Sitting in my living room are four very old, well bonded, childhood friends and the daughter of one. Of this group, only one has a child and she is the princess of their inner sanctum. She has stopped us from watching “Carlito’s Way” and got me to guiltily change the channel to Disney Kids. And she isn’t even watching it. She discovered some beach balls and a handmade truck. She’s entertaining herself with objects of diversion. This has been after a few hours of sharing peace offerings – cookies, mango juice, toy elephants & lions – all placed strategically within her reach. I have watched this child grow from a quiet baby to a talkative toddler. She is respectful. She is sweet. She is intelligent. And she has fully taken over my living room.
She interrupts the flow of conversation and adult attempts to tie up loose ends over the phone. “Pai…PAI…PAAAIIII!” [Dad…over and over again with increasing insistence]. She has been climbing on him like he is a human jungle gym. She’s been talking to herself and playing with the beads in her braids, while standing barefoot on the couch by his side. We often call her his twin and she’s, perhaps, the female most welcome in this boys club. She hasn’t left her father’s side for longer than 2 minutes at a time despite his full engagement in a boys’ conversation that has long since stopped involving both she and me.
Watching Luna with her dad has reminded me of being one of the oldest girls in my dad’s friend circle. The memories of watching them watch the game (usually football), while I’m sure my mom thought they were watching me… all came flooding back. Those days when we were supposed to go play outside, but outside had no appeal and other kids were no option. It was me, my dad, and a room full of his friends. And I thought I was of no consequence in this scene that was beyond my age and my understanding, but I wonder now if I was as Luna is today – all over the place and unaware of my primacy.
One of the first times I remember feeling aware, though, was the annual ‘Daddy Daughter Dance’ in elementary school. All the girls came with their fathers or father figures, dressed up in the frilliest frocks, and had a fancy dinner in the school gym. Looking back it was kitsch. Looking at the photos it was tacky. Looking at Luna, I see why it mattered.
Before I knew what a boy friend was, I had already had well over a lifetime’s worth of memories with a dad who loved me so much so that I understood his presence as banal. What’s more impressive is that I grew up with a fraternity of uncles who all knew me as the awkward, bookish, four-eyed tag along in the crew. Until now, I didn’t realize how important their friendship was for my idea of responsible manhood. They were and still are responsible parents, hard-working members of the working class, God-fearing (different Gods too, let me say for the record) members of my extended family.
What I understand now is that it was a privilege to have my father in my life. For an African-American girl growing up in an urban city, my experience was unique only in so far as girls that look like me don’t always have childhoods that look like mine. It is an aberration for my generation and demographic, but it is portrayed as normal for so many other little girls around the world who have learned to expect so much from the men in their lives. What’s particularly unique, above and beyond the stereotypes, is the reality that I learned at a very early age to trust, love and feel safe with Black men.
With so much of the world being afraid of groups of Black men, feeling threatened by their collective presence, misunderstanding the depths of their friendships, and questioning their right to life and prosperity, I know and have always known better. Black girls like Luna who grow up to be Black women like me know that we are not asking too much of our men to be present, to be loving, to be nurturing and to be responsible. We know that not all groups of Black men are to be feared. We understand that they thrive in their friendships and their bonds are deep. We expect that they will draw strength and wisdom from their inner circle, that they will be each other’s keeper, and they will do their own social policing to make sure that they live a truth worthy of this one chance at life that they’ve been given.
Girls like us learn a lot in this daddy daughter dance. We reaffirm our love for our fathers. We know to rely on our uncles, just as much as we rely on our aunts. We are assured that they can be relied upon as much as our fathers, for they are an extension of his ambitions for himself, his community, and his family. Whether we spin in circles in front of the television, jump on his shoulders while he tries to drink a beer, or step on his toes while dancing in the school gym, we are lucky to have lived a very public daddy daughter dance in the audience of men who saw it as their responsibility to show us their love, protection, and respect for women, including the little one screaming to the top of her lungs “Pai…viu?” [Dad… see?] in the middle of my living room, where she is safe, where she is loved, where she can take all of this for granted… forever.