when I was about 7 years old and I realized that neither you nor Mom was in the house. I heard laughing outside and witnessed you kissing Mom under the light post across the street in the school playground while trying to teach her how to ride a bicycle. I did see you fall down drunk, and lick Gin off of one of the end tables while rocking the lamp. Instead, I saw you hit my mother, and I was that 10-year-old you fought back until I got my Louisville Slugger. My grandparents and my mother shielded me from you, especially the day you kidnapped me by gunpoint when Mom wasn’t home, and when you left her alone to go to the hospital carrying her own maternity bag, in a cab to give birth to your daughter, my sister Joy. An act of loneliness no woman should ever be subjected to, yet you did that to her.
I am still deeply offended by you, even though I have no hatred for you; I buried that feeling in the same box where I have long since buried you. I am offended in that you continued to choose to inflict pain on two generations of women because, after you mistreated Mom, you denied my Sister the love and affection she rightly deserved as a little girl child. In your selfish ignorance, you ignored her; I was used to your behavior—when she came along when I was 10—but she did nothing to you. That singular act let me know what kind of man you truly are. While she needed you, she had me, and I ceased being just her brother. There were times I had to be her Father, and protect her, and defend her. I ensured that the women you left where protected.
The beauty of what you did for me set me on the course of how not to be a man. I spent time in therapy during my divorce to ensure that I didn’t turn into you. I received assurance from a stranger, whom I paid handsomely, that I was OK, that I had in fact grown strong and sane without any input or support from you. While I divorced the mother of my only male child, I have paid all of my child support. I always picked up my son on weekends and never exposed him to different random women in his life. When I spent my weekends with my son, it was with HIM. He went where I went and we did things that he wanted to do. I am proud because my son Kinshasa is a good man. I am proud because when I made my last child support payment to the State they sent me a thank you letter and they said, “we wish had more Fathers like you.” I used that letter as a surrogate for you saying “well done” not that your approval mattered but I needed to hear it from somewhere. Even my ex-wife said I was a good father, and I thank Kenny’s Mother for that.
I learned by watching others: My Uncle James was the biggest example of what a man should do for his family to provide, to keep them safe. He loved his wife (your sister), he loved his God, and he did the best for all God’s children. My Uncle Richard, much more than an Uncle more like a brother and father taught me the things that you, my father should’ve taught, and he did so with love, grace, and calm. I never heard a bad word out of my Uncle’s mouth and he is the most humble and most beautiful man I’ve ever met.
I recognize and acknowledge modern-day fathers that I have the privilege of knowing and watching them grow their families and love them passionately: Derrick Miller, Jeffrey Dunn, Scott Deware, Roosevelt Wells, Julius Madison (My Grandfather), Mr. Marcus Davis, David Elcock, David Hochman, Mr. William Joyce, Naheel Suleman, Roy Philbert, Steve Chimelnick, Kevin Wardally, Corey Felton, Luther Smith, Bill Lynch…great men, great past examples and living examples of why men matter to their families. The greatness of real men who are Fathers, providers, good mates (as good as we can be) is something that can’t be measured. Not any man is perfect, but you keep trying and you stay in the game. You don’t just give up on people as you did.
I remember learning at age 20 why I had bad credit and that was because you took out an Automobile loan that you defaulted on when I was 8 years old. I got it removed from my credit report by showing them I couldn’t have even reached the table to sign the loan application at that time and I definitely wasn’t gainfully employed at the time. You used your 8-year-old son’s social security number? Really, dude? I remember my mother spending the entire day with me at the Veterans Administration Hospital dentist because she was unaware that the dental appointment was actually scheduled for you and that there was no dental coverage for me, which she had hoped for.
You used your children like pawns. You didn’t respect our Mother who carried the weight of mother, father, and provider. You chose to torment the woman who risked her life to bring your children into the world. You will ultimately reap what you have sown. My Mother—Joy’s Mother—is nearing the end of her life. You chose to deliver her misery but she chose to love us with what love she had left after you stole her trust and broke her heart. And yet, through your example and from her strength, I learned something you could never teach: Grace. I learned real love, I learned patience, and I learned that all people have value, especially the women whom we choose and who in turn choose us. I feel sorry for you because you missed our unending laughter, the beauty of watching Joy grow. You missed my son who looks like all of us, you missed the peace and calm that this part of life brings when you say to yourself as a man, “I did OK.”
So for all the Fathers Day cards I never drew with my own crayons—they were in my head with bright colors, picket fences and shiny new houses along with dates for pick-up where you never arrived—here is one for you, my Father. Because I am a better man, a better Father because you simply decided not to be. I had a Dad who happily replaced you and you will meet him and have to explain yourself. You knew him once as God, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah. He has cared for the family that you abandoned, he will embrace our Mother in his grace when she no longer wills the fight and He calls her home. Rest in peace, Frank Madison, because even you deserve that grace that only the one true Father can deliver. And thank you for being a lesser man, so that I could be a real man.
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