My Daddy had a stroke earlier this year. That day was a day! It started with sitting in the emergency room with my mother for 8 hours while she was examined for shingles complications. While sitting there, the news reported that Kobe and Gianna were killed in a helicopter accident. Then, shortly after leaving the hospital, my brother’s new wife called me entangling me into some age-old, toxic drama between my brothers. I was exhausted! I finally got into bed around 11PM and quickly drifted off to sleep. I was abruptly awakened by my younger brother’s back-to-back phone calls. Believing he was in some serious trouble, I reluctantly answered, and he told me…our Dad was in the hospital.
It took me three months to talk to my Dad, and I still have not seen him. His unexpected illness triggered a lot of unresolved trauma and buried emotions that I needed time (and tons of therapy, edibles, and talks with my BFFs) to work through. Ultimately, my reluctance to talk to my father boiled down to this – I didn’t want to experience the discomfort of seeing him outside of the superhuman person I had created in my mind. Somehow, coming face-to-face with him in a state other than the strong and willful one that I had known my whole life made me feel less powerful and less invincible.
Over the past 10 years, I have become increasingly more aware of my father’s character flaws and struggles with addiction. I knew his story – alcoholic father who died when he was 16, abusive mother, mentally ill brothers and son, drug and alcohol-ridden family, failed marriages, high school dropout, teenage father – but I avoided his trauma and his darkness. I only focused on his wins – pescatarian, avid runner, accomplished collegiate referee, entrepreneur, community builder, father to college graduates (master degreed, in fact). So, when I got that late-night call on January 26, 2020, the physical representation of his pain and his mortality hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t ignore it anymore, and my cognitive dissonance kicked in! It was so hard to reconcile how a flawed and conflicted man could raise a daughter that is strong and free.
Over the past three months, I’ve had to see, process, and accept the multi-dimensional man that is my father. My father is pescatarian. He ran at least 7-miles every day, and despite his healthy lifestyle choices, he had bouts where he struggled with drug abuse and alcohol addiction. He was a former Black Panther who touted black power and supported pro-black er’thang, but yo’, he got a thing for white girls. He dropped out of high school, and he’s one of the smartest people I know. My dad is misogynistic and patriarchal, yet he empowered his daughters to be independent and self-sufficient. For the first time, I am able to see him, ALL of him. Surprisingly, this reconciliation has allowed me to appreciate him, his truth, and all of the good things that he has given me. Here are three of the most important lessons I learned from my father.
1. To be born Black is a gift.
In the words of Tupac, my daddy “had me feelin’ like black was the thing to be.” He told me stories of strength, resilience and Black badassery. One of my favorite stories is about my grandmother helping my daddy to escape the clutches of STRESS, a special task force within the Detroit Police Department in the 1970s that unjustly targeted African Americans, by way of a top floor window of their family home.
He taught me about black culture and the dope shit that my people do. He played music and schooled me on Motown, Anita Baker, John Coltrane, and Al Jarreau. I watched clips of Magic Johnson beastin’ in basketball. Every Sunday, we watched Barry Sanders dominate on the football field. My father taught me that being black is to be gifted with ingenuity, excellence, power, and toughness.
2. To whom much is given, much is expected.
My father was a collegiate referee. Between him officiating games, supervising a summer basketball program, and organizing a referee training camp, Lawd knows, I spent my life in a gym! During my processing period, I realized that my father was much more than a referee. He was also a leader, an activist, and a community builder. He honed his skills, and he used his talents to train, empower, and create spaces for Black and women basketball officials. From his example, I learned that it is not enough for just me to win. I need to take what I have, pour it back into my community, and make sure that I create spaces and opportunities where disenfranchised people can win, too!
3. I am free, and freedom is always my choice.
Early on, when my father and I started running together, he told me, “You will have to run every day of your life.” I did not understand his counsel until many years later when I departed from college during my sophomore year because I was struggling with severe depression. When I returned home, my father disclosed his own journey with mental illness and how running was a path to freedom. He encouraged me to start running regularly again. I did, and it’s been the best choice I’ve ever made.
It has not been easy, but I have come to terms with my father’s imperfections. In the end, I believe that he gave me the very best that he had to give, and I am grateful. He has blessed me with a beautiful legacy of love, leadership, and freedom. He has taught me a deep love for myself, my blackness, and my community that pervades everything that I value and everything that I do. I am so proud to be what I am sure he believes is one of the best parts of his story and his life’s work. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!