by: Don G / @lbdStreetFashion
Those who know my story know that my two brothers and I were raised by our grandparents and relatives for most of our youth. I was born on a cold January morning in 1981 in upstate New York to a young, educated, black woman from Greensboro North Carolina who struggled to with mental illness and an abusive cheating husband.
Where was my father? What type of man was he?
Growing up I never had a relationship with either of the men my mom chose to have children by.
This Father’s Day might be the right time for such a conversation to be had. I no longer celebrate holidays, but by having this conversation hopefully I might be able to help those who do.
I was born 5:48 a.m. on a snow-covered Buffalo morning January 22nd, 1981. Three years later mom left New York with my younger brother and I to return to her roots in Eastern North Carolina escaping a failed marriage. My father stayed behind in New York and continued to work for the government.
From a few experiences I have bits and pieces of my father’s personality and physical makeup to determine what type of man he was. He had a light complexion, was tall and skiny, folks praised him as a leader, he was kind to others, he was very intelligent, and he had a way with women. However, he was very cheap, narcissistic, lied very often, and had a terrible habit of not keeping promises.
Soon after leaving New York, my father decided to try to make things right and come back to mom who lived in New Bern North Carolina at the time. My first memory when I was four was mom leaving him a second time…
The older I get the cloudier and more distant this memory becomes. I remember my father taking my brother and I over to a neighbor’s house to watch TV. Mom was at work and I remember us enjoying Looney Tune with friends.
Several hours there things ended abruptly when mom entered the mobile home we were in and forcefully took us out. She was upset but at the time I didn’t know why. My brother and I were placed in the car and told we were going to our new home, Bailey Lanes Apartments. I don’t remember having the chance to grab a toy…
11 months separated our births. He was my best friend and most bitter rival. We didnt argue much but it did come to blows every now and then. We contantly played practical jokes on each other and it seemed that everyday we would get into trouble for things no one could prove to this day that we did. I would pride myself in being the man of the house but knowing what I know now, this is a terrible responsibility to place on a child.
We both became successful men. Live wealthy lifestyles that allow us to support our families and travel around the world with ease. We are soldiers who love our country, our heritage, our blackness, and our families. We are two sides of the same coin.
The childhood fraternal love and hate we shared for so many years towards each other, has kept burning almost religiously. What kept our brotherly bond strong and kept us from becoming another statistic for the black community? The answer: an impregnable connection and relationship, between the two of us and our grandfather. He taught us how to be real men before it came with a hashtag.
A common pain that we shared in our early years was a very resilient distrust towards adults, our parents particularly. We believed that they did not do the best they could and had failed to be there for us when we needed them. We only had each other.
I remember mornings starting as early as 6 years old where we got up for school and had to dress and groom ourselves, clean our rooms, perform chores, iron our clothes, and prepare breakfast “by ourselves”. Mom started getting getting sick and was not able to take care of us like before. We adapted to is lifestyle and it quickly became the norm. We were too young to see the psychological damage it was causing us.
In middleschool we became keenly aware that our lives were different from other kids. They were not as poor, did not rely on free lunch, did not eat at soup kitchens, did not get their school clothes and toys from the salvation arm and did not have a mother who relatives constantly called crazy.
Mutual suffering from abandonment and trust issues at that age became harder to bare so we did what any kid would do when faced with overwhelming stress. We started acting up, picking fights, and getting into trouble at school.
Mom never really improved despite decades of hospital visits and continues to suffer from constant bouts with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
As a teenager I became less attached to emotions and for a time, seriously, no fucks were given. It was easier just not to feel anything. I became emotionally numb, over-weight and anti-social. My brother chose his own way to cope with stress. Maybe this defense mechanism protected us from becoming attached to any men mom dated including the next father who entered our lives.
My first encounter with our second father was as a 14 year old. It was on the day mom returned home from 6 month in the mental hospital. She arrived and there he was in tow. I had no real feelings towards this guy. I neither liked him nor hated him. For a man that left our lives as quickly as he came, in my eyes, he was just someone else my mom had dated. It was easier that way…
He was light-skinned, very athletic, and had similar attributes to my first father. He was a former Durham college basketball star that never made it to pro ball. His inability to control his alcoholism and his temper hurt those chances.
He met my mom in the hospital while recovering from a recent incarceration related to his alcohol addiction. After two years as a family, the path of this same addiction led him to court ordered rehab to avoid jail time and took him away. Another man leaving mom with three children to raise and Uncle Sam to foot the bill.
Tupac and Biggie we’re gone, Rodney King had just got beaten, and the OJ Simpson trials had just ended. My baby brother was the most beautiful thing to come from such a dark period of time. But like his older siblings, he too inherited a relationship and future without a father.
When there is a deep void created in a child’s life someone always steps in to fill it. For us it had always been our grandparents. They became our mother and our father. Being Father’s Day, I will stick with talking about my grandfather but my grandmother was no less important to our emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
My grandfather stepped up to a role he did not have to take. He was there when no one else was there. Others turned their backs but he didn’t. We were raised as if we were his own sons. I will forever be thankful that he was key to creating the men that we became.
We spent so many years back then staying with our grandparents. It was our second home and a place where we could play with all our cousins and feel like kids again. It was not an easy life though. By todays standards our upbringing would seem more like violations of a number of child labor laws.
Year round, after school, and on weekends we worked in the yard and tended vegetable gardens. We cut grass and trees for money. We hunted, fished, chopped wood for the winter, and cooked homemade soap. We worked on my grandfather’s tractors and cars, raised animals and caught pigs. With our grandfather we did guy things learned about the value of a dollar, the feeling of a good day’s work, and acquired the traits for masculinity.
Through all that work he taught us how to talk to others with respect and humility, how to take care of ourselves, and how to love each other. We learned how to think as men and how to influence other minds with our words. He taught us how to love ourselves, how to laugh and cry around men as men. He taught us how to fight, how to live with courage and honor, and created a blueprint of how to be a God centered man.
My grandfather was born in 1920, he was a freemason, and was a part of the Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina. He drove a bus so that folks could get to work during the boycott. He told some of the most amazing stories from his past and with each one a lesson was shared. I rely on his lessons to this day. He was a legendary man, but he was not perfect…
He had a kind heart but at times he could be down right mean when he felt like it. He was old school and had a very mean streak that only subsided slightly as he got older. I have this same meanness as well and it is something u do not want to be introduced to.
I remember seeing with my own eyes this man carrying cut down trees through the woods on his shoulders to load onto the bed of his work truck. He was damn near Superman to us kids and his word was law. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of his paddle either, but out of all the cousins who name forever etched that weapon of wooden destruction, my brothers and I encountered it the most.
As a father, I use techniques and lessons learned from my experiences to guide and prepare my children for the world they do not yet see. I am not with either of their mothers but still make efforts to be actively involved in their lives the best I can.
Living on the other side of the globe makes this difficult at times but over the past few years we have improved communications with each other. My heritage, values, and perspectives on life are guideposts influencing the knowledge and culture that I pass down so I desire to do things differently this time around.
I haven’t seen my fathers in 19 years and it’s ok. I come to terms with no longer desiring to follow in their footsteps. I chose to give to those around me that I love and to those who experience life more difficult then mine.
Placing the value of their lives above my own, I pray that unconditional love, more opportunities for engagement in their lives, and the guidance that only a father can give are never absent from their lives. Happy Father’s Day to you all as you continue to create legacies enriched with masculinity, power, and wealth.
“We can’t always count the dots looking forward, but it is when we look back that we make sense of our lives and why certain events happen the way they did.” ~Steve Jobs