With my youngest daughter Adenike, who celebrates a major birthday in July, I laugh, I grieve, I listen, I counsel, I encourage, I support, I debate, I argue, I learn.
I’m humbled and amazed at how close we’ve become in her adulthood.
In a 2018 TEDx Pasadena Talk we discussed our courageous collaboration of renewal after she revealed that her former stepfather sexually assaulted her.
Ironically, as I meditate on her upcoming birthday, that’s not the phenomenal part of our journey and our relationship that I want to celebrate here.
What’s amazing, to put it simply, is how we are living family as it really is. No formulas, just exceptional experiences grounded on a mutual goal of maintaining honesty, reliability, and trust.
On January 25, 2020, we launched season one of a new podcast, Conversating with Pops’nAde, featuring 10 episodes of thoughtful, concise conversations between us.
We’re also producing ROAD TRIPPING, an unscripted web series, which will feature us taking road trips in search of ‘Celebration Conversations’ with men and women describing triumphs over trauma and pinpointing joy on their journeys.
All this conversating – and y’all know my Moms is turning over in her grave! – embodies our mantra: “We’re all worth healing and no silence is good that keeps you from talking to people who can help you.“
Stooping in front of Ade to say goodbye in 1984 was my biggest mistake. Stooping in front of Ade at Baltimore Washington International airport before taking her brother with me to the Bay Area is the biggest mistake of my life. Agreeing to a court order that separated a four-year-old baby sister from her seven-year-old big brother, a big brother from his baby sister, was the biggest mistake of my life. I squatted inches from her sadness. Masking my own. I didn’t allow myself to fall into the shadows in her eyes. I failed to prioritize her pain. I whispered platitudes and told her we’d be together soon. Violated my father’s oath, my poet’s oath, against clichés and lies and pedestrian language. I can still see the betrayal on her beautiful blank face, stooping in front of Ade to say I’m leaving on a jet plane. How CLUELESS to think this scorched moment would resolve itself without inflaming our futures. My lack of discernment was really only a 25-year-old father’s fevered wish that divorce should allow me to accelerate past the pain. It would be three years before we saw each other again. Tell me a bedtime story about loss and resuscitation.
It is phenomenal that my kid still wants to love me, still wants to work with me.
The elemental lessons for me? Live your WHOLE Life! Say EVERYTHING! Acknowledge when you’ve wreaked havoc and not happiness. Work on honoring the mysterious and making the miraculous. Live your ‘love with accountability,’ a magnificent concept and turn of phrase by Aishah Shahidah Simmons, editor of an anthology of the same name, to which Ade and I contributed.
My work to convert mistakes into wisdom, misunderstanding into mutual gain, loss into dedication, and paralysis into baby steps, has been threaded with candor, regret and atonement. I work to re-consecrate my father’s oath, my poet’s oath, without sentimentality. I own my past without sinking into its worst configurations. I hope Ade and I will continue to redefine family so it reflects the healthiest and most empathetic configuration we can shape.
Our arrival in 2020 has been fueled by the virtuoso art of CONVERSATING. Two folks, way past the biological facts of life, two adults, two histories inflamed by loss, continue to tell each other they remain valuable to each other. Two adults tell each other they believe in each other, when they could have chosen the painful comfort of silence. Two adults have found joy in the labor to keep their love intact, their initiative intact, their curiosity, laughter, and collaboration intact. Two adults have chosen to walk together guided by a genuine compact to live as family for the rest of their lives.
She tells me that my ring tone on her current phone sounds like the rotary or push button phones of my youth! I laugh because I do embrace my Inner Cantankerous OG, who can absolutely hear those phones blaring in his memory!
But I remember and prefer my ring tone from one of her first smart phones. She said it always jazzed her up, and jazzed up all nearby anybodies who heard her phone announce that it was Pops on the line.
My favorite ring tone?
After all our CONVERSATING, what else but … Let’s Groove!
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “… I thought I had the hang of it. But later that week, somebody at day camp unhooked Ade’s plaits and substituted two smart cornrows. I got to soul searching again. Why didn’t I let somebody cornrow me out my constriction and be done with it? I was feeling out my league and locked out the circle of wisdom where these grooming secrets were passed on. Deep down, I was also plain embarrassed: Here I am, a grown man and I can’t even fix my own daughter’s hair. Then I got pissed! Here I was actually braiding her hair, but still having women redo styles without asking me for my permission, or asking whether or not I’d like their help. Turn the tables, I thought. Let me or some other man — day care director, boyfriend, husband, or candy man on the corner — put his hands on one of their daughters, and be talking about, ‘Girl, I’m just doing a touch-up.’ Homegirl be cussing me out, dialing 911 on my ass, and feeling around for a knife — all the while holding her daughter close, redoing the hairstyle, and wiping imaginary sleep out the child’s eyes!
My breakthrough came after an intense conversation with my friend Nikky Finney. She encouraged me to keep trying. Despite the tears, Nikky assured me, Adenike appreciated my hard work and would remember my determination all her life. Then, fingering her magnificent dreads, she fondly reminisced about the snap crackle and pop of her own mother’s hands. That night, I dreamed I had been going about it all wrong: I saw braiding as a chore, instead of as an opportunity for special intimacy with my daughter. I was too tentative. Every time she whimpered, I eased up and brushed only the surface of her hair. My dream also offered me some practical advice: Use more Dax Jack! Don’t make her Little Richard or nobody, but spread a little more sheen boy! I had a New Attitude our next session. We had gone swimming, and I got down, if I do say so myself. After I used shampoo and conditioner, her hair draped damply and unruly. But this time, with comb in hand, I took a deep breath and easily separated small portions until her scalp peeked out. Section by section, I parted her hair, fingering dressing down each row, until her crown had a fragrant glow to it. Handling Ade’s hair took my breath away. Slowly I braided and my satisfaction … deepened twist by tug by criss by cross. I transformed her Head of Hair into patterned plaits. Four well-woven strands and she hadn’t moaned at all. She looked into the mirror, rubbed her hands over the job, and nodded approvingly. I was fired up. Once again, I felt under control as a father. A part of me — quiet as its kept — was gleeful that Black women aren’t born knowing how to braid hair. Mostly, though, I felt good reconfirming that with perseverance, dedication and imagination I could learn to speak a loving, painless language to my daughter through her thick, healthy hair …” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop