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In Search of My Father

I promised my story of father absence in the last post.

“My mother had four boys. My two older brothers had the same father, but my younger brother and I did not. My older brothers lost their father in their early teens due to a horrible accident on a construction work site. I don’t believe either of them ever recovered from this horrific loss. Their unresolved pain eventually led them to poor life choices and terrible deaths much too soon. Their father was the only man my mom would ever marry.

“My mom was Mississippi born and raised. She was that stereotypical picture of the ‘strong’ and alone black mother who endured all to take care of her kids. I can recall my mother saying, ‘I’m your mama and your daddy’ often to my brothers and me growing up. On the one hand, I wondered how that was possible and on the other, the statement didn’t seem all that unusual. When she disciplined, it could be cruel and occasionally over the top. She didn’t play. This is often what happens when mothers are left to raise their children alone.

  • Despite this, I knew she loved us.

“My father was already married with children when they met, but he was not with his family. My mother and he courted, and I was conceived a year before the passing of my grandmother. My mother told me I was born on Mother’s Day weekend, and that I was her Mother’s Day present.

“My father was already married with children when they met, but he was not with his family. My mother and he courted, and I was conceived a year before the passing of my grandmother. My mother told me I was born on Mother’s Day weekend, and that I was her Mother’s Day present.

“I met my father when I was 29. A cousin found him for me in Milwaukee. I called him. He acknowledged me, and I flew into Chicago to meet him, to finally lay eyes on the man with whom I shared genetic material, but no life experience. I was looking at all the well-dressed older black men who walked by, hoping one of them was him. I was still playing the tape in my head of things my mother told me about this smart, handsome, well-dressed guy.

  • I was looking for Billie Dee Williams, but the man I found was more like Fred Sanford.

My father walked up, looked me up and down, and said, ‘Yeah, you mine. You look just like my goddamn brother. The car is this way,’ he gestured. ‘Come on.’

“My heart sank and disappointed doesn’t begin to accurately capture the feeling I had in the long car ride to Wisconsin. I was pissed and God and I were having a looong conversation all the way there.

“I began to share with him what I was doing with my life. Growing up, my accomplishments, my battle with drugs, going to rehab, and working with recovering people at that time as a substance abuse counselor in a psychiatric hospital. He was trying to get his mind wrapped around what I did, so he asked whether I was a doctor or something like that. I said no, more like a messenger helping people out the way I was helped. His reply was ‘humph’ and we continued our ride.

“Upon our arrival into town, he took me to his favorite hangout, the….tavern. I figured this was going to be a test of my truthfulness surrounding my sobriety, but it was far from that.

Walking in like he was the prince of the city, he promptly announced: ‘Hey err-body, this my son. He a goddamn doctor.’

  • “I told him to stop lying, that I was not a doctor.

  • “‘Who the *%$@ cares!?!’ he shrugged. ‘I say you a doctor, so you a doctor.’

“The interaction was funny when I look back on it. It was his way of saying he was proud of me. In the back of my mind, I thought, Wow that’s where I got lying and exaggerating from. The way he walked into the tavern like he owned the joint reminded me of my shenanigans when I was out there bad.

  • “Our time together helped to fill many pieces of the missing puzzle of my life.

Perhaps one of the most crucial things I learned was we left home at an early age for almost the exact same reasons. He shared with me that when he was 13 growing up in Arkansas he had done something around the house that met with his mother’s displeasure. He said he was tied up to the front of the house where he lived and was severely beaten. He said he ran away and never returned to live there again. Damn…13 years old and out there on his own, I thought. That didn’t make any sense to me.

“When I was 17 there was no such thing as public smoking laws. You could smoke any and everywhere. Your clothing would often reek of secondhand smoke, as was the case with me. My mother would drill me daily about whether I was smoking cigarettes. She would lie and say other adults saw me smoking. I dreaded being sent to the store or outside. I would go down the household goods aisle in the grocery store spraying Lysol in the fur of my parka, which secondhand smoke seemed to love, praying this woman would not smell smoke on me when I got home.

  • One day, thoroughly convinced I was smoking, my mother severely beat and stomped me. I had reached a point of no return. I had to leave.

The physical, psychological, and emotional abuse of my teens served as great fodder in the development of my extremely high tolerance for pain and misery.

“I watched my mother experience all kinds of heartache and disappointment with my brothers. I certainly didn’t want to repeat those heartaches for her. But I could no longer live there. We used to laugh when she would say, ‘boy I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out.

“I was no longer laughing. So I saved up enough money from my after-school job and shortly after turning 18, I moved out to take on my new-found role as father and life partner. I was looking for love, looking for a family to belong to, and filled with dread and insecurity.

  • Without question, this was definitely a design for disaster. I was between a rock and a hard place.”

And so that was my story, as shared in When Mama Is Daddy: I grew up in a home without a dad, found him, only to see in him my own frailties.

My young life seemed to repeat his pattern, as I left home after an altercation with my mother, just as he had done in his own youth. It seemed that my father, though he was absent for much of my life, was somehow programmed into some part of my DNA.


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