Random Musings- The lost files OR What I learned about love

I have an amazing father. I have written about him on this blog. I thank God for him every time I think about it.

I also have a biological father.

The man I call my father has been in my life since before I can remember. He has coached me through my worst moments and cheered me on through my best. He helped to teach me the meaning of family, the meaning of loyalty, and the meaning of personal integrity/responsibility.  He told me he would get up on the down stroke for me and has NEVER given me a reason not to think he wouldn’t. When I was going to do a semester abroad, he forced me to reconsider my chosen country because ” I can’t come get you like that dude in Taken”. He has visited me almost everywhere I have lived except Mexico, North Carolina, and California (which he has a real fear about).

My biological father did none of that. The only  childhood memories I have of him are:

  1. going to visit him and my step-mother at the time and telling my step-sister I wanted to go home ( I was 6)
  2. my mother cussing him out after he hurt my feelings at my sister’s 6th grade graduation (I don’t even remember how he did anymore, and I didn’t remember this until I was reminded)
  3. him writing me this letter about his life (I remember it being the worst this I ever read, but he did send me a picture)
  4. him turning down my invitation to my high school graduation
  5. him telling me he paid child support and so he was a father to me….the number he owes could buy me an amazing car
  6. him calling me on my 18th birthday…on a private number that i had no idea how he got, and being surprised that he knew when my birthday was.

My mother and father did not speak ill of my biological father. While my mother did tell me about the man she knew him to be, she also encouraged me to build my own relationship and to find out for myself. My father did the same. Because of their encouragement, because of my sister’s encouragement and because I was never entirely sure that I wasn’t missing something  about myself by not knowing him I tried to. I never agreed to go to visit him because I had to fly and I needed to be in control of when I could leave.

Fast forward 15 years. I take a job in the Northern most city in California, and suddenly the distance to his home is drivable. A day trip. On a random Wednesday in July, driving back to the city from Oregon, I call his phone and commit myself to a date. I plan a trip to visit from Thursday- Sunday.

Immediately after I do so, I call my father. “Dad, I told B*** V***** I’m going to come up there to see him”.  My father doesn’t miss a beat. “How do you feel about it?”. I stop to ask myself  how I really feel about it for the first time. “Excited…and scared. I’ll let you know how it goes”. We continue our conversation for a bit longer before we get off the phone. I consciously decide not to tell my mother until after my trip because it is near her birthday and I want her to enjoy herself, because she already has plans.  I know she will worry.

Soon enough the day for the trip comes. I am on the phone talking to my best friend about nothing and everything and then I pull up outside the house. Our conversation has turned to the one thing we have avoided talking about the whole time. She says ” You know, I hope that no matter what I do, my son will love me and know I did my best”.  Before I know it I am crying. I say “I can still go home, I don’t have to do this” and then he comes out onto the porch and I feel like he looks straight into my car and the walks back in the house. I wipe my face. I decide I have come to far to turn back. I get out of my car and walk to the door.

I knock on the door and he comes back out. I find myself staring into a face I don’t remember, with a nose that looks like mine. My mother has always told me that I look like him, and now I understand why she would say that (even though only our noses are different). I see my cheek bones, my eye lashes, my nose.  I see why my smile takes up 3/4 of my face. I see that I am the perfect combination of my biological parents. All of a sudden, I am tired.

We walk in the house and I take a cursory glance, but I am really too nervous to process anything. I am holding my bags as if they would protect me if the need should arise, but he asks me to put them down in the room he has told me his mine o for the weekend and I do. I hear him call a cousin to tell him I am there and make plans for us to meet. He is sitting a the table.  I sit on the couch. “I’m happy to see you,” he says. I smile, unable to say the same. I’m not exactly happy, and I’m not going to lie. The TV is on breaking the silence. I have never been so excited to guess along with the contestants on Wheel of Fortune.

Before  I know it, we are his car going to meet a cousin I have only seen in pictures. I was months old. We pull up and I am re-energized. Wired. We walk in the house, and he introduces me to my cousin and disappears.  I stand by the door, at the counter. A woman and a teenager I have never seen before are sitting at the table. Their names don’t quite register after the introduction, but the woman’s question’s do. “So when is the last time you saw your dad?” My mind flies to Cleveland, Ohio where my father is.  I think of my most recent trip home and a million memories flash before my eyes, but I know that is not who she is asking me about. I answer, “When I was six?”. My cousin jumps in quickly, “Oh no, your dad saw you at your sister’s 6th grade graduation”. All of a sudden, memories of come flooding back to me. I remember feeling nervous about accepting her invitation. I remember wondering why he could come back to see her when he couldn’t seem to get right when I asked. I remember picking my dress with care. I remember walking into the school and feeling the same shock I felt that day. I say, “sometimes people don’t remember things that are insignificant.” As an I aside I add, “sometimes, people block out painful memories”.  I am never so happy to have dinner served so I don’t have to talk about this anymore. I stand and eat my food, despite invitations to the table. I am on guard and even though I didn’t drive, I am gone if this shit gets stupid.

Dinner is finished and I have a chance to talk to my cousin. I ask questions, careful to steer the conversation to the family history I do not know to make sure I am not put on guard the same way I was before.  Before I know it, it is well after 2 am. It is time to go, and we make plans to get together the next day. I call my father to tell him I made it safety and that I will call him tomorrow.  He’s only half awake, but he says okay.

When I get in bed, I am not sleepy. I am prayful. I ask God to make it clear to me why I agreed to come here. I put on a sleep meditation and morning comes before I know it. The sun wakes me. It is still to early for me to be up and about, but I feel the need to call my brother. It is 8 am EST and he answers. He had to take my mother to the airport and is on his way home. I tell him where I am. A moment passes. He says, ” I hope that works out for you” and I hear the promise of hell to pay if it doesn’t.

I have a moment to myself to really look at the house. I see the picture from the day my cousin reminded me of on a shelf, more evidence that it happened. My face is smiling back at me and I remember being happy to celebrate my sister’s special day. I go back to lay down. I don’t fall back asleep. I go to workout to work off the excess energy.

I am building my confidence to ask the questions that really brought me here, questions that I am sure he will answer to my face.

We are driving. We have been talking about family dynamics I have never known and I feel like the moment is better than any other.  I ask, “Why didn’t you come to the things I invited you to?”.  He answers, ” Because your mother wouldn’t let me stay at your house. I would have slept on the floor if I had to.” I don’t know whether to be disappointed, angry, or surprised at his stupidity. I think of the many times my mother, my father and brothers have shown me that they would fight to protect my feelings  when I was both bothered and unbothered and wonder why this man who has been the cause of so many hurts would throw himself in the lion’s den. I ask, “so, you are pretty much all or nothing, huh?” He thinks about it and replies, “Yeah”. I speak before I can stop myself , “That’s pretty stupid”.  What he says next doesn’t really matter, but he does apologize for being absent.

The weekend continues, and I call my father daily and thank him for being present in my life. During my visit, I wonder why my biological father can’t talk to me unless I initiate the conversation.  After 2 more sleepless nights, I get ready to get back on the road back to the life I knew.  When I leave, he hugs me.  He says, ” I don’t know what you have done with your life, but you seem happy. Keep it up”.  I thank him for trying on, because I know this was hard for both of us.

My mother’s birthday has passed, and I finally called her to tell her what I’ve done. I tell her why I didn’t tell her. I answer her barrage of questions and tell her that I couldn’t understand how she loved me until I took this trip, met this man, heard about his past and learned what it cost her to let me make my own decision about him. She talks to me for 2 hour before she decides I am really okay, because she is ready to correct his ass if I am not.

I am grateful for the space my family held for me until I was ready. I didn’t know I was whole until I went to make sure nothing was missing.   I didn’t know until I saw what people sacrificed to let me live out loud. I know their love is deep and strong. I know that my partner has to give me this…or better.

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Family Ties

My family means the world to me.

It and of itself, I don’t think that this statement is remarkable; because of the family I have, I think it is extraordinary.

I will spare sordid details, but suffice to say, my family has it’s dysfunctions just like any other family. Tales of colorism, step and half siblings, maybe babies, and questionable moral choices are present, but are certainly not what I would consider central. Instead, the fact that I was brought up to bring that my family is my safe haven in bad times -the people who have my back no matter what- are the first things that come to mind. Family is love in my book.

In a training today,  I asked a question about broaching difficult subject matter with family, and why a person might chose to remain silent instead of making waves.  Due to time constraints, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about why that might be difficult…but I have a blog…so, I’ll unpack it here.

In reflecting on my family stories I realize another reason I have issue with conflict; conflict meant that people would stop talking to each other. I realize I have at least 5 cousins that I know little about after a falling out between our parents. Despite the fact that we were close -or that I felt close to them- our parents falling out meant we didn’t get to talk, that keeping in touch was no longer an option. That says nothing about a biological  parent whose family I have literally walked past in the street and not known. It says nothing about fallings out that predated me but were the lens through which other family members judged me and my attempts at closeness.

I have never been to a family reunion. Many of the elders in my family that could inspire us to get together and “play nice” have passed. I miss the camaraderie, I miss being able to sit at their feet and hear the stories of how my family came to be where they were, why despite our midwestern birth we had southern ways. I think of the number of family members that have left this earthly plane in the past year who- when I am caught up on their lives stories- I am surprised at how much I don’t know. I think of the trust, love and respect that I have hard earned from some family members that I could stand to lose. I think of going back to feeling like an island, of feeling like woman without her-story, and not being able to pass that richness to my children. As much as they mean to me, I’m not sure it’s a gamble I am willing to make. I’d rather take them as I come and explain to my children that loving  family  doesn’t mean I always agree with them, but I that I give them the space to be who they are. I’d rather explain to my children that homogeny doesn’t prepare them for the world they might live in, though working toward tolerance also means understanding that everyone doesn’t agree. I’d rather them learn to find similarity and rhythm in a cacophony of beliefs. I’d rather them them decide for themselves the value of being right and being effective. I would rather them make a choice on how to live based on the weight of the options presented. I would rather love my family for better and for worse.

 

Unconditional Love….

I have been letting these words roll around in my head…and I’m finally ready to let them go.

In recent days, I have had a chance to stare love right in the face, and make a decision.  I am not an over or under lover. I love unconditionally.

For the first time, I understand that. For the first time, I know that everyone else does not have that same understanding.

This is a lesson that I learned over time, one cemented from me in a moment where I could have had all rights to cry, curse, complain, and disavow  a love that I have nurtured. In past times, I have loved despite distance, misunderstandings, lack of communication, and feeling hurt. That love was not a gentle love. I said things I could have said better, or things I shouldn’t have said at all as reaction to being hurt in the moment. I didn’t say things for fear of looking weak, or stupid. I walled up my defenses for fear of being seen as gullible and because lashing out let me strike the last blow or get the last hurt. I mastered appearing nonchalant and being nonplussed in the moment. I know now that those situations had divine purpose.

Recently, I have had conversations with the people I love about love. Conversations that helped me recognize the defenses I had mounted and conversations that made me realize that I no longer saw love as a battle or a prize to be won. I now see love as a way of being . Unconditional love doesn’t threaten to leave when things get tough, it recognizes mounted defenses and breaks past them to get to the root of the matter. Unconditional love recognizes when a fear of vulnerability, a fear of being found wanting, a fear of being seen as imperfect inspires deflection for fear of being seen in the naked light of the truth and being judged. Being able to love unconditionally allows for recognition of conditional love.

Conditional love is learned. When children feel that their parents love them for their accomplishments, they learn to love conditionally. When parents guilt try to make their children fit in a mold of who they want them to be, children who strive to fit the mold and hide and forsake parts of themselves learn to love conditionally. When children feel that one child is valued over the rest of their siblings for academic or athletic prowess, they learn to love conditionally. In a child’s understanding, they are the center of the world. Though children are inherently wise and innocent that child’s action -or inaction- can create new wisdom that makes that innate wisdom a lie. A child whose parents messily  divorce may strive to keep peace by being a model child, at which point being a model child can become viewed as the condition of their parents’ love, especially if doing so helps to maintain the peace. A child whose parents turn a childhood pastime into a means through which a child will repay the parents’ sacrifice, the child’s excellence in that pastime can becomes viewed as a condition of love. That view can become reinforced if the parents shift their attention to a child -and that can be a sibling, a cousin, or a stranger- whose star is on the rise when that child disappoints by losing interest or becoming injured. Parents who do not clarify that these interests and behaviors are a mere bonus to the love that the they have for the child simply because they were born to them set the stage to creating adults who only love conditionally.

Conditional Lovers are shocked to the core when they meet unconditional lovers, especially after a lifetime of feeling they they are loved conditionally. In adulthood, we meet them as men who cannot commit to women without feeling like they can financially provide for them. We meet them as men who would play on the fringes of love and
love women with their bodies instead of with their hearts. We meet them as women who do understand love as physical or emotional abuse. We meet them as women who would take pretty baubles over emotional support. Both fear and misunderstanding prevent them from being vulnerable and allowing a partner to see their true selves, because the first love they had ever known may not have been open to or allowed them to see that the true self is worth knowing, cultivating, and loving.

The beautiful thing is that no man, woman, or child is sentenced to love conditionally for a lifetime. Any one who has the courage to develop, explore, or share their most secret self can be gifted with and gift others with unconditional love.

The journey to unconditional love is not an easy one, but it is certainly one worth taking.

 

An ode to those lives lost

I wasn’t sure I was gonna write about Ferguson.  Even as I am typing, I feel like I still won’t.

I have seen the posts on social media, watched some of the news coverage, spoken to family, friends, and police officers. One thing that is common throughout is a sense of hurt, and maybe even a sense of loss. Though many thought the election of a Black President said much about us become a post racial society, the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and John Crawford III tell a different story.

I hurt as a Black Woman. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how these men could have been my father, brother, lover, cousin, uncle, or friend. More than that, I hurt as a human. It pains me to know how one life can have value over another, that people can try to justify a man’s death by the supposed content of his character or his life choices to that point. It pains me to know that some people can allows themselves to feel better about a young life gone too soon because he “might” have engaged in criminal activities. It pains me to know that people can gloss over the death of man by the hands of those who are sworn to “serve and protect” by diverting to discussions about Black on Black violence. It stings to know that social media and mainstream media are angling to make this a Black issue.

It isn’t.  It’s a human rights issue.

There is anger everywhere we turn. Some people are angry at the President for not doing more. Some people are angry at the celebrities who are going down to show face in solidarity. Some people are angry at the ones who aren’t. Some people are angry there isn’t a clear leader in this movement and belittle the efforts of the people who have come from all corners to show their support. Some people are angry at the twitter activism. Some people are angry as hell at the police not being policed, at the police for seeming serving and protecting at their whims and making justifications when they don’t. Some people are angry that their idyllic and bucolic world views have come crashing down. Some people are angry that people are attempting to make justifications that these men had to lose their lives for the greater good. Some people are angry that no one is trying to make any sense of these deaths at all.

All of that anger has a place and a purpose, because it allows us to check in with ourselves. When a death is senseless and sudden, no action or reaction seems quite good enough. None of this anger and no one’s actions are going to replace the life lost. I do take pause with people saying that it offers no consolation to a grieving mother to be told that her son died for a cause. If not for a cause, then what? It can be really easy to shake one’s head at what you term senseless acts of violence and lose the person-hood of the life lost. What I do know is that we are poised to effect amazing change in the policing and even the political system. For all the people pointing at the life of Oscar Grant as an example of how the system fails us -which is not an opinion I share- how many of us are looking at the life of Benji Wilson, whose death was a precursor to legislation that stipulated that a trauma victim be taken to the nearest hospital with a trauma surgeon, despite location. What about Mike Brown’s death, a death that has prompted the Hawthorne, California mayor to mandate that all officers wear cameras? What about the deaths’ of all the civil rights leaders who helped us usher in an era where people could believe that we live in a post racial society.

We forget that anger turns into action. Despite the critiques we might have for the activism of this time, it seems we forget that our social media presence is a valid presence. It is a place where those of us who don’t have the inclination or the means to stand in the trenches can voice our opinions and have our voices heard. Do we forget how often breaking news is covered on twitter before we see it on any other mainstream source? We have an option that was not available to our forefathers, so I am glad to see we utilize every means available to have our messages heard. This availability means we hear consenting, dissenting and all other voices, but it also offers us another opportunity to dialogue if we are willing to use it.

I have had the opportunity to dialogue with an aspiring member of a police department. Even though his reactions initially made me very angry, they also made me very sad. His first response was “well, I can’t believe that he didn’t do anything to make them escalate” though he also said that training for police men covers escalation and de-escalation of force. He also made clear that “I am trying to make sure I make it home at night, so if it comes down to it, I will do what I have to do”. This same gentleman also admitted that he had been a victim of profiling more than once, but also reported being more aggressive with Black Men.  He also suggested we teach our sons and daughters what passive and active resistance.

I hurt for him and others like him who take the oath to protect and serve and learn that this service may not be equal to all man kind, though it should be. I hurt for people who believe so hard in that motto that they can’t believe that people who swear that oath can betray it. I hurt for people who forget that police officers are people first, people with conscious and unconscious biases that they play out in in their personal and professional lives.

 

Situations like theses remind us of the opportunities we have to change. If one person changes their mind about the importance of basic human rights for all despite color or creed, then change has come.

 

Letter to an unborn child

UUURGH?!

UUURGH?!

Now if your face is looking like my man’s, go re-read the title.  It says “an” unborn child, not “MY” unborn child.

I was talking to a friend the other night, and we talked about the inevitable conversation (and that might be a huge generalization, but it seems like it happens at one time or another) that parents have with their children about how the child’s life came about.

I’m not talking about the birds and the bees.

I’m talking about the fateful day that a child sits down with you and says “why did you decided to have kids/how did you get pregnant with me?”

Depending on the circumstances or the lesson you want to impart, you might tell the ugly truth. That being:

Your momma/daddy poked a hole in the condom

The condom broke

That ain’t sh*t Mofo tried to trap me

I like crazy p***y and I got caught up

If you say ANY of those things to a woman child, please slit your wrist the long way, you ignorant M#(*$)#($*)(*#!!!!

Would you say that to the little one?

I know that those things happen, and those REALLY could be the reason that your bundle of joy came along, but I don’t think there is a need to say things that harshly UNLESS you are trying to teach your man-child a lesson about how life can get REAL all of a sudden. Even then, I think it’s important to pick your words so that you convey the lesson as opposed to a message about what you think about the other parental party (or the opposite sex).

So why I am writing this post? I think it’s important for a parent to start sorting out his or her answer to that infamous question so that if the question should come up he or she isn’t caught off guard, ESPECIALLY if the situation really is one of those from above. Now, if you are in a loving, committed relationship and you jointly decided that having a child is what you wanted to do then I’m not talking to you. The only reason this might begin to apply is if somewhere down the line you find out that the loving relationship was something made for Maury…but I digress.

I also know that life isn’t always as neat as we’d like to make it sometimes. Sometimes children are products of abusive relationships, sometimes children are oops babies. Ultimately the “how” in those cases isn’t as important as how each parent accepts his or her responsibility.

Let me ALSO say, if you are NOT a parent that accepted responsibility, this isn’t a draft for you, ol poot butt self. FYI: that applies to men AND women. I’m a woman, but I thought I’d write from a male POV…just for fun.

You can email those to me...I'll laugh.

Dear Son or Daughter,

Finding out you were coming was one of the most interesting days of my life. It doesn’t matter how much you think about the day that you’re told you are going to be a father is coming, the reality is nothing like what you imagine. I’d be liar to say I wasn’t conflicted. I wondered if I could be everything you needed me to be. I wondered if I was in a place where I could be selfless enough to put you before me. I wondered how my relationship with your mother would unfold now that we added another person into the equation.

I have to say it was a roller coaster in a way. For some, 9 months can seem like a long time, but for me, I felt like it flew by. I tried to get ready for your coming. I talked to my boys, I talked to your mom, I talked to my father (figure). There were some days when I knew I could face whatever would come. There were some days when I had no idea what I was going to do. Then I saw you for the first time, and I was sure that there would be hard times, but that I would help you get through them. I knew that making sure that I gave you the best that I could would be my driving force.

Now, I know not all men see their children and fall in love (that’s part of the reason there are single mothers) but, if you are such a man, my kudos to you. I hope this letter helps you find the words to write your own letter if the need should arise.