“Had to play catch by myself / What a sorry sight.”
— "Papaz Song" (Tupac Shakur)
Dad wasn’t there when I was born.
While there are many stories of men who abandoned their families, this stubborn stereotype has always followed African-American males.
Although “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen sang about a guy who had “a wife and kid in Baltimore, Jack, and went out for a ride and never came back,” for black men, it’s not as simple as just having a “hungry heart.”
I don’t deny there are far too many black kids being raised by a combination of single moms and the streets, so this is not a quantitative argument but a qualitative alternative to the narrative that all black men are deadbeat dads.
I can only tell my story.
It’s not like my father didn't want to see his first-born take his first breath, but in 1967, America had other plans for 19-year-olds. Apparently, Uncle Sam felt that the US of A needed a soldier more than I needed a father.
Now Dad, eventually, made it back, but like so many men of that era, the best part of him stayed overseas. I’m not sure what pushed Pop over the edge. I mean, he didn’t share any war stories about storming up a hill with bodies dropping and bullets flying. So, maybe it was just the reality of having his youth snatched by a country that couldn’t care less about him. Whatever the reason, the only solace he seemed to find was in a brown pill bottle with a white screw-on top.
See, America’s cure for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in the '70s was to dope the returning soldiers up with drugs that ended with “zine,” regardless of the side effects. So, while my best friend’s father was teaching him to play football, my old man would be in a deep trance-like sleep for days in a row. If you can call that sleep. Many nights he would wake up screaming in a cold sweat. I’m not sure that it was from the trauma of the war or the pressure of being a black man struggling to raise a family in America. Probably both.
Although, this society will, reluctantly, acknowledge the existence of racism and white supremacy, the effect it has on its black male victims goes unrecognized. As well as the effect it has on their sons. Whether a father is hooked on government-issued prescription drugs or crack, is there really a difference in the mind of a 10-year-old child ?
Nor does it matter if one’s father suffered from the PTSD resulting from a tour in Vietnam or being, constantly harassed by cops. The outcome is the same: Broken men produce broken boys.
Against the odds, my dad never skipped out on us. Other than the extended stays in the VA’s psych ward, he was there, physically, if not all the time, mentally. Perhaps that’s why, through all the trials and tears, I never abandoned my family either.
At least I don’t think I did. Maybe one day my daughter will brag to her children about how her father dedicated his life to fighting the injustices facing African Americans, for which he never received a medal nor even a thank you note. Or maybe, she will bitterly vent to them how their granddaddy rarely smiled and selfishly spent more time attending rallies and protests than he did helping her with her homework. That’s her story to tell, not mine.
The best that black fathers can hope for is that that our children will not judge us without putting our lives, shortcoming and all, in the proper context of a struggle that started in the belly of slave ships and continues until this very day.
Pops didn’t make it to 60. Although the coroner's report said he died from a massive heart attack, I believe it was a result of the years of taking psychotropic drugs. Finally, his body joined a soul that had departed 40 years prior. Not much different than other black men who finally succumb to the external pressures which slowly destroy them internally whether it be by suicide, suicidal lifestyles or consecutive life sentences.
So, Happy Fathers Day, Dad. And to all the victims and the victims they produced.
Paul Scott’s column appears the first and third Saturdays of the month. Follow him at NoWarningShotsFired.com or on Twitter @NWSF