Daddy Daughter Dance

 

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 an urban city, my experience was unique only in so far as girls that look like me don’t have childhoods 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.

 

 

 

My Moon My Man

Even Sheree Whitfield knows that with all her strength of personality and hamstrings, she still needs her ex-husband to teach Kairo how to be a man. It is so intuitive to believe that it would take a man to teach a boy how to be a man; but it is only when baby girl becomes black girl lost that it becomes just as clear that a man plays a vital role in teaching a girl how to be a woman.  Among many other things, an ideal father-daughter relationship teaches a girl that she’ll be protected and that she’s worth protecting; it instills in her certain expectations that she can’t undo.  Her ability and/or inability to trust and interact with men is usually fixed on this primary relationship, but the ideal is hard to come by. I had an ex-boyfriend once say that ‘all women have daddy issues‘ (no, my ex is not one of the VSB writers, though that might could make him a cooler human being). And he, I still believe, is correct. To my mind, it is one of those inherent truths that doesn’t fit neatly into a box of right or wrong.

I’ve found myself thinking much about my father and my father’s father and my mother’s father and their fathers. I think about my relationships with them and how they’ve affected me –  inspired & disappointed. I think of my brother and my cousins – and their kids – and the way they live manhood. And I wonder what of those experiences and if they ‘curse [we] to repeat the same cycle. I’m breaking…’ out. I think of my experiences with them and their experiences with their mothers and my mother. And somehow I’ve come away with a mixed bag of hmmm…

My dad’s dad was the man in his day, let him tell it. And he used to tell anybody who would listen. (My grandma told me later that she thinks most of it was completely untrue, but he said it like he meant it and, because of him, I like a man with conviction.) He nabbed a model wife, traveled the world shooting photos for the armed forces and beyond, and was forever known in his old age as ‘Allen, the hot dog man’ round about Broad Street. Granddaddy was his name and he was no angel. Nothing about his spirit transcended the carnal. But that dirty old man was my granddaddy and I’ll cut you in the streets today if you wan’ run come test his memory.

I remember the time I was working at a law office for the summer and I stopped at granddaddy’s hot dog stand for lunch. Some suit was also there when I showed up and when I needed to go back to the office, the suit ended up walking my way. Suit behaved perfectly normal, no funny business with a 15 year old. Ten minutes after I’m back at my desk, the receptionist tells me that my grandfather is in the lobby. He came to make sure that I was ok. He wasn’t sure about that suit and wasn’t takin’ no kinda chances. No pomp and circumstance about it; no hug or cheek pinching. Just that real real… you can’t bullshit a bullshitter… that every girl needs to have in her corner of the ring.

And now that he’s not here anymore, I’m much more protective of the other men in my life. I don’t take them for granted as much as I used to and I recognize that sometimes they need me to let them know that I still need protecting. Being called gal ain’t never sound so sweet as when grandpop says it. And he too, ain’t cut from that sensitive cloth. Every time I tell him I love him, he says ‘ok. Now you be good now, yuh hear?’ Yes, grandpop, I can read between your lines. This is the same man that left Sumter County South Carolina, because he didn’t want “to pick no more cotton.” He has used the same glass mug since I can remember (how don’t you break something over the course of using it for 2 decades?) and he has personally nicknamed each and every one of his grandkids, and perhaps great grands too.

Through these men and my own father, I have learned that not every father is perfect. But I am grateful that all of my fathers have been present. Somehow I find that important today, in a time in a place where a woman is identified as her father’s daughter until she becomes her husband’s wife. I find myself becoming nostalgic when I hear of a dad going to the States to help his daughter move into her first apartment, or when they go to see her graduation. I see how giddy grandfathers get when they head out of the house to meet their grand daughters outside of school or at the school bus; they walk her safely home. They seem to have a sense of purpose and surety that their daughter needs them, that without him things will not progress as they should. And with my dad so far away, I can’t help but understand that these men are right.  When I let him, my dad does my blocking and my bidding, and I sure could use some of both right now.

Men here don’t live by the same code of conduct (perhaps also ethics) that I am accustomed to. One thing they do respect, however, is a woman’s father.  If she comes from a line of men of valor and honor, she inherits the same.  A wise man once said, “Get in good with a woman’s father, you in good with her.” And Black comedians never lie.    I never thought this Barnard woman would cling to some nugget of personal positivity from an old world adage that contributes to India’s missing girls, but I’d be lying if I denied that I get a little teary eyed about the thought of being without my dad and my grandpop in this life, and my granddaddy in the next. They are three very different men, who have parallel flaws and parallel triumphs, all of which converge at me. Damn it if I wasn’t the best thing they ever came together to create. My brother ain’t so bad either… They done good ya’ll.

They done good.