“…Our blood lines and soulforce are the same and we have a common fate – what happens to one happens to all….” – Herb Boyd and Robert L. Allen, Introduction to Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America – An Anthology
Answering my adult son’s call meant flying into two Florida hurricanes, both elemental, one emotional, the other swirling wind and rain.
My first-born was confronting and handling a critical family challenge. He needed his Pops to join him within the eye of his storm. Hurricane Dorian was the unexpected backdrop of my visit. A perfect storm was demanding that he cultivate the calm of Smokey Robinson, and that I demonstrate the dedication of an R&B Classic.
Oh yes, I’ve loved this boy through all seasons.
From home birth, when I was 22 years old, my beard scraggly, my fro huge and fragrant, on through my divorce from his Moms, with all its transcontinental reverb, since I moved from east to west coast in an effort to make a new life with a new love.
Now my son has teenaged daughters, and I’ve entered the early years of my elderhood. I remain a Poet in love with all the man he is, has been, and stands poised to become. He’s a Navy vet. A tech executive with a major health organization. A gun enthusiast, who proudly shows me 20 safety certificates on the wall of his home office.
He’s a grown man with a restless intellect, curious imagination, and wounded spirit. And he called me to be with him for a concentrated month-long stay in his home.
Fathering for all seasons is never ‘comfortable.’ But braving and choosing the discomfort of healing is the ultimate in grown-folks’ work! Ain’t no wreaking happiness if a Black man of happiness is scared to dive into the elemental work of being daddy to a grieving child.
One morning, about a week into my visit, homeboy asked me to spot for him as he lifted weights. I said yeah but I didn’t know how to actually spot a weight lifter. He had me straddle his lower torso and face him, just in case I had to grab the bar in an emergency. He lifted the barbells off the rack. Just hearing him grunt triggered my rescue instinct. I grabbed one end of the barbell, threw him off balance, and the weights on one side of the bar crashed to the floor, almost landing on my bare-feet.
I told you I was clueless!
After our initial shock, and him shouting, ‘Pops what the …?’ I learned a safety protocol: when he lifts solo, he does not lock the weights. That way, if the weight overwhelms him, he can angle the bar to allow the circular weights to slide off the bar.
Heavy lifting is no joke!
Fortunately, we escaped injury. I laughingly dashed to put on my sneakers. And we added another story to our menu of flashbacks we could tell his daughters on the drive home from school.
Emotional weight lifting, you better bet it, demands you don’t get crushed. Our heavy lifting has also included deep, often painful, conversations surveying the past, capped by lingering hugs goodnight. We have debated the merits of providing national health care. We’ve listened, problem-solved, gone grocery shopping, visited the arcade with my granddaughters, attended a rousing concert by Charlie Wilson, of Gap Band fame, and even had two impromptu activities that included his mother, my ex-wife, who lives nearby: In one, I joined a planning session that harmonized some of her bill-paying options they were reviewing. In another, we played robust and competitive rounds of Sorry!, the board game that I used to play with my own mother!
Such soulful participation, courageous participation, has guided my flow since I flew into the storms. Focused participation. Taboo-free participation. And I’ve said to my beloved homeboy that I’ll weather any and all discomfort in the quest to contribute to his recalibration.
He’s even owned up that if he could wave a magic wand (and I’ve even been reading the box set of Harry Potter novels while here!) I would move from California to Florida. Indeed one his critiques of me is that my long years in LA have contributed to his emotional distance and his silences, his patterns of silences over the years, and doubt that he could call on me as an OG (Original Genius), when he needed to talk about personal issues in his life, his marriage, or about being a father.
Yet in certain crises, like this current one, he still blows up my phone, bends my ear, or puts out the Daddy Bat Signal – and I’m on the scene ready to rumble with him for righteous outcomes.
And my fundamental message and response over the years?
If you can call me when the shit hits the fan, then we’ve long ago established a formative trust. If you can call me in crisis, then you can call me in celebration, or as you sense life veering off course, so that we can brainstorm together about ways to KEEP SHIT FROM HITTING FAN!
Also, as a student of The Blues, I have long told him that SHIT WILL HIT THE FAN, so it behooves us as adults, as dynamic grown folks on life’s epic journey, to cultivate the capacity to respond with grace in service of living our best lives, including the pursuit and capture of our happiness.
We must relentlessly be in the world for each other, our kids, regardless of their ages. We must learn how we can spot each other, so we’re strengthening our muscles of love. We must also forge and feed the fire of healing and honesty and resiliency.
My son continues to face fallout from his circumstances. Riding this storm with him will continue to be one of my elemental family fulfillments. My hope is that the resilience I’m witnessing, and the testimony I’m hearing, will soon have him bouncing back until he’s fully back in stride.
PS—Wreaking Happiness celebrates its official one-year anniversary with this meditation in honor of my first child, born September 30, 1977. He gave birth to a life-long season of sacrifice, joy, pain, and instruction for me! I remain humbled by the miracle of our lives together.
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’: “…When I think like an administrator (and not a grandfather), I hear philanthropic, governmental, and other societal voices of expertise, who all publicly and absolutely value the importance of […] so-called ‘soft’ tools for 21st Century young folks…. How do we teach young men these tools? That’s the crux, for me…. How do we impress upon them that being real over a successful lifetime requires ‘soft’ skills…? So- called ‘soft’ skills are the raw materials you will need to establish a personal power and integrity that allow you to fully participate in healthy human collaborations. Wielding your so-called ‘soft’ skills will reveal that you value yourself and deserve healthy human collaborations. Will position you (with loved ones, on jobs, via whatever platforms) to write common codes, create open sources, and generate a vibration of all good that keeps your head to the sky, even if you’re only howling in pain at the full moon. Talking to my grandson, listening to my grandson, I am full with the understanding that there’s nothing soft about full participation in the heroic exchanges and teachable moments in which we find ourselves working with young men. Whether those exchanges take place in living rooms, in classrooms, in workshops, at rec centers, sideline at the playground, at the extended family’s holiday meal, there’s nothing soft about the work necessary to teach a brother how to trust intentions, know wisely, concentrate deeply, love simplicity, develop fortitude, build stamina, and accept excitement and curiosity as catalysts for new angles, supple thinking, leaps of associations, and vocabularies of possibilities. It’s not possible to be a child of the future without the vitality that imaginative Inner Resources bestow on us…. But don’t wait until you’re in crisis, I’m trying to tell him…. [T]his is heavy lifting, son. This is heavy lifting. Sometimes, my man, getting happy means you got to get ugly like a singer possessed by the music….” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop