In my journey as a writer, I have learned that I produce my best work when I am emotional. I tend to call it “bleeding on the page”. At the time of this writing, I need to apply a tourniquet to my emotional wounds.
There are days I wish I could be the macho, classic, uncaring man’s man of the “I don’t give a damn what you do or feel” set. But I just can’t do that because I was wired by women: my grandmother, mother, and sister. They helped me learn how to treat the women in my life.
My Father came into this world on December 24, 1934, and he was returned to the source on December 25, 2019. He died in his sleep, silently, with no drama. How poetic: A man who functioned like a hurricane that left devastation and destruction after he passed through. He left layers of issues, broken hearts, shattered dreams, and unanswered questions. Each storm brought lessons I now realize were what healed me some time ago.
There are challenges to eulogizing an enigma; this is the truth from only my perspective.
My “aha moment” came in the form of a meme:
Your wound is probably not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.
That describes my father and our relationship as I watched him navigate this life. Mind you, nothing I will say here will exonerate his behaviors, it’s just the truth of what I saw. Nor do I claim to have known him while he was alive. He didn’t want to be known.
My father went through life emotionally and spiritually wounded like so many Black men of his era. He grew in a time where all you needed was to be tough and unfeeling—”manly.” From his perspective, nothing else really mattered. His experiences made him into who he was, just as my experiences—including as a fatherless Black son—have shaped my life.
A skilled, athletic boxer, he was witty and gregarious…until he started drinking. When he drank, he was Mr. Hyde to the extent that the details of some of his evil-doing would not be permitted to be published here. His Hyde manifested anger, self-pity, and rage as well as physical and mental abuse. He was teaching me “how to be a man, boy.” That was his phrase to me. I assume this is how his father taught him. Maybe it was what he chose to learn as the lessons in this life. I realize now, for him, that this was his reckless way of showing love.
His father—my grandfather—was a gem to me. Julius Madison was a rock. I don’t know how he treated my father—his own son—so I leave that story to the universe. My grandfather, like many in the family, used his nickname “Crazy Frank” and would always shake his head after saying it.
I saw my Father show affection to my mother one time as I can vividly recall from my childhood. The two of them were across the street in the schoolyard park one night and he was teaching her how to ride a bike. I was a precocious 8-year old and, perched in my bedroom window, I watched them kiss as he tried to teach her. That is the only moment, the only display of affection I saw him show towards my mother. For most of my life, I saw him belittle her, mistreat her and physically abuse her which led to her depression, doubt, and inevitable anger that she carried the rest of her life. My relationship with my mother was unlike a mother and son. I was the “culprit” because I looked like my father or as Mom said one day, “I could leave you like your father did”. She rarely, if at all loved again…and was always afraid of the heart risk until she met a man named Oliver, whom she loved and spoke often of at the end of her life
Yet, I rise. I continue to love without fear, I am empathic, and I enjoy God’s grace daily with the quality of unconditional love. The memes were written for me today:
In the end, only three things matter, how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.
So, in that gentle grace, I speak to my sisters, who are grieving at this loss:
My Sister Joy
You were loved from the moment you arrived, by the angels you now know and emulate. Not having true love and emotional support from the first man in your life as a little girl is devastating. Try as I might, I could never ever fill that void. What has given you your strength and your depth of heart has been the knowledge and experience of understanding personally what it is NOT to be loved by someone who should have loved you unconditionally, as Mom loved us. You have loved everyone you have come into contact with, right or wrong. Keep that; it’s kept you whole.
Release the generational pain passed on to us and learn from it because your legacy is light, laughter, and love. On your best days, that’s who you are. We made a vow to only take the best of our parents. We have done that. Always remember that in her pain, and in her suffering, Mom named you “Joy”. She named you after the attributes that God wants us to show to others. She named you “Joy” because you were that to her, and in her wisdom its exactly what she wanted for you.
To My Sister Sabrina
Life is short. We did not spend time together as children because of the actions of our father. I am not sure how Frank Sr. treated you, but obviously, it was well enough so that you found it in your heart—with the added insight and compassion of the health care professional you are—to allow him to live under your roof for his remaining years. Thank you for carrying that burden. Joy carried that same burden for our mother.
I am unlike my father in the ways that matter. I know you saw behaviors in him that you have forgiven because he is your father. Hence my attempt at positioning my thoughts about him with as much care as I could muster. Perhaps one day soon, you, Joy, and I can sit together and piece together what we collectively know and find the comfort that will enable us to move forward in love and peace. We, the living, deserve that consideration.
As for Hurricane Frank Madison, Sr., your absence allowed Mom and the male role models in my life to raise a good man. Not a perfect one, but good—good enough to know what matters: How to treat my own son, my sisters, and the other family and friends I love. I will not be an enigma. Instead, I chose to be accessible, warm, and empathetic, handing out hugs and kindness when welcomed. My doing so may not be your type of man. That’s OK. I’m my type of man. I choose to love life and live compassionately. I use intellect and reason as my protective shield, deflecting the negative male influences and behaviors that would otherwise distance me from the people who bless me with their presence. I choose to continually evolve. In your example, I watched you “rule” your house, and your family with fear and answer our pleas with abandonment. You were a shining example of a man I never ever want to be. I am grateful for that lesson you imparted to me.
What urged me to write this was the concern for my sisters who are each challenged in their own way because of his passing. As for me, I yield to what I wrote to my Editor minutes before writing this essay,
He was like a hurricane that wrecked everything in its path. His story is written, His book has been closed forever. Thank God dinosaurs die.
On the eve of your redemption and cleansing by fire, I leave you, Mr. Madison, Sr. in God’s very capable hands.
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