My Drama, Myself

Image

Originally uploaded at Winchburgh Drama Group

Today is the day after Father’s Day, and this is the first year that I thought I would get past it without having an emotional meltdown.

I’m married to a nice guy, and I gave up meat, a diet change that opened my spirituality in ways I never thought possible, and I decided that this is the Year of the Book.  Actually, the Year of Two Books, if God says the same: one poetry book and one novel.

And yes, I’m determined to finally clean all this crap that I’ve been accumulating for years out of my house, too. I’m not saying my house looks like an episode of Hoarders, but I am saying that when the service man came a few days ago to install a new thermostat, I was truly embarrassed.

I followed him around the house, kicking things out of the way with my foot, and making wistful excuses. He told me, he’d seen worse, and I felt sorry for him, because, like, I hadn’t seen worse, and I truly prayed I never would in this lifetime or the next.

Sidebar: Don’t hate. Y’all know somebody out there is giving me an “amen” and an “ashé.”  You ever try to write everyday and keep a clean house without a full time housekeeper? If you have and you’ve succeeded, shut up because I resent you very much. I say that with all the love I can muster.

*

Recently, I realized that a really big breakthrough for me, artistically, emotionally, spiritually and every other way was beginning and fully entering the process of forgiving my father, who sexually abused me.

Let me explain that, for some people, they need to get a dictionary and look up what “forgive” means.

Forgiveness does not mean that you pretend that the transgression against you never happened. It does not mean cheesing in some lowdown person’s face and showing all your teeth. It doesn’t even mean that you still don’t experience pain. It means, you set aside bitterness and you don’t expect the person who hurt you to make amends.

For me, the “not expecting amends” thing was easy because my father has been dead over twenty-five years. But the hard part—the extremely tricky part—is that I still have “cloudbursts” of pain, all the time, while I’m go letting of the bitterness, piece by piece. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not bitter about my father, but I will never get to the point where I’m going to pretend he was a good guy. To do so would be to lie.

My father was not a good guy, by any stretch of the imagination. For some people, my saying that is not forgiveness and it’s not healthy. To those people, I will say this: I have finally gotten past hoping my father is rotting in Hell. That’s pretty healthy.

And I have finally gotten past needing to dismiss the good things he gave me. Yes, believe it or not, there were some good things he gave me, like a great smile, a brilliant brain, a love of books, an ability to eat healthy, organic food without gagging, and a fearlessness when it comes to discussing issues of race in mixed “race” company.

Considering that I grew up with a fear of the dark and the horrors that it brought, a distrust of men, and a sense of emotional isolation, I’d say my embracing the good things about my father and no longer wishing his torture at the hands of Beelzebub and Them constitute “healthy forgiveness.”

I had no intention of writing about my father today, as I did a while back on another Father’s Day.  I wanted to let the “good African American fathers” have their day. The black community gets a lot of shade thrown its way, and especially around the subject of absent fathers, so I didn’t want to spoil yesterday.  But when I sneaked on Twitter, I kept seeing hints about the not-so-good black fathers.  In fact, the founder of For Harriet, the black feminist blog, tweeted yesterday that she “most certainly wasn’t turning down blog posts about good black fathers”; she just hadn’t received any yet.

Yesterday, I tried to keep it classy for African American community solidarity. No snarky comments about deadbeat dads in general, and no specific comments about my own father who, ironically, had great credit and paid bills in our household, and never once denied his paternity of his children. (Though God knows, sometimes I wish he had.) And honestly I had no intention of writing this particular blog post in this way.

Originally, this blog post was supposed to be about writing, what I needed to give up in order to Finally Write My Books. I even made a list:

#1 Get rid of bad eating habits, because eating badly leads to bad health and that leads to feeling badly and that leads to lost pages.

#2 Stop checking my email before my writing session, just in case someone sends me something upsetting.

#3 Stop answering my phone during writing time, because I know I like to talk on the phone.

#4 Stay off the Internet, except for a very short period every day. (I changed my personal Facebook page to a public page because I found that I was spending literally nine-ten hours a day on Facebook. I could not stop checking to see if someone had clicked “like.” Twitter I can control. Of course, this is also what I say about chocolate, so I might be in complete denial.)

#5 Avoid drama, because that leads to either my ending up in bed in the fetal position, depressed, or it leads to #1, “bad eating habits.”

I had the whole “writing” blog post mapped out—then about two hours ago, I received an email from a family member, discussing my father. (Please refer to #2 concerning the checking of email before beginning a writing session.)

I sat down in front of the computer with the intention of writing for several hours, having completed all my rituals in preparation: a shower, the brushing of my teeth, completion of my morning prayers, and the brewing of tea.  I put on my “Writing Anxiety” music playlist that I had carefully compiled, songs that soothe my spirit and remind me that I am a blessed child of God and I am living a purposeful life.

My family member meant well. I know she did.  She didn’t mean to hurt me, and to take me back to a bad place, but all of a sudden, after her writing me about my father, I felt dirty, ashamed, and helpless. I started weeping. Clearly, I had not followed my “#5 writing advice” about avoiding drama.

Okay, dang.

I had entered full-blown drama. Avoiding drama isn’t just about not cussing people out in the middle of the street, though that’s a good beginning. It’s about understanding that, no matter how well-meaning people are, they’re working with what makes them happy first, not what makes me happy first.  That’s just human nature. And since I’m working with what makes me happy first, too–which is admitting my father was a child molester and an abuser of people with less power than he had– there’s going to be conflict. Clearly.

My family member was being sweet in her own way, trying to include me in a “celebration” of my father, a man who was a very successful professional member of the black writing community. It never occurred to her that by “celebrating” my father, she was calling me a liar by implication, for how could I–of all people– logically “celebrate” a man who made me afraid of the dark and who damaged my sense of self-worth?

Just like many other Father’s Days, I felt ashamed to be the daughter of a man who had done these things to me. My shame, not his–because guess what? He’s dead and I’m still here, fighting to keep things together in the aftermath of his breaking fool in the dark.

I felt as if, once again, I had transgressed against my family and by extension, the black community, by refusing to lie and say that my father was a good man. Once again, I asked myself, why couldn’t I just lie about him? It would be so much easier. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut?

*

Y’all know that recently, I got married. My husband is Senegalese, and he told me a proverb: “You can’t chase two hares at one time.” I’ve thought about this a lot in the past few months, repeating this proverb to myself. Just this morning, before I checking my email, I thought about it.

Could I really do all the things I wanted to do: have a good marriage, lose weight and improve my health, and arrive at a creative place I’ve been walking toward for the past nine years? And could I do all that and live in truth? That seemed like a lot of hares to be chasing, and since I broke my ankle a few years ago, I’ve got a steel plate in my ankle and I can’t even run no more. Not that I could even before I broke it, okay?

This morning, around the same time that I received my family member’s email, I received a notice of a blog post from one of my favorite new blogs (or, new to me). It was a post about “letting go of toxic relationships” and it was right on time. (If you’d like to read it, click here. I loved it.)

I’m not saying that my family member is toxic. That’s not the relationship I’m talking about. My relationship is actually with my guilt. I have to stop feeling guilty about claiming what I have to claim, in order to be a healthy person. I have to stop feeling guilty about telling the truth. I can’t lie about the pain of my past, but I have to find a way to acknowledge it without feeling dramatic, ashamed, and a freak of (family) nature.

Surely, it’s a struggle, but my husband is right about those two hares. I can’t chase my happiness—which involves a bunch of things—and chase drama at the same time.  So I’m not going to and that’s that.

I guess this year was a good Father’s Day, after all. And I’m going to try not to have chocolate today. I’ll let y’all know how that works out.

A Sister's Complicated Father's Day

Last week, I had a wonderful podcast with four phenomenal Brother-poets—Reginald Dwayne Betts, Randall Horton, Marcus Jackson, and John Murillo—on Talkshoe.com (Here’s the link to the podcast, in case you missed it.).

One of those brothers, Reginald Dwayne Betts, has written a fabulous piece on fatherhood for Abdul Ali, and how to reconcile pain with forgiveness. It moved me greatly and touched a nerve.

(You can read Betts’s piece over at Abdul’s blog by clicking this link.)

I think a lot about those two issues Betts brings up—pain and forgiveness—every single Father’s day, and how it relates to Black women. There’s so much talk, all the time, about the impact of physically and/or emotionally absent fathers on young Black boys in America, how this absence affects their growth into men.

But few Black people talk about this impact on Black girls, and how this affects Sisters’ growth.

I remember when I was in high school in Atlanta, and there were a few Black girls—just a few—at my school who had beautiful relationships with their daddies. They clearly worshiped and adored their fathers, and unless they were lying, I could tell by their confident bearing, the pride that crept into their voices, that their fathers felt the same for those girls.

I have to admit now that I hated those girls. I mean, I really despised them. Jealousy would eat me up, every time I heard them talk about their fathers.

This was unfair of me to feel that way. It wasn’t their fault; truly, there was no fault to be had. Those girls should have felt good, having Daddies who loved them and cherished them.

Yet, as I sat there, in the lunchroom and listened to those girls, I felt as if somehow they had won a prize that I not only couldn’t win, I couldn’t even enter the contest for, because my relationship with my father was characterized by conflict and pain, and yes, emotional absence. It just felt so unfair.

Even then, as a young girl, I ran behind my father for love I never received.  Until the day he died, I waited for some sort of breakthrough between us, like you see in a movie. Of course, it never came, even in the days where he was dying of terminal heart disease, and I visited him, bringing books that I had carefully chosen from the public library with him in mind.

For years, I lied to myself that I hated him, that he wasn’t worth all the love that I lavished on him. Now I can admit that I loved him dearly and still do, to this day, even though sometimes I feel like a fool for keeping that love wrapped in cedar and mothballs. If I didn’t love him, I wouldn’t give him a thought, every year in June on Father’s Day, and every July: he died four days before I turned eighteen, and he was buried on my birthday.

If I didn’t love him, would I be spending this time writing a blog piece? I’d just put up something corny like, “Happy Father’s Day to all the good brothers I know!”

As a grown woman, I see so many Sisters are so invested in running after—or waiting in vain for—that elusive Black male mate. We scan magazine articles, we look at news shows such as the one ABC Nightline had on a few weeks back, and we buy books like Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, hoping that we will be allowed to enter that contest, competing for that sacrosanct Black male love.

And truly, so many of us cut our eyes at other Black women, the rare ones who have secured their Black men, who we other sisters believe are so lucky to have found their prizes, just like they did back in high school–though now the prize is the wedding ring. We suck our teeth in jealousy when the statistics clearly tell us that nearly half of us won’t be able to secure a Black male mate, not because something is wrong with us, but because the Black men just aren’t there–not for every straight black woman looking for one. Yet we ask ourselves about other Black women, “Why her and not me? Aren’t I pretty? Aren’t I smart? Don’t I have good loving? Can’t I fry a chicken seasoned all the way to the bone?”

But I believe we do this—wait and wait and wait for brothers who don’t or won’t show up as romantic mates—because we really are waiting for the daddy who never showed up.

Look, I’m not trying to get all quasi-shrink on you. Maybe you’re one of those sisters who can’t relate to what I’m saying. And if that’s so, alright, then.

But maybe, you’re one who’s waiting on somebody to say something you’ve always secretly felt inside–so I’m gone be that one who tells the truth to you. This is my truth: I’ve waited for that brother who would do all those things that I never had my father to do for me. I waited and I waited and I waited. I’ve been that Mary J. Blige song, “Father in you.” Until, that is, I gave up waiting for a brother to be my father.

I didn’t give up of hopelessness, but out of healthiness, because a man can’t be your daddy, and neither should you want him to be. Now, sometimes, understanding that fact can’t make up for a sad or bewildering childhood, but it can save you from a lot of useless pain and driving yourself Milledgeville-crazy.

(Those folks who are from Georgia will know what “Milledgeville-crazy” means. The rest of y’all got to look that up.)

My father and mother were married, and he lived with us, until finally, we left him. Before that time, he was in the house, and yes, paying many of the bills.  But like a lot of Black men, he wasn’t emotionally or physically present—locking himself in his office, typing his poems and ignoring his family—and when he was present, most times I wished he wasn’t.

He would get mad for no reason, but sensitive child that I was, I felt sorry for him even though who was feeling sorry for me?  (Other than my sweet mama, that is.) I wanted so badly to make him happy, not just for me, but for himself. Even then, I knew he had a birthright–and no, it wasn’t his “Black manhood.” It was his self-love.

He was a Black man born in the early part of the 20th century, but I don’t blame racism for who he was, because I’ve seen some Black men who are good people who didn’t have two degrees from Columbia like my father, and who didn’t come from a social worker mother, and three generations of physicians before her. Those other Black men I’d seen in the world had it way harder than he did, but they somehow worked it out. They did what they were supposed to do, and they didn’t complain about it.

But I suspect those men had loving parents, or someone who reached out to them very early on. By the time my father met my mother, that patient, sweet woman who loved him until the last bar of his blues song ended, it was way too late for him.

But as an adult, going through my own growth journey and understanding myself as a flawed individual who is trying to be better, I see now that this world is not arranged for people to be strong and courageous. It is arranged to keep people–of all complexions–in line.  In order to get better you have to fight your demons inside, and then fight folks outside your house, too. I guess my father just didn’t have that fight in him.

But he gave me gifts. My smile is my father’s and so are my dimples. My loud laugh.  My daddy loved to rear back and shout forth laughter.  He was completely unpretentious.

He was also a brilliant person who gave me my sense of intellectual entitlement—some would say arrogance. Even now, my shelf is crowded with his books. He introduced me to jazz, to blues, to opera, to classical music, to films with subtitles, and the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and Shakespeare.  And I remember one time he told me, “You are one of the smartest people I know.” I was only about nine or ten at the time.

My father’s been dead twenty-five years come this July 19th, so I haven’t given anyone a tacky tie in a long, long time. But this Father’s Day, I’d like to offer some love to other Black women who have faced every June the way I have, as a month to dread, as a month of absence and sadness over what we have missed out on for so many years. Even when we find that other love, still that Father’s love we’ll never have.

Father’s day is not just a day for other Black men to mourn and to reach out to each other, as a day of understanding and reconciliation.

This year, I want to say, Sisters, it’s our day, too. It’s alright to say this, even if only to yourself.