February 12 – Volume 13, #2
Life is hard. Damn hard.
There are two predominant schools of thought about how one makes it through it all. On one end of the spectrum is the notion that our life is dictated by external factors, whether they be attributed to our genetic hotwiring or some higher power that pulls the strings on our behalf. Many other Americans, dare I say the vast majority, believe that where we land on the board in the game of life is a product of our hard work and personal choices.
My own experiments don’t preclude either one of those possibilities. My genes determined for me pretty early on in life, for example, that a career in the NBA was probably not in the cards. And while I don’t believe that God played a direct hand in most of my day-to-day actions, I certainly have felt touched by something divine at different points in my life.
I have absolutely worked hard to steer clear of many of the barriers set up on the obstacle course of existence. And although my batting average falls well short of 1,000; most of my choices have been sound, particularly in my adult life. But if the various factors; that allowed me to become the man that I am, were ranked in a hierarchy, my personal choices and attributes might fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. Shit, I tried more than 3000 times to allow my youth to ruin my adult life. There was one tangible constant that prevented me from doing so and it wasn’t my unyielding effort and wit, it was my unrelenting and overly-demanding father.
I got myself suspended from school on more than a few occasions, and just barely escaped being expelled once when the dean thought that I physically threatened him. (I didn’t physically threaten him by the way, it was just a misunderstanding). There was less ambiguity when I got myself kicked out of class for being drunk, or got sent home for operating a gambling ring. I took almost my entire senior year off academically in the infinite pursuit of ass and ended up watching my high school graduation from the bleachers. My brushes with law enforcement never involved anything that would permanently stick, but they were sufficient enough to get me kicked out of a dormitory and spend a night in jail on separate occasions. The only reason that my career as a drug dealer didn’t last longer was because I wasn’t very good at it. And only God knows how I avoided becoming a father out of wedlock.
And this is just scratching the surface of the many plots and schemes that I devised during my formative years to try and fuck up my future. I have a feeling though that I am not so different from most. All of us have had someone there to steer us back on track, when we veered off course. Your mom, a coach, a concerned teacher, a clergy man. For me that person was Halif Muhammad, my father. But what’s even more amazing –and what I’m even more grateful for- than the many times that he served as my parachute in allowing me to have a smooth landing in spite of myself, is how he’s empowered me to fly solo now that my daddy isn’t there to bail me out of every jam that I get myself into.
After all, it is largely from my father that I derived my discipline. I was quick to give up on difficult tasks as a young man, but he instilled in me the need to keep pushing myself towards a goal. It is hard for me to envision a cultivation of my most valued attribute without my father. The work ethic that I cherish so immensely as a young adult was forced on me over hot summer days spent picking weeds on my hands & knees. And cold winter nights nearly breaking my back shoveling snow.
My parents’ introduction to Islam certainly was a catalyst to my militancy as I was compelled to review Message to the Blackman and classic Malcolm X speeches when I’d rather have been on the next block playing baseball. Being reared in a circle where I had the opportunity of personally meeting the likes of Louis Farrakhan, Kwame Ture, Bobby Rush, Danny Davis, Jesse White, Richard Daley and Jesse Jackson before I got out of high school put me at ease around supposed celebrities and big shots where even in meeting Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama I felt like the most important person in the room. Though me and my pops’ respective tastes in fashion diverge dramatically, I did learn from him the importance of always presenting yourself well and putting thought into my public representation- even if sometimes this representation consists of an oversized t-shirt and a baseball cap that makes my old man cringe. It was from my father where I learned to stand up for myself and to question authority, even though that meant questioning his authority more times than he cared for over the years.
My professionalism was gleaned from modeling my father’s example in being a team player, being punctual and dealing with people honestly. I learned how to be able to walk in different circles without compromising who I was by being exposed to my father’s example.
It is from my father where I learned when I needed to be fiercely independent and when I needed to seek assistance. I pride myself on my conflict resolution but these are mainly skills that were molded on the home-front, observing my parents. The seeds that make me want to take root in every corner of the globe were planted in me long ago through the summer trips that my father ensured were routine through much of my childhood.
From my pops, I learned the importance of loyalty. I learned to view life through a collective frame, as opposed to merely an individual perspective. My old man not only showed me what it was to possess ambition, but what it looked like when ambition paid off. One thing I see lacking these days among young people is any sense of delayed gratification in this era of the now. Largely against my own will, this ability to think long-term was forced on me in a home where I always had everything that I needed, but my wants weren’t always immediately satisfied. I inherited from my father an aversion for wasting money, time, food or opportunity. My father was highly instrumental in the development of the intellectual curiosity that keeps me constantly seeking out new answers. Far more significant, my father motivated me to pose new questions that hadn’t been asked yet. My role model has shaped me in a million other ways that are more subtle, and even unexpected, from my affinity for jazz music to my masterful use of sarcasm.
Now a man myself (or trying to be one anyway) I frequently find myself reflecting on how perilous the road was in getting here, and how I went off the beaten path so many times in spite of having a scrupulous guide. My soul aches when I think of all the young black men in this country who are forced to take similar excursions on their own. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
In my daily work, I often see the product of virtually an entire generation being deprived of the kind of modeling that my siblings and I frequently took for granted. As a sociologist, I understand well some of the social forces that the black family has had to work against since our forced arrival in North America. And believe me; I know better than most how hard it can be to sustain a relationship with a woman. But even if things don’t work out with the mother, we as black men have got to do a better job of stepping up to the plate for our children.
The family is the frontline of revolution and too many boys and bitch niggas are cowering in the back – fleeing this responsibility. And a heavy responsibility it is. Children are a considerable expense of both time and money. Parenting is often thankless work that has no punch clock. There seem to be new challenges awaiting children outside of the home emerging on a daily basis. And shit, it’s hard enough keeping ourselves as adults in order to try and get hold of some snot-nose ingrate like I was a few years back. Well, maybe not snot nose, my mother wasn’t having that. But certainly ingrate is an apt description. But booger-nosed or not, it is an awesome task trying to raise a boy to a man. However, it is a responsibility that more of us have to face head-on. Nothing less than the survival of the black community is at stake.
With the drama I put he and my moms through, my father may have well been in his right to drop me off and leave me on the side of the road somewhere. But he didn’t. And he didn’t give up on me in spite of myself. I am more thankful for the choices my father made every day. No telling where I’d be if he had taken the cowards exit out the back door. I’d love to say that there is no telling where our community will be going if more men don’t behave like the men of my father’s day. But unfortunately that road is all too clear for those who care to look closely enough.
Peace and God bless,