Autographed Letter Signed

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Sunday Soliloquy: Just Wait Until Your Father Gets Home July 18, 2010

Incoming text message for Afrocity:

DAD: Come watch me run the 5K next week.  Soldier Field

AFROCITY:  (After a long pause, disbelief)  When?

DAD: Wednesday

AFROCITY:  I will try…

Wow.  My father invited me to watch him run. To support him.  The loving daughter standing at the finish line cheering dad on, waiting with open arms and a bottle of cold Evian.   Even clad in a “GO DAD GO”  tee-shirt perhaps.

Up until now Autographed Letter Signed has been terrifically informative about my relationship with my mother’s life and death.  I have never got into a deep discussion of my father’s life.  How could I?  I have only known the man since 2005 when I looked up his name on the internet.

Make no mistake, dad and I are a work in progress- nothing more to say really.  We speak on the phone and see each other in person maybe three times a year despite living in the same city.

I invite him over for dinner. He cancels at the last minute.

He invites me to a family wedding and I play paddy cake with my decision which is ultimately NO.   Too many paternal family members too fast.  One on one would be best for now.

In nearly all of the minutes that I do share with my father, I am reminded of all the time that he did not share with me.  The echo of curiosity, skepticism, and  ambivalence stalks every invitation.

Can I ever really forgive and forget? Will I let myself?

He wants me to watch him make it to the finish line at some race.  I am proud that at the old age of 63, he runs marathons. It makes me feel proud and like shit that my mother died at 68 because she was overweight and never exercised. She died of hypertension- the silent killer.

How dare he ask me to watch him be all senior and healthy when my mother dies because she was unhealthy?

What the hell do I look like cheering on this man who never changed my Pampers at a race which raises money for kids – ironically?

Kodak moment potential aside, what would my mother think of me?

Trader daughter bitch,” mother would say to me up from far above the sky’s clouds in heaven while watching the Montel William’s show in  her government subsidized housing.   “I am dead now and look at you hanging out waiting for the prodigal dad to return home just so you can knit some perfect black family life that you never had.”

Dead momma is right.

Let’s face it. Nothing you ever do Afrocity. Nothing, will erase the fact that you did not grow up African American and Cobsy Show perfect middle class.

That dream was assassinated the moment you were conceived. A causality of single black mother/absent black father life in the inner city.

According to his 2008 speech on absent black fathers, I think Barack Obama would agree that dad and I are a causality of black life. The following quote is about the only thing Obama has ever said that I do agree with:

We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception…Too many fathers are M.I.A, too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes…They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

-Barack Obama

Young Afrocity never had to hear the ominous words

“Wait until father gets home.”

There was no father. No huge size 12 workman’s boots sitting at the front door, drying from the rain along with baby’s boots and mother’s.   Never once did I have a masculine shoulder to rest on when I fell asleep at church.  I learned over the years that a man’s absence would dominate the pattern of my life. It was not a long hiatus because he had a fight with mom.  He was gone and I lived life without him along with the rest of his children but we were living the life of the Great Society- the welfare society.

And perhaps more pathetically, I tried to distract from the void by creating a special grief club with my dad’s other crazy quilted offspring.

My younger half-sister was welcomed into my home, along with her three year son fathered by a married man.  In an entirely selfish on my part move, I believed I could rehabilitate her into a college graduate.   I was raised by mother to think that education and nit pregnancy was a way out.  My half-sister learned none of these lessons from our father.  Apparently neither did my older half-sister who has six children and currently lives on welfare.

You may recall a past post about the latter sister. She had/has ovarian cancer and relies on Government health insurance.  The same insurance that allowed her to have 10 years worth of abnormal pap smear results and did nothing. The same government health insurance that offered her virtually zero options for her cancer besides a hysterectomy.  In an attempt to be a good sister, or at the very least, a good half sister, I enlisted the help of my own gynecologist.  “Please help my sister,”  I said.  “She has ovarian cancer and  public assistance insurance and awful doctors.  No one is giving her a straight story or treating her like a an equal.”

Did I mention that both sisters- I mean half-sisters -dumped me?

The younger one, just stopped calling me out of the blue.  There I was with a box full of toys and kid books I had bought for her son to come play with when they visited.   She was supposed to let me help her with her applications for college…then poof.  She was gone. My messages went unanswered. What did I do?  Was it the guacamole dip I made when we were watching movies one night and talking about dating bad men??? I can make it more spicy next time.  I promise. Please call back.

The older, I am more forgiving of.

She was battling cancer.  While we had spoken over the phone several times and I shared my gynecologist number with her, I had never actually met this woman in the flesh.  Sure there were specific things I knew about her from our father’s amazingly insightful commentary.

“She (my sister) is ghetto. She wears this big blond weave that is fried, dyed, and slicked to the side,” explained our father.  “She is street wise- not like you Afrocity…She acts very black, has a gold tooth…”

Okay,  I thought, so we won’t go shopping together or share beauty tips but I can at least meet my father’s other daughter.

I asked her over for dinner. She said she could only eat bland foods like boiled potatoes because of the chemo.

More than happy to accommodate her dietary restrictions, I offered to make  her a nice meal of Sheppard’s pie.  What’s more bland and filling than Irish food?    We agreed on a dinner date . Shopping for ground lamb and Yukon Gold potatoes made me dwell on the oddity of the situation.  I have never even cooked a meal for my mother’s son- my half brother. I have known him all of my life.  Now here I am looking at low sodium lamb broth for some woman I have never met that shares my paternal DNA.

This recipe of  instant sisterhood requires parsley, sage rosemary and time….

What would we talk about?

“Hi, so nice to finally meet you…I understand that our dad cheated on your mother with my mother and that is how we are so close in age… Can I get you a glass of water? I have tap or Pellegrino..Cancer popsicles? Rice cakes?”

Half sister to sister, we would tell fatherless ghost stories, share pictures of our mother’s boyfriends- our “uncles”,  and look at our brown faces to see if there is any resemblance.

And therein lied the problem of such a meeting of the fatherless minds.  The recognition that no amount of tea and half sister sympathy would ever change our narrative. Three half sisters don’t make a whole father.

She never came for dinner.

I never called her to see why she never called me.

She did call several months later. I never returned the calls.

Why? Because ultimately, it does not matter. DNA is so random when you grow up black and fatherless. Strands of nothing but sexual encounters with the same breeder.    What is the use of acting as if we are characters in some sort of urban Negro rendition of Homer’s Iliad?

It will never be easy or even possible to capture what is lost when the family erodes.

No old sounds of familiarity “Daddy will get you when he gets home!!!”

Only new sounds like the ding of an Iphone when a text message arrives:

DAD: Are you here?

AFROCITY: Yes. I am on my bike. I will meet you at the finish line.”

And suddenly there I was at the race, waiting for father to come home.

An old warrior in the war on absentee dads, putting down my heavy pounds of bitterness and protective weapons to

be present at the finish line in order to begin  something we never started right in the first place.

Dad and I at the finish line. ..Finally.

Autographed Letter Signed,



18 Responses to “Sunday Soliloquy: Just Wait Until Your Father Gets Home”

  1. Janis Says:

    “She was supposed to let me help her with her applications for college…then poof. She was gone.”

    I have a feeling she flaked on the college stuff and couldn’t face you as a result. Either way, it’s her decision. Still sucks, though. It’s no fun being Cassandra telling people to save themselves and not having them listen. 😦 I can see why Cassandra went nuts sometimes.

  2. Matt Morgan Says:

    Sounds like my father, ACB

  3. yttik Says:

    Dang Afrocity, you made me bawl my eyes out! I wasn’t prepared for your ending. I swear that picture of you and your dad is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a long time.

    Next time I visit your blog I’m coming armed with a bottle of wine so I can offer up a toast.

    • afrocity Says:

      I caved in and went to the race. He has run many times before and this was the first time he invited me.

  4. gs Says:

    That’s not the best picture of you on the blog, but it’s the most radiant.

    He looks like a shrewd man. It’s clear where at least some of your brains come from.
    Af, why not train up to a marathon yourself? Since your 63-year-old father can do it, I bet you can too.

    If anything can deal with the side-effects of middle age that your previous post talked about, that will do it. In any event, those side-effects will seem less significant if you’re at an elite level of fitness.

    At some point you might want to run or train with your dad.

    • gs Says:

      Oh, and his choice of occasion suggests he’s trying to show he is worthy of your respect. He won’t admit that of course, maybe not even to himself.

      • afrocity Says:

        Never thought of that g’s. I do admire the way he trains boxers and runs in marathons. My mom was so sedentary, so it is a big contrast.

    • afrocity Says:

      Running bores me to tears. I prefer my bike and swimming. You are right about exercise. I have started again and feel much better about my body even more than I did last week. My dad’s family is more into fitness than my mother’s side. Seeing him run gave me some motivation.

  5. Tiny Says:

    I really like the pic. It seems to resonant ……forgiveness.

  6. armywife Says:

    Good Morning AC!
    I love this post! I am so glad you went, it all starts with small acts to build a relationship! As far as your sisters go, they did not have the mother you had, she taught you the value of education, you are a smart woman! I do not think she will hate you for connecting with your father. She doesn’t seem the part. She knows your love for her, he will never take her place in your heart. You are who you are, because of the mother she was! I am sorry at the loss of your sisters, they will never know the wonderful kind person you are, maybe they are jealous of your success? Maybe they feel inferior to you? It may be hard for them to see the successful woman you are, and look in the mirror at their lifes choices.
    On another issue, you have your dads eyes! And both eyes look happy in this photo!

  7. Stilton Says:

    Like others here, I hung on every word you wrote and every emotion you shared…and then was blown away by the unexpected picture at the end of your piece.

    Sometimes trying to do the right thing (the right thing for YOURSELF and no one else) has to transcend forgiving, forgetting, or even logic.

  8. afrocity Says:

    Well I just got a call that now my fathers son wants to meet me. They are ready for me to meet the rest of the family. Yes, even my sister who stopped calling me.

    I do not know what brought all of this on.
    I will keep everyone posted.

    • Stilton Says:

      Here’s hoping that the meeting goes very well! It’s going to take courage, strength, and forgiveness to make it work (more, sometimes, than I’ve been able to show in my own life).

      But clearly you’ve got the courage and strength, and “forgiveness” will depend on the dynamic that everyone creates, or doesn’t, together.

      Please let us know what happens!

    • RalphB Says:

      AC, I’m sure it will go well because you are who you are. In that picture, the smile on your beautiful face is priceless. All the best!

  9. Ken Says:

    Afrocity, This is great! With You!! That is a very special smile!

  10. me Says:

    Totally off topic but you are the spitting image of him. The resemblance is strong.

  11. sherpablogger Says:

    A random click brought me here. The next thing I knew I was engrossed reading the narrative about your father, trying to keep a lid on all these emotions that kept ricocheting in me; anger, sadness, pity, empathy. The concussion grenade that was your decision to meet him at the finish line, as evidenced by the excellent photo, was the final unexpected turn of this encounter.

    At the end your father’s race was found forgiveness, understanding or clarity or something like it. Metaphor.

    Thanks for taking me along for the ride.

    • afrocity Says:

      Thank you. The ride many not be smooth but I am glad that I am able to meet the other half of my DNA. My entire life has been so maternal as far as influence that the adjustment is much more difficult than I imagined.

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