(revised from 2011)
Last week I bought Gil Scott Heron’s final cd “I’m New Here“. For a week straight I have played this album from beginning to end while driving around the city taking care of my small business. As an avid Gil Scott fan, I am always overwhelmed by the power of his baritone instrument conveying a variety of messages of empowerment, confusion, hope, loss and spirit. I have told anyone who will listen that this new complilation of poems and songs, this short collection, is a bookend. The album is almost a perfect conclusion to a life that, in his own words, “If you have to pay for things you’ve done wrong, (He’s) got a big bill coming.” Gil Scott Heron was a man tortured by drugs and an existence that demanded he do more for people of the African diaspora. This bookend begins and ends with a poem named “On Coming From A Broken Home”. In the first poem Gil discusses that he was raised by women and because of this he is a man. In the final poem of “I’m New Here”, the second part of this poem, he concludes by thanking his mother. In this moment, I feel connected to Heron. I too was raised by women, my mother and my sister. Like Gil Scott Heron, “I was grown before I new I came from a broken home.”
Although I always felt an emptiness in regard to growing up without my father, this was something I have never really been able to discuss with anyone. I received the book “The Bond” from my play mom a few years back. The book sat near my nightstand and was always close to me, but I could never begin it. I didn’t want to. I knew that it was about men reaching out. The authors, Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt, authors of The Pact were addressing something that for me was a bit too close to home.
They took on the decision to reconnect with their fathers who were absent in their lives. I finally decided to read this book as I was headed to my 40th birthday. Almost 20 years ago, I actually spent more time with my father than I ever had in the first 19 years of my life. I spent 3 days driving from Memphis to San Diego. My mother demanded that he come to Memphis and help me drive to my next duty station. I asked my mom not to do that. I told her, “I don’t know this dude. It’s going to be really uncomfortable.” She wanted me to be safe though and I don’t know what she did, but he got here. On the drive we talked, but it was small talk about me and the Navy. I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t care to know. I actually wanted to know, but I thought this was his job. I did try to visit him since he stayed in Northern Cali and I was in Southern Cali. I would go to visit, but he would talk to his family as if he had been there my whole life.
Even after I left the military, and played college basketball, I would try to visit, but I was reaching out. I finished “The Bond” today and what I discovered by reading three men’s stories that were exactly the same, is that if I hadn’t reached out and I don’t continue to reach out, then my father will never really be a part of my life. Through the words in “The Bond” I realized that there is something in the background of Black men who are absentee fathers that makes them all act the same. They all typically lacked a male role model in the home; because they never learned to interact and had been walked out on, they simply transmitted this legacy. What I share with the Drs is my decision to break the cycle. Because I didn’t grow up with a father, I made it a point to not reproduce another generation where my children would not know me. I have also built a bridge that makes my father capable of being a grandfather. The things that I missed, he is giving to my children now. While I still feel angry and confused, I have finally decided to move forward.
“The Bond” is more than a book to be reviewed, it is a narrative that has to be shared. Below is a poem I wrote to my father. I have never let him read it, maybe I will… soon.
The Three Doctors website
A short poem from my book It Often Deprives Me of My Sleep
At this point,
I’m beginning to open.
I can’t bring certain questions
into my mouth. I’ll write them.
You are growing old:
Gray hair, thick stomach, hands without elastic,
I’m teaching myself to hear you, see you.
I don’t know how you run:
Short strides, long strides, on your toes,
or did you use the whole foot to push you forward?
I can imagine you walking.
I can see you walking, your shoulders square,
neck leaning like your head hurt,
a slight twitch and sweep of the heels
on grass, concrete.
I know what you look like from a distance.
Your walking eyes though,
I don’t know them.
At this point I’m beginning to open.
I expect your calls every Sunday.
I get the phone and attempt to call you,
but I still think this is your job.
I have no 3 year old to 18 year old memories of you.
When you call to speak, like we haven’t been apart,
my wife touches my shoulder and sits my son on my lap.
He knows me, calms me. He can make me smile.
I know death is near you.
The telephone is your lap.
I’m hearing you.
I’m 3 years old.