My first father’s lesson was taught to me at age 9. It was his weekend to pick me up so I was on my front porch steps waiting with my bag on a Friday around 7:58pm. Two minutes had passed and exactly right on time the sound of Rick James playing loudly through the speakers of an all-white Riviera was a scene like WWE stage entrance music. The arrival of my father every other weekend was like a celebrity sighting. As always, a unified hush among came as soon as the car was parked. On a routine, the music volume would turn down and the door would open with smoke coming out. The smoke would clear revealing his latest fashion choice. A true 80s East 7mile gentlemen, he had on a pair of tan dress pants with cream wingtip gator shoes with a matching button-up dress shirt and a small waist length leather jacket that had white fur around the collar. He walked in slow motion like an ending scene of a blaxploitation movie. In the walkway entrance, he stopped a few feet from where I was sitting on the middle steps, wiped his nose slightly, titled his dark sunglasses downward to look pass me and said, “Hey man, yo momma home?” I stood up in my Bugle Boy matching blue jeans and shirt, grabbed my bag to walk toward the car and said: “No, she had to work late, Grandma got me ready.” He wiped his nose again, cleared his throat and said “Ok” walking back toward the car. The car interior was so pearl white that I was always felt limited to move because of fear of creating a stain. As we drove on the freeway blasting now Isaac Hayes he suddenly turned down the music and asked me what was wrong. At first, my response was a quiet “Nothing…” but seeing through that clear lie he said, “Hey man, what I tell you about lying? What’s wrong with you boy?” I knew that if I denied again that he would keep pushing until we argue so I gave in. I told him that I had a crush on a girl at school but didn’t know how to tell her without feeling embarrassed by my friends. He instantly began to laugh as well as choke off the smoke of his Mary Jane which gave me, even more, a reason to feel regretful. “Man, yo little ass is worried about what some little niggas think at yo school? Ain’t like you no faggot or nothing!!!,” he said. I folded my arms and began to stare out the window in hopes that he would forget the last 80secs of our conversation. “Boy stop being so sensitive. Let me show how to get a girl,” he said. He then took the next exit and in one smooth transition smoothly parked in front of a drug store. We both got out and I followed behind him somewhat confused because I knew this place didn’t sell any Jack Daniels. He walked at a fast pace causing his shoe heels to make a continuous CLANG sound before stopping suddenly in the middle aisle. “Wait here,” He said. Lucky for me I stood in front of the magazine section and the curiosity of who was the new Jet Beauty of the week had come to my mind. He then walked back and stood next me holding onto a monopoly board game. He, snatched the magazine from my hand and said: “Is the Jet beauty fine?” before I could give an answer, I noticed quickly that at the same time with his other hand he was ripping off the plastic of the Monopoly game board, tearing the box while thrusting his hand inside digging around. “She alright, last weeks was better,” he said. He then placed the magazine back on the shelf and the now ruffled closed up monopoly box underneath it. “Alright let’s go,” he said. I followed behind leaving more confused than I was two minutes prior. Two blocks down at a red light, giving Zig Zag a French kiss he handed me a pair of red dice. At the time, I hadn’t personally played Monopoly yet but knew that the dice and the actual board were both needed for the game. He sensed my confusion and when the light turned green and said: “Man, you can’t get no girl without no money, so I’m gonna teach you how to make yo own bread. That way you get yourself some money to buy her something nice. Ain’t no woman gonna embarrass you after you get her something and if she does, then at least you still got yo money.” As I sat back in the cream passenger seat staring out the window I could hear the Twilight Zone theme music playing in my head. I had no understanding of what just happen but after that weekend I forever tried to get 7 or 11 on the first roll.

 

My second father’s lesson came when I was 18 years old and recently graduated from High School. It was one of those extremely hot summer days and I was laying on the living room floor directly underneath the ceiling fan trying to catch that feeling while wearing a pair of dark sunglasses, shorts and a tank top with my headphone plugged in my ear. My grandmother was sitting in her favorite chair a few feet away using a fan from a church that she had never been to. A hard knock came to the screen door with a deep raspy voice that said: “Hurry up nigga. And take those gay ass shades off” I instantly knew who it was so I started dragging my feet slowly as I pushed the side lock off and gave him a head nod greeting. Him being the on cue jerk he has thumped the back of my head and rushed passed me to hug our grandmother. “Naw don’t get up Ol Girl, I know you hot looking at this broke ass fan. I’m gonna buy you an air-conditioner TODAY,” he said. He had a charismatic chuckle that was immediately infectious to my grandmother as she started to laugh loudly also. As they began to chat I went back to laying in my favorite center spot hoping that I could go back to imagining that the fan was working while zoning out to the Big Pun album in my headphones. I couldn’t hear the conversation they were having but as always, I can tell she was enjoying it. At 13yrs my senior I couldn’t deny his ability to charm people old and young. As a young adult, he stood about 6’2, slim built with a six pack that he loved to show off within polaroid pictures. He was mid light skin toned with dark eyebrows and short curly hair kept in a fade haircut. Our only resemblance was we both shared slanted eyes that we were constantly teased about growing up. We both would be rich men if we had a dime every time someone called out and said, “Hey Chinaman” to us. Right when Pun and Joe were singing Boricua, Morena” he snatched my headphones off and said “What nigga you deaf? I just asked you how to feel now that you done with school?” Not really feeling conversational plus hating when anyone disturbs my private music session vibe, I gave a humped shoulder “its ok” response. “I think he’s upset that him and his little girlfriend ain’t together no more,” my grandmother said. I blurted out “Grandma, I keep telling you she was never my girlfriend.” He twisted his lips to show distrust in my statement. “Then why you so hostile then nigga” he said, sharing another laugh with my grandmother on cue as if I was performing a sketch comedy routine. It was too muggy of a day to be someone else’s comic relief so I preceded to grab my headphones and go elsewhere. He then grabbed my shoulder and said “Yo chill out, just playing with you. Tell me what happen with this…. (glances at Grandma) …chick.” He knew I would be more open to talking in private so we both stepped outside on the front porch. I told him that since early spring I’ve been dating a girl who had recently decided to “end things on a good note” because she was going away to school. He then busted out into laughter like Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. “Man, that broad did you a favor. She gonna be around those 250/300 lb 6’4/6’9 ready for the NFL/NBA type niggas and yo ass ain’t gonna be able to compete with that shit and nor should you try,” he said, while at the same time taking a cigarette puff. He then placed his hand on my shoulder and said: “She probably gonna get pregnant by one of them niggas and get fat. You 18, and shouldn’t be trying to get serious with no chick anyways.” He then bends down and reached into his left Gucci sock and handed me two folded up $100 bills. “Look, go upstairs, get dressed. We going to the mall to get Grandma this air-condition, eat some food, buy some clothes and pull some numbers. That way you get some more hoes for the summer,” he said. Since the days of when he was forced to pick me up from elementary school, he had never ask to actually  “hang out” with just the two of us before. At the time, he drove a cream Mustang with jet black tires and loudspeakers so I was extra excited to tag along. I got showered and changed clothes in 13mins flat to find him waiting inside his car playing Pharcyde. I hopped inside and left my shades behind.

 

My 3rd father’s lesson came when I was at the promising age of 20. For most 20yr olds it is an age of new beginnings and bright possibilities. At the moment for me, it was a time of dark realities. My grandmother’s health had started to decline drastically so my mother and I had become her caretakers. My mother, when she got off work would tend to my grandmother’s needs at night around the house while I maintained the daytime responsibilities, one of which was doctor’s appointments. While taking my grandmother to one of her weekly medical treatments I had begun to develop a good relationship with an older gentleman who could’ve been my grandfather. He had one of those physical frames with broad shoulders that one could tell was more of an athletic build in the past. He was bald with a grey mustache and could still muster up the strength to give you a strong firm handshake. As a proud Navy man, he told a wide range of stories, from his experience with Jim Crow laws in the south to living in Paris during WWII. In the present time, he had been married for 27 years but separated from his wife for about 5. The couple had one daughter who from what he hears is pregnant but still hasn’t met the husband/son-in-law because they haven’t spoken since the separation. One day he noticed that I kept stepping outside to make a phone call but would quickly come right back to the waiting room and flop down next to him “So yo ol lady mad at ya?,” he said. Shocked by his guess, I replied with a confused smile “How you figure that?” He then smiled and laughed with a slight choke gripping his oxygen tank. I reached out to help but he waved me off. He sat up straight, cleared his throat, turned to me and said: “Boy, the way you been stepping in and out with that phone it’s obvious.” I begin to tell him how my then girlfriend was mad because I had stood her up on a date because I had passed out sleep on the couch.  “I’m trying to tell her the truth but she thinks that I’m lying,” I said. His eyebrows turned downward, he leaned closer to my face and said, “A woman is supposed to hold down the fort, plain and simple. Doesn’t matter if you were lying or not. Bad enough them crackers on your neck, you don’t need your woman to contribute to the bullshit. Them white women is evil but they never question their man, they allow him to lead. Not like our women. Especially nowadays they be watchin Oprah and will leave yo ass flat” It was at that moment I could tell he was not really talking to me as much as he was to himself. His green eyes looked through me and voice sounded heartbroken as if he witnessed a puppy dying in the street. The 30 secs of silence felt like an hour as I didn’t know if he had lost his train of thought or mentality had gone to another place. He suddenly sat up, cleared his throat again and said, “Yea, don’t worry about her, she’ll come back and if she doesn’t she not the one for you. Women be too emotional to understand, unlike us they can operate with logic. “I nodded my head to let him know I understood and in that moment my grandmother was being walked out on her walker by the nurse. I told him I’ll see him next time and he just smiled. Two weeks later I buried my grandmother.

 

I learned many lessons from many fathers growing up for various reasons. Each father’s intention was genuine but they lacked emotional depth, especially when it came to women. With every sound advice with the words they spoke came a piece of emotional armor for me to build for myself. That armor was to protect me from harm’s way so that I may not suffer the same consequences they may have had endured. They were all victims of social conditioning that said, “Hurry up, move on, be a man and fuck plenty of bitches,” which to a young impressionable mind sounds great until one has to deal with the emotional baggage that creeps out. I’ve always hesitated with vulnerability because leaving myself open was always considered a high risk. If a person I trusted took advantage of me at a weak moment I became forever sacred and would emotionally lock my discomfort and throw away the key. That same social conditioning caused me to feel great shame whenever an ended relationship made me sad because as a man, hell as a BLACK man I’m supposed to be far too superior to “feel” anything for too long. The only time I have seen a father cry was at a funeral and strangely it was the only placed where they were allowed to disarm themselves. In recent years, I’ve strived to be better by embracing my fears in order to become more expressive of my feelings without feeling embarrassed or regretful. It is not a perfect practice but a needed one that I continuously work on. In the core of all my father’s wisdom, I understand that they were giving me the best of what they only knew. I loved and appreciate all my father(s), but love them enough to forever try to push beyond the limitations they set.

 

 

 

Be Good…well at least try…

 

J.Hall

@jhallradio

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