“In this life ain’t no happy endings. Only pure beginnings, followed by years of sinning and fake repentance.” –J. Cole, ‘Runaway’ – Born Sinner (2013)
Kanye West is hard. Cruel as amp feedback, horny as always, irreverent as ever. Soon as I pull up and park the Benz,/we get this bitch shaking like Parkinson’s. From the Apogee flash-bang incineration of ‘On Sight’, we strain to keep pace and patience with Kanye the Belligerent Minotaur, trampling a new wave of violent sounds. Not beats, but sounds: the first half of Yeezus is an industrial reel of squeaks, squeals, screams, static and sirens befitting the alternative history in which Liv pulses at the heart of London during the Blitz.
Drafting the never-too-sober vocals of Chief Keef and Justin Vernon on ‘Hold My Liquor’ — the album’s radical middle — Kanye douses much of his sonic revolt in favor of daunting bass, neat snares, hopeless piano loops. Nina Simone blurts in edgewise, her “breeze” and “body” deflating sorely under the most imperial beat of Kanye’s vast catalogue.
Yeezus’ “challenging” sound aside, we must parse the Minotaur’s wisdom—mostly shouted, certainly misogynistic, eminently quotable. Put my fist in her like a Civil Rights sign. Wait wait. Y’all throwing contracts at me. You know that niggas can’t read. We could cite all through lunch. Always, Kanye West has had a way with words. Yet never have so many instantly bristled against what the man has to say; nor has he ever seemed so miserable saying it.
I implore you, think back. Think of College Dropout. Recall the bitterly inspirational skits; the cherubim choirs; the familial reflections, warm as a deskside latte’s steam, gently ascending. Now that he’s shattered all proximate porcelain—now that Yeezus is risen—we’re aghast and wondering when, exactly, did Kanye West become Eazy-E?
I suspect that J. Cole is wondering, too.
Born Sinner, Cole’s sophomore volley launched in calendar contention with Yeezus, is a morning stroll by comparison. Light, nimble, thoughtful, which places Cole at a new personal best. Whereas the beats of Cole’s debut often churned with slipshod timing, Sinner is a sunlight soundtrack of whistlable hooks, synced to a flow so slick and upbeat.
In rare pom-pom spirit, Cole dedicates his ‘Crooked Smile’ to all the minor flaws of self worth cherishing, backed by an 80-degree breeze from the ‘Unpretty’ crew. ‘Power Trip’, already a proven hit, is a sour love song laced ample self-deprecation, gracefully shy of a ‘Marvin’s Room’, more so dope than dopey. Even the album’s darkest chords—‘Trouble’, and the deceptively titled ‘Rich Niggaz’—are tuned to a cura personalis that’s got me, at least, assured that Cole is no budding divo.
I fear that many hip hop fans will have spun through Yeezus before taking their turn with Sinner, which by subsequent comparison will likely fall upon listeners as something tried, traditional, throwback to a pre-Yeezus serenity, and thus unimportant. But what Cole has managed is a tricky humility for the anointed: recounting the days when you were discounted, while spouting something richer than vengeance. Flexing thick skin, Cole is comfortable plucking fun at his thick-ass eyebrows and his yet meager wealth (at least compared to Beyonce’s). Auditing the course of his own rise on ‘Rich Niggaz’, Cole fears of his upward trajectory what Yeezus’ sorest detractors, Kanye’s eldest followers, recently fear of Mr. West: It’s like Sony signed Basquiat; he gave it all he got, and now the nigga don’t paint the same.
What’s most remarkable of these same-day releases is that nearly ten years after Kanye’s debut, Cole the Sinner is closer kin of Kanye the Dropout than Kanye the Minotaur is atop his alien perch. Sinner is the story of a boy getting right with God in the stretches of glory, tempering his fuck-ups on the come-up. Yeezus is Doom music, the official soundtrack of cocaine, sponsored by Emperor Palpatine. After giving Yeezus a few listens, ask yourself: What could Kanye even possibly want to press as follow-up to such a robust catharsis? What sounds come next? And does Yeezus even like us?
Croissants tossed aside, we look to Cole, a young Southern emcee flipping his own beats, retreading Kanye’s greener themes. Mounting debts, hot white temptations, ever-delayed penance, resentment simmering—imbibed so young, it’s a wicked brew. Ten years from now, will Cole still swear by the genteel confidence of a ‘Crooked Smile’? As of late, our Lord Yeezus is all sneers.
It’s been a fairly epic week for Kanye, even by his lofty standards. He may have never beaten a white artist head-to-head for a Grammy, but he just became a father and lots of people seem to like his new album.
If you’re looking for opinions on his latest release, try this one and this one and this one. If there are others we should know about, feel free to drop links to them in the comments section.
Let’s start in Arizona:
Not surprisingly, SCOTUS has ruled Arizona’s citizenship proof law was illegal. Consider it a victory for voting rights activists and non-racists.
SCOTUSblog, however, cautions the decision could be something less than a significant victory for the federal government.
Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, participated in an extensive live-chat Monday with Guardian readers.
Here’s a list of everyone being detained at Guantanamo Bay and their formerly shrouded detention statuses.
What does the gender wage gap say about society? Better question: what sort of answer were you expecting from Miss Utah?
Also, there was a hint of truth in Miss Utah’s admittedly convoluted response.
Our founder and leader, Gene, writes over at Code Switch about a new “angry-making” study that finds “blacks, Latinos and Asians looking for homes were shown fewer housing options than whites who were equally qualified. And fewer options meant higher housing costs.”
Stacia, on what being an unmarried mom taught her about fatherhood.
A racial history of drowning. (G.D.)
Revisiting the Tawana Brawley rape scandal.
“You’re wearing an XXL T-shirt you plan on wearing the day your novel comes out. The front of the T-shirt says, ‘What’s a real black writer?’ The back reads, ‘Fuck you. Pay me.’” Kiese Laymon, ladies and gents. (Terryn)
When all of your superheroes look nothing like your children. (Sean)
It just got real in those Sesame Streets: meet Alex, the first Muppet to have a parent in jail.
So long to the Golden Arcs and Big Mick’s: the McDowell’s in “Coming to America” is going to be demolished.
A father writes a letter to his daughters, to be read at a much later date, about appreciating LeBron James. “I’m exhausted by my inability to figure this guy out.” h/t Decker.
Several Naval Academy football players will face charges in connection with an alleged rape of a female midshipman in April 2012.
What are you reading that we should be reading? Share your links in the comments.
We pass each other and he doesn’t recognize me. It’s been over a decade since I’ve spoken to my father and much longer since I’ve actually seen him. I used to joke to myself that I wouldn’t recognize him if I passed him on the street. But I do and the jolt of recognition–the slight sadness that it’s one-sided makes me panic. I text my sister: He just walked into the restaurant.
My father has a pattern. Every eight to 10 years he decides to make contact. The voicemails began about a month ago. Finally on a Saturday afternoon, I pick up the phone, accidentally. What follows is a conversation rich with awkward silences and one word replies. He asks me about things my casual friends would know the answers to. I wonder if it feels weird for him to interview his own child.
At the restaurant, neither my sister or me sit next to him. We eat thai on Myrtle avenue in Brooklyn. The restaurant is pretty typical–mid priced, mostly takeout, plastic chairs, obligatory Buddhas. It’s a small space and there aren’t a lot of windows. I long for a window. The interview continues. We ask for our history.
He’s watching his sugar cause he’s diabetic. Probably because of the sweet tooth I had when I was younger, he says. I take note. I too have a sweet tooth. It’s a sugar habit I must battle very consciously and daily. We’ve got about five other aunts and uncles. One aunt, for reasons unclear, or rather reasons he seemed reluctant to get into–as with many other topics that evening–suffered a stroke at the age of 37.
My father has other children. Six in total. We want to know our brothers, my sister says. As a teenager, I’d entertained the thought that had my mother had boy children he’d made more of an effort to see us. He runs down their names. My father mentions a son he hasn’t raised. That’s part of what caused all the trouble….you know, he trails off. He means between him and my mother. The more I learn of their relationship the more I wonder how I managed to be born. They seemed to be at war for most of their courtship. The child he hasn’t raised is about my age.
From my maternal aunts, we know that my step mother was my mother’s friend. We don’t talk about her during dinner.
I’m different than my sister. I’m more likely to keep things to myself then explode. Man, you got a lot of kids, she says and not entirely amicably. He’s nervous. Which I find almost charming? He can’t sustain eye contact with either of us. You know when I was growing up, he says, parents didn’t talk to children like we’re talking now. One of my maternal aunts said something similar to me recently. She struggled growing up in Haiti and knowing that her child emotions and whims weren’t regarded with any level of importance.
When I was 19, my father and I had a vicious back and forth. He was sure I’d been brainwashed by my mother into hating him. But I didn’t hate him. I still don’t. His inability to take responsibility for the disappearing acts and other unmentionable behavior puzzled me. During our fight I remind him that his consistent absence is what’s contributed to my low opinion of him. He doesn’t take that well. That’s the last time I’ve seen or heard from him until the calls start a few weeks ago. It’s my belief that most people–and to be frank, I mean men, don’t grow up with the intention of having children they won’t care for.
When the food comes, he drops his fork. He’s on edge. I’m grateful for something to do besides force conversation. We’re all silent for some time. How incredible? A thing like silence. It can be peaceful, scary, brooding, imposing, God given, or nothing at all. This silence screams. It’s heavy with lost time and unspoken resentments. He asks how our mother is doing and I sense discomfort in his voice. I think, as I’ve often done in the past few years, how it’s a gift that he wasn’t around. My parents had too much hate for each other to co parent responsibly.
He refers to me by my sister’s name and when we correct him he collapses in his seat and apologizes. It’s like he’s just struck out big time with a woman he likes. We’re careful not to be too reassuring when he apologizes. Only familiarity would make confusing our names a passing error of an aging parent. My mother did it a few weeks ago. She’s earned the right.
There’s some laughter. The evening’s not entirely tense. Although those parts are mostly lost to me now. He declares when dinner is over, as he did over the phone, that we’re going to be doing this all the time now. He declares. He does not ask.
I accept his offer to drive me home. It’s raining and I’d rather not take the train. My sister has driven herself to the restaurant and lives about 15 minutes away. My father lives in Flatbush. the same place he’s always lived.
To increase the level of my suffering, I used to love to tell this story in this exact way: When we lived in Brooklyn. My father lived 15 minutes away. He never came to see us. Sometimes I’d add: He lives in a big house with his wife and his other kids. None of this is false. However, my attachment to the story was how I staked my claim in the history of fatherless daughters. His absence set off a chain reaction and it was my fate to become this: A girl, a very needy girl, destined to search for daddy’s love between the legs of various men.
I’m an introvert. There are exceptions, but most social engagements take a lot of effort. Over the years I’ve made peace with this. Most of my family knows I don’t talk very much. My father doesn’t know this. In the car, I sense that he thinks I’m being rebellious towards his efforts at conversation. It’s just that I don’t have a lot to say. He starts to interview again. Do you have a boyfriend? Do you like your place? I really liked the restaurant. How’d you find it? How’s work? Why’d you cut your hair? (Until recently I had longish dreadlocks). He seems preoccupied, or rather overly concerned with my appearance.
Before I’m able to sit down, just moments after walking into the restaurant, he asks where all my hair has gone and tells me that I’ve put on weight. I want to tell him that you need a frame of reference to determine whether or not I’ve put on weight. Seeing my once every decade isn’t measurable. I recognize that comment for what it is–discomfort and fear. For the first time in the evening, I think it may be a blessing that he wasn’t around when we were younger.
As we pull up to my building, he tells me that I look and laugh so much like my mother. In his voice, I hear a tint of accusation. Yes, people tell me that all the time, I say. He kisses me and tells me that he loves me. I stare back and wonder if I still need this. There was a time when I would have wanted this kind of affection from him. A time where I declared that I was unable to have a relationship because I didn’t grow up with this–although, it didn’t occur to me as a child that my father missing was a big deal until people around me started making it a big deal.
In 2009, after learning of Obama’s open letter to his daughters and feeling like I lost something essential, I was overwhelmed with jealousy. I didn’t actually read the letter until a year, or so later. Long ago, I let go of the notion that all of my scars where because of one parent’s absence. I decided, and with the help of a therapist, and an ever growing self-help book collection that I didn’t want to turn 30 and blame my parents for anything.
Today, I’ll read status updates as the outpouring of father love on social media has already begun and sometimes I’ll feel a pang. Over the years it’s gotten smaller.
He leaves. As I enter my apartment, I feel gratitude. Some people never hear a kind word from their parents. I’ve been around those people and I recognize that things could be much, much worse. I made peace with his absence. Lived with it for many years. However, I’ve yet to live with the possibility of his return. Now that it’s here. Well.
In advance of Father’s Day this Sunday, a few members of the PostBourgie crew (also known as The Grape Drink Mafia) got together to discuss our relationships with our dads and how they’ve evolved (or not) over the years. As we chatted, a theme seemed to emerge: the older we get, the more objective we’ve become about our upbringings. Indeed, in cases where our relationships with our dads were fraught growing up, they’ve either improved or, at the very least, our hurt, disappointment or bewilderment has mellowed with age.
After becoming a parent myself, I certainly began to view my own parents in a different light. This seems to be a fairly common practice. I was 30 when my daughter was born. My father was 22 and my mother, 19 when they had me. Parenthood is hard enough when you’re into a career with a couple degrees under my belt. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have been great at it ten years earlier.
In some cases, it’s easier to read the shortcomings of our fathers with greater magnanimity when we’re old enough and removed enough to understand they were doing the best they could at whatever age and under whatever circumstances they started parenting.
Read our team’s reflections and post your own.
Justin Charity: A couple months back, for the first time in nearly four years, I called my dad. We talked. Eventually I consented to him showing up at my house three days later, on a Saturday afternoon. I cooked us lunch, and for four hours we chatted as if it were entirely unremarkable that we hadn’t seen each other for more than a thousand days–as if we’d simply forgotten to pick up the phone.
I spent an hour cooking that lunch: lamb with zataar, pita, some bum-ass feta I’d bought from a farmer’s market, complement sauces, etc etc. Why I felt the need to flex on some Bourdain steez was unclear to me then, but necessary. It was the most gracious thing I could think to do, and that I’ve likely ever done for dude, at least since 1998. Which maybe speaks to my maturity in that meantime more than I’d like to concede.
Then he left. We still text. When my sister’s dog died a few weeks ago, I informed my dad via text. He answered in two parts, the second text being, “Damn I never did like that dog.”
To this day, I don’t know how I feel about all of that. Much less do I know what to feel about Father’s Day as a general occasion, other than wondering whether my dad deserves a Happy one; and if so, whether via voice vs. SMS.
Brokey McPoverty: [Re: Father's Day], I’m kind of indifferent about it. I definitely don’t hold it in the same vein of importance as I do Mother’s Day, which probably makes sense since I was raised by my mom, and my dad was only halfway in my life until I was around 22, 23. maybe 24, 25.
I have no ill will toward my dad, though we have a very formal father/daughter relationship, at least on my end. He’s a really, really sweet, proud, and loving father. He gets extra geeked when I show him any kind of lovey-dovey expression (He still brings up an e-card i sent him for his birthday like five years ago, lol). But for me, while I mean my expressions of love, they feel very deliberate and… awkward almost. It’s just a very structured relationship on my end. I feel bad for it. I love him very, very much, but when it comes to parental celebration days, I guess I feel like I have more to thank my mother for than I do my dad.
Alisa: I have a really rocky relationship with my dad. I was very vocal about how he treated my mom when they were splitting and for years after the divorce we barely spoke. I was hurt and disappointed, he was seething and bitter and we exchanged lots of harsh words before lapsing into mutual silence. In my early twenties I would have told you that it would mean little and less to me if he died (not likely true, but it gives you an idea of how angry I was at him). We’ve only really reforged a relationship in the last 5 years wherein I have decided to simply let everything drop and just…meet him where he is. Letting go of wanting to hear “I’m sorry” from him was very hard. Now things like his birthday and Father’s Day are kind of a marvel to me – to be able to call him and tell him I love him and mean it, to remember the Daddy he once was (and me Daddy’s Girl) and accept the flawed man that he is.
My dad and I turned a corner right before his second divorce. It actually started with my mom… not me. When things with his second wife started going south, the person he would call and vent to was my mom. How’s that for irony? Anyway, I started making a bigger effort to call and talk to him from that point. We spend more time together if my brother is also here, but we seem to have his an equilibrium in our relationship that we’re both comfy with for now.
I think Father’s Day is important but it’s always a bittersweet observation for me because of all that.
Melissa (feministtexican): Father’s Day is a mixed bag at our house. I’ll sarcastically ask my siblings if they’ve called daddy yet, and they’ll come back with some equally sarcastic remark (yes, we’re bitter). He was always in our lives; my parents were married 33 or 34 years before they divorced, and by all outward appearances, he was the coolest dad ever. But he’s manipulative and emotionally abusive, and my brother and I have had nothing to do with him for about three years. My sister goes back and forth, but I think she’s also done with him now.
That said, my brother is a hands-on father. We take him and my nephew out to eat and stuff [for Father's Day].
DopeReads: I never feel bad when I don’t talk to my dad…he lives down the street for me (for the first time in about 22 years) and we see each other maybe two, three times a year.
The years of his detached parenting make it hard for me to make him a consideration when we (my siblings and I) were optional for so long. I love him though, and he’s funny and ignorant as sh*t.
My dad is just hyped when he can come and drink and hang. I’m curious what else folks have done to kind of bridge that awkward, “Hey, you weren’t in my life/You can’t get right” gap that comes with maturing and deepening your relationships with your dad. For me, that moment came when I asked him to run a 5k with me about two years ago. He’s since become this super runner dude, lost a lot of weight, and managed to control his diabetes. Part of the reason I don’t call much is because he will run his mouth about running, and I don’t even like it that much.
I’ll prolly get my 94-year-old grandaddy and my uncle gifts, though.
slb: When I moved to Michigan for four years, I lived in the same city as my father for the first time ever. I grew up a few hundred miles away from him and saw him during some summer and winter breaks. When I first moved to his town, I told him I wanted to get together and talk. We talked. I said I wanted to get to know him better. He said he was glad, but there wasn’t much more to know. I think he’d always felt like we were in a good place, that I knew him well enough and that we were close enough.
That’s pretty much how I approach our relationship now. We’ve always gotten along well. We know we love each other. And during that four years, I spent more concentrated time with him than I had in my life, at 1-2 times a month on average. At this point, I don’t try to get closer than we’ve gotten. We don’t talk much since I’ve moved out of state again. What we have, at this point, is going to have to be enough.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Tell us about your own evolving relationships with your dads.
Me and Pops
It took me a long time to realize that my father wasn’t a bad man, just a bad husband for my mother. That’s what happens when you’re a mama’s boy and your mother not-so-subtly drills that into your impressionable mind.
Yes, he was deceitful. Yes, he was hyper-critical. Yes, he was extremely moody. Yes, he could be distant. Not often to me but to my mother.
I internalized her pain and grief over their troubled marriage and made them my own.
As a result, my father and I spent a good many years alternating between uneasy peace and power struggle. I would begrudgingly obey his orders. I was openly contemptuous when he tried to impart lessons about morality or righteousness. I rarely, if ever, confided in him or trusted his judgment.
I was an ungrateful asshole.
In my rush to defend my mother, I never considered his sacrifices or grief or even his insufficiency for the nuclear family lifestyle. As he often told me, “he grew up without a father” as one of eight children in Hot Springs, Ark. His mother (my grandmother) died of a stroke when he was 17, he got married to a girl – not my mother – that he’d gotten pregnant the next year and then he was soon off to Vietnam.
He grew up fast and missed out on a lot. I had all of the security and luxuries that he never had, in part because of his promise to be the father that my grandfather never was. But I didn’t realize this until much later.
And once he was made to leave our family home, I decided that I had to show him I was ready to assume the role of man of the house.
Problem was I was ill-equipped to be any sort of a man let alone a man of the house. I didn’t even know how to remove the lint filter from the dryer.
By the time I had moved on to college, I fooled myself into believing I didn’t really need a father figure anymore. I was tired of hearing his incessant reminders to check the car’s tire pressure, schedule dentist appointments, and try whatever vitamins that he was taking himself. I thought I needed him to transition into more of a friend than a father.
This all flipped for me when I lost my first job. I had never worked for another company. So much of my identity was wrapped up in my profession, and it was all I had ever wanted to do. I contemplated life without meaning. I even contemplated not having a life.
What I remember most about walking out of that office in northwest Houston for the last time in July 2005 was seeing my father waiting on me at the foot of the steps. I had tried to hold it together, to be a stoic, to not let people see the pain that was welling inside of me. Then my father opened his arms, I fell into them and basically lost my shit in front of dozens of people.
It was around then that I realized this had been the tenor of our relationship for so long. He had always been there for me, even as he wasn’t there very much at all for my mother. That’s a hard thing to sort out as a kid – their relationship was theirs, and our relationship was ours.
This was the same man who taught me how to properly tie a tie. How to shave. To carry the football in the arm closest to the sideline. To let a police officer know where your hands are at all times. To properly make up a bed – hospital corners and all.
He suffered my childish resistance and never wavered, which couldn’t have been easy.
Today, it’s my turn to humble myself. I’m still learning from him.
He might not have been the best husband. But he was the best father.
(x-posted from BeyondBabyMamas.com)
Our Affirming Black and Brown Fatherhood Series has gotten such great response this week that we’re adding a second featured unmarried dad today. This is Stefan Malliet, a 32-year-old Brooklyn native and father to three-year-old son Kyle. We were struck by Stefan’s candor and insights, particularly as it relates to his rocky road toward harmonious co-parenting, his thoughts on animus between black unmarried mothers and fathers, and his insights about single mothers raising sons.
- Stefan Malliet, with then-newborn son Kyle
BBM: What’s one specific way in which fatherhood has changed you or your outlook on life?
The biggest change that comes to mind is the way that Kyle has become a huge portion of the context for EVERY decision I make. Whereas I used to be a relatively go-with-the-flow person, I now make sure that I take time to consider how any decisions in front of me would affect him; his present and his future. For instance: Who, how and when I date are extremely important now. While I have always (at least casually) considered the potential for positive influence in the women I’ve dealt with, now I specifically think about “is this the kind of person I would want around my son?” I’ve found that there are certain associates who I’ve decided not to deal with any more because of that reason.
BBM: Did you have an immediate idea of the kind of father you’d want to be?
There was one thing I knew about fatherhood as it pertained to myself: I would not run away. For better or worse, that was about as far as I had thought about it. I knew that I wanted children at some point, but hadn’t necessarily thought about what that actually means in real life terms. Once it came to pass that my turn was coming, I decided that I’d be – at the very least – someone who my son will be able to look up to. That means clearing out a lot of the cobwebs, old hurts, and bad habits that tend to build up over a lifetime of not necessarily dealing with them.
BBM: What is your relationship with your own father like?
I didn’t have a relationship with my father; I never met him. My “father” was my grandfather (mother’s father) and he is my hero. He passed on when I was just about to turn 16, which was unfortunate because I was just entering into that time where the transition from boy to man should have been starting. Fortunately, I feel as I have remembered enough of his examples and his words that I was able to integrate them into my journey. In short, that relationship was probably one of the most important thus far.
BBM: Do you co-parent? If so, what has been your experience with it?
Yes, my son’s mother and I are a team. Granted, it didn’t necessarily start out that way – due to the circumstances of our break up – but that’s the relationship we have both striven to form and protect. It started off rocky, because I admittedly wasn’t the best person to her during her pregnancy and didn’t always support her the way she needed. However, towards the end, once I realized how important it was to him that we not have an adversarial relationship. Luckily, we both recognize the importance of this and have been able to heal individually and as a team to that end.
Now, we do it together. We are sure to discuss the decisions we make for him, keep each other tightly in the loop about any of his changes and developments. We alternate nursing him when he’s sick. We’ve set up a schedule where he spends time with both of us and both of our families/villages. Thus far, that experience has been extremely positive. There is no requirement that says parents who are not together in a relationship must have crazy interactions.
BBM: Describe your “village” (support system). Who helps you parent?
How much time do you have?
Our mothers are our Lieutenants. They are our first lines in the moments when neither his mother nor myself can be. Besides that, Kyle has many “Aunties” and “Uncles”, the men and women I call friends on whom I have called to help me in raising my son. I’ve been fortunate enough to have cultivated a large group of wonderful people who themselves are positive contributors to the world, and are willing to help me by providing examples for my family to grow and do the same.
I am very, very particular about whose energy I allow around my son and so is his mother.
BBM: Black single mothers and fathers are often painted in media and popular culture as enemies. Do you think real animus exists between black unmarried parents?
I believe that animosity exists because people expect it to. They manifest their expectations into their reality. Granted, the situations that lead to single parenthood (break ups, results of “hook ups”, etc) aren’t necessarily conducive to a team-oriented approach. Additionally, there can be aspects of disappointment based upon unmet expectations of the self and the other parent.
The issues with the above are: no one knows what they are doing. No one. Putting a group of people together with no clear direction, and with no individual who is necessarily capable of setting [a common course] for the group, is a recipe for disaster if not handled correctly.
My hope is that the media and culture stop perpetuating this story, so individuals can stop absorbing the nonsense and begin focusing on the children and their best interests. Compromise and cooperation are the keystones of effective parenting, regardless of the relationship between the parents.
BBM: Are any of your friends also single fathers? How helpful is that shared experience in shaping your approach to parenting?
Yes. I was fortunate enough to be in the perfect spot to learn quickly around the time Kyle was born. I was coaching youth football. There were tons of fathers, with varying experiences, around me [who were] open to having parenting discussions. I had a ton of questions. I still do, and they’re still around when I need them.
BBM: What is one thing you would tell a single mother to consider while raising a son?
Make sure that the men exposed to your son are positive role models. Make sure that you, as a mother, never forget how important it is that positive role models are available. It is your responsibility to bring those people into both of your lives.
Unfortunately, the way our culture exists today, it is impossible for a woman to teach a man how to be a man. I say this as a man raised primarily by women. On its surface, this statement may seem misogynistic of chauvinistic, but allow me some space to explain:
The reason I say this, is because no matter how hard a self-identified woman may try, she will never know what it means to be a man from the inside, on a psychological level.
At best, a woman alone can teach a boy to be a man as she sees them, not necessarily how they are. The way that a man can never know what it is like to have a period, a woman can never know what it feel like to get kicked in the balls. The analogy is admittedly reductionist, but in my opinion and experience illustrative.
Our culture creates and maintains spaces – physically, mentally, and emotionally – that are gendered (whether we like it or not), and to ignore that is to present an incomplete vision of the world. A well-rounded adult, which is the whole purpose of this exercise we call parenting, requires exposure to all of it from viewpoints that he or she can relate to directly.
BBM: What’s one piece of advice you’d give a first-time expectant father?
“You don’t know everything. And that’s perfectly fine. Open your ears, your eyes, and your heart and you will learn in time. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Stefan Malliet is an administrator at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn. He owns a graphic and web design consulting firm and is working on starting a buzz marketing and professional education firm centered around the entertainment industry. His only son, Kyle Arnold Malliet, will turn three on June 26.
(x-posted from BeyondBabyMamas.com)
Acclaimed poet and performing artist Roger Bonair-Agard is the first guest to be featured in Beyond Baby Mama’s Affirming Black Fatherhood Series. Every day this week, as a lead-in to Father’s Day, we’ll be featuring the experiences and insights of unmarried minority fathers. We are proud to present his story.
- Roger Bonair-Agard
Having spent three great (albeit tumultuous, on a personal front) years in Chicago, I was about to return to my beloved Brooklyn. Half of my stuff was packed. My moving date was two weeks away. I was scheduled to attend a wedding the following day with an on again/off again lover, whom I had dated fairly consistently when I first moved to Chicago, but now we saw each other every other week or so after having gone through a stretch of time when we had broken up and didn’t get down at all. It seemed like it’d be a chill enough road trip to go with her to her cousin’s wedding – a six-hour jaunt to Cincinnati. But she wanted to talk to me that night, the night before we left – urgently. I couldn’t understand why because we were going to be sitting in a car for six hours the following day. So I meet with her and she drops The News. I’m stunned. She was on the pill. I ask, “What do you want to do?” She says, “Oh, I’m keeping it…”
Three months later I’m having coffee with a friend I haven’t seen in years in a coffee shop at the corner of Franklin and Fulton in what used to be one of the most gully neighborhoods in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. This woman is a brilliant, thoughtful, sensitive, poet with whom I went to college. We’ve enjoyed a parallel poetic literary evolution in the world, even publishing books with the same press. My time in Brooklyn now is temporary as I make plans to return to Chicago in time for the birth and to figure out how and where I will be a father and co-parent. I tell her the story of how the ‘news’ got dropped on me. She says, “You know… I don’t believe a woman ever traps a man, but you ain’t exactly freed a nigga either. That’s that shit I call The Abstracted Trap.” We bust out laughing over our expensive coffees, can’t stop giggling for five minutes before we return to the morning sport of hipster-watching.
But it dawned on me shortly thereafter that what happened between Lydia – lover/baby-mama – and I that evening was really powerful. Faced with an unplanned eventuality, we both made very empowered choices. She wasn’t waiting to hear what I wanted to do, and one can surmise that at that moment she was quite willing to get on with her life with a baby even if I had said I wanted nothing to do with it. Indeed, I felt in that moment empowered to do that if I wanted. After all, we were having sex with the assumption of protection from pregnancy (though I’d like to stress that one should be aware that babies are a potential consequence of any kind of fucking). But I intended to be involved in a positive way in the life of any child I was ever to have, and so I made a choice too – to figure out, alongside her how we were going to raise a child. It is important to understand that not every one has the same kind of freedom of choice. Lydia and I are college educated, and both old enough to consider the responsibility of the choice (she, 27 and I, 44, at the time of The Decision). Neither of us had other children, or situations in our lives that would make attending to the task at hand any more complicated than it was already going to be. Straight away I decided I’d be back to support with doctors’ visits and what not, and for at least the first three months of the child’s life. As the pregnancy progressed and the idea of what life might look like I decided I’d be moving back to Chicago for at least the first year.
I forget who said it but I’ve heard, and am willing to get behind, this oft-repeated quote: “the best thing my father ever did for me was to love my mother.” My grail has become exactly this. How do I love my daughter’s mother? Nina was born one month ago as of the 13th of June. This is my first ever Father’s Day. What was to be a last fling kind of a “it’s been real, I’ll see you round the way when I’m back in town or you in Brooklyn” kinda deal, has turned into an elongated romantic consideration in which we’ve decided to live together for the first three months (during those turbulent feeding and sleeping schedules), and then close by, while continuing to share responsibilities for Nina, and lives as lovers. Because we have had in the past a non-exclusive sexual relationship though, there is the chance soon enough, of other lovers of ours entering Nina’s life. For me, the question about loving the child’s mother becomes more expansive. How do I make choices that allow me to model responsible, fair, fulfilling, loving relationships with any woman who enters my life, including of course, the woman whose importance in my life has now deepened and broadened a thousand-fold; her mother?
If you refer to the woman who has carried your child to term as ‘the mother of my child’, no-one bats an eyelid. Refer to her as ‘my baby-mama’ and folks bristle. Why would you call her such a thing? It appears that the connotation of the more colloquial reference is far worse than if I were to use the Queen’s English, and apart from the complex race and class undertones involved here, is the question about assumptions of what it means – to use an antiquated, sexist, phraseology – to make an honest woman of her.
Chances are that over the course of the next 20 years, my relationship with Lydia will evolve radically. The chance of its adhering to a conventional model of family life is slim. I’m going to be charged with ensuring that ours is a united front of respect and love and that ‘baby-mama’ has the same weight as wife, as mother of my child, as person with whom I will forever be fortunate to have made a child. Nina will need to see us work hard to accommodate each other’s needs, and to meet hers, and to respect each other’s boundaries. Most of all, she will need to be able to see her father as an ally towards respected personhood and feminist empowerment. I will have to work even harder to keep myself honest in that regard.
If you are a man who has had even moderate success in the dating arena, your friends will shake their heads when they hear you have a girl child on the way, or they will say it serves you right, or they will say it’s time to buy a shotgun or they will say – to the man with multiple daughters – poor guy! They will say, now you will know what it is like. Your infant daughter will immediately be cast in the role of the hunted, the infant boys – young hunters. Your daughter is prey before she has left the womb, and we hold this up. We celebrate the continuance of this every day.
If you haven’t already been engaging in this introspection, you will certainly consider the times you yourself participated in this and even if, like me, you fancy yourself enlightened, you will dig deeper into the crates of your romantic history attempting to deconstruct your own selfishness, your own roughshod run over the emotions of lovers past. You will be forced to cross-examine who you are/were, and to what extent you’ve taken advantage of the power of your being a man in the relationships in your wake. Whatever ghost of girlfriends past digging you have to do, you have to draw a line between yourself and every woman with whom you interact, romantically or no, and ask yourself about the nature of power, the nature of masculinity, the difficulty of the gender construct.
And when I say you, I mean me. And when I say you have to draw the line between you and all the women in your life, I mean I’m looking here at the first real opportunity I have to destroy the idea that a baby-mama is a less worthy individual than a wife and that there is such a thing as a woman, whom by her behavior, ability to marry or sexuality is more or less worthy of lofty position in our lives. Here is the chance, with a brand new girl human being in my life, to assert that not only does my baby mama come without the requisite drama, but that she is loved and treasured, her boundaries honored, and she is forever part of my family. She is no less so than if we were to be married, or exclusive partners, or any of the other ways in which certain kinds of relationships are privileged over others. She is certainly no less so than if I straightened up my diction, pronounced all my th’s and referred to her as ‘the mother of my child.’
When friends talk about how I will menace the boys who try to date my daughter, I wonder sometimes what then is my role if she decides she will date girls. Mostly, I hope that Lydia and I and her myriad aunties and uncles and godmothers and godfathers will have done such an awesome job, that menacing her dates is wholly unnecessary. Still, I fully plan to ensure that my daughter’s ability to defend herself physically, is formidable. I hope her ability to defend herself and open herself emotionally are equally formidable. I tell my friends that I have no intention to proscribe her sex to any greater degree than I would if she were born a boy. I want her to recognize the double-standard of the world she is in certainly, but I’m more interested in her feeling absolute ownership of her yesses and nos. I have more work to do in the deconstruction of my own transgressions in this regard. Much of that work must continue in therapy, but this here is the golden opportunity, to teach my daughter and her friends, and the youth whom I teach, boy and girl alike, the value of their choices, and the certainty of their ownership over them. Some day, if she so chooses, Nina Jane Merrill Bonair-Agard will be somebody’s baby-mama. She will be cherished. She will be loved. She will have entered and been embraced by someone else’s family. We will all be enriched for it.
Roger Bonair-Agard is a native of Trinidad & Tobago, and author of three collections of poems. His most recent, ‘Bury My Clothes’ is published by Haymarket Books (haymarketbooks.org). He is Nina’s father.