Keepin It Real

Loving My Unloving Father: Lessons From a Deadbeat Dad

“If you’re gonna lie, I’m gonna leave.” My face was hot with anger. I stared across the table waiting for him to make a move because I was determined to prove a point. God, why did you give me such a shit Dad!? I thought to myself. He sat visibly uncomfortable sliding his thumb across the edge of the food tray. I could tell he was thinking really hard and he wouldn’t look me in the eyes. He stared into the the fried chicken on his plate as if the thing he should say would suddenly float out of the steam.

This wasn’t the first time I had asked him this question and to be honest I had no idea why he never answered it truthfully.

“Why didn’t you come?” I asked again. He fidgeted in his seat. A couple, seated near us in the Popeyes looked at us worriedly. I didn’t care. I just wanted to know how he could spend the majority of my life living around the corner from me but never came to a game, performance or event when he said he would. I wanted to understand how he could justify not being constant in my life but could help raise some other womans’ daughter who went to school with my sister. My blood was boiling but I didn’t care. Time’s Up.

I got up from my seat, grabbed my purse and jacket and headed toward the door. “Lose my number!” I shouted like I was breaking up with a high school boyfriend and not the person who helped give me life. I pushed the swing door with so much force it hit the side of the brick building. I didn’t care. I wanted this to be the last time Tony Michael Davis would see me. As I turned my back on the man I once idolized, I finally let the tears that were clouding my eyesight be released. They flowed out of my soul onto my face, cooling my skin as they dripped from my chin onto the parking lot pavement. I didn’t wipe them as I stomped past Tony’s car or when I went into the dollar store on the other side of the strip mall. I let them pour out uncontrollably as I dipped my hand into my purse and dug around the bottom to find my new flip phone.

“Mom!” I screamed into the phone. I tried to explain to her what had just happened but the only thing that came out was an intelligible shriek of agony.

“Where are you?” She panicked. I could hear her grabbing her keys and I knew she was on the way to save me. I explained were I was and within minutes I saw her champagne colored SUV pulling up to the curb to rescue me. Before my step dad could bring the car to a full stop, she leapt from the passenger seat toward the store door. Seeing that I was physically okay, her body relaxed and she went into full mom mode. She bought me some candy and a drink and held my hand as we walked aimlessly around the store. She didn’t ask what Tony said or did, she just told me everything was going to be alright, alternating wiping my hair and tears out of my eyes. I was only sixteen, I didn’t know much, but I knew dads were not supposed to make their daughters feel like that. I didn’t know it at the time but even with his inadequacies as an idol, I was learning lessons from my dad.

The duality of man is such a strange concept and contrary to what we are taught from a young age because even the people who perform the most evil acts have a genuine and caring side. Hitler was described as a family man who just wanted a better world for his children. Jeffrey Dahmer could’ve been a super model. Tony was once a good dad. In fact, he was a GREAT dad. He let me ride on his back while he bucked like a horse. He taught me about football and how to rake the leaves into the perfect jumping pile. He let me stand on his shoes while he danced with my mom in the middle of the living room while Luther Vandross sung on the stereo. He used to always play and sing this song called ‘Never Say Die’ by Sounds of Blackness. In this song, the lyrics talk about never giving up and keeping your head to the sky. He would have me sit on the table next to the stereo and blast this song while explaining to me what every word meant.

“Do you know what ‘never say die means’ Janae?” He’d ask. “It means don’t ever quit even when things are hard. Always be a leader and remember that every good leader is a great follower.” He’d yell while snapping to the beat and moving his hips. He would always make me promise him to be a leader. How could the man who did those things also be the man who disappointed me over and over again? I asked myself this question while I waited for my mom to rescue me from the dollar store. It wasn’t until I became an adult and made mistakes that hurt the people that I love that I fully began to understand that there are two sides (sometimes more) to every person.

Sometimes the biggest lessons you learn come when you hear the word ‘no’. That word explains more about who you are than a well kept diary. How you handle that word can either make or break you. It exposes your true character at your core and teaches you something all at the same time. Although my dad never told me no with his words…he did tell me no with his actions. Every time he made a promise and didn’t attempt to follow through with it, without words, he was telling me, ‘No, I am not currently capable of loving you the way you deserve‘. Although that hurt, it taught me to be tough! It taught me to look past what words are coming out of the mouth of people and pay attention to their body language when they say it. Pay attention to the actions (or inactions) they take after they say it. Listen to the word choice and how their brain formulated the words. Believe actions over words.

We are taught from a young age that evil is evil and good is good. So we subconsciously form a plan to deal with evil and a secondary plan to deal with encounters with good. But what happens when you deal with one person who has both? What happens when the person you’re dealing with sees themself as good but you see their actions as evil? What happens when that person is your own father? The answer is, you save your energy. It is not your job (or mine) to archive a list of reasons why a person is who you THINK they are. In fact, that’s the quickest way to spiral into a miserable person yourself. I used to keep a list of offenses from Tony so that every time he messed up I’d pull out my list, read it to him, then add his new offense to the bottom just so I could say ‘I told ya so’. But this process was making me MISERABLE! I hated him and I hated black men!

I spent my teen years hating him not realizing that I was doing myself more harm by not letting it go. I would hear often from many different adults that being the ‘bigger man’ was the best revenge for someone who meant you harm. I thought it was a dumb thing to do until I started using it on my peers in school. When I heard rumors or gossip about myself, I didn’t defend myself. I stopped going to MySpace (RIP) to vent and change my profile song to project my mood. I just….didn’t respond. To this day there are things people from my formative years think about me that I have yet to address. There are people I’m rumored to sleep with that I don’t even know personally. And guess what…I DON’T CARE! Does it bother me that the wrong perception of me is alive and well, YES! But is it worth my energy (and peace) to track down the origin of every rumor, NO! It is a better use of my time to create art, read a book, listen to music than to hold on to a list of wrong doings. I applied this logic to my relationship with Tony and when I did, I began to see my own maturity outgrow his. He has spent YEARS accusing my mom, her friends, and even me of having ill will toward him when in reality we all just want him to grow up. Maturity is a mindset NOT a number.

My maturity showed me that my hatred for Tony fueled my distain for men who look like me. This hatred coupled with the medias fake portrayal of absent black fathers convinced me (temporarily) that having a white or lighter skinned husband would make my life like the fairytales. I chased after men who looked as different from me as possible and subsequently hated myself. It was a rabbit hole that I, like many of my people, have yet to pull themselves out of. On my journey to love black, I had to learn that the mistakes of one was not reflective of the magic power of diversity that all black people posses. Tony was one black man NOT the representative for ALL black men. In fact, looking back at my childhood, all the greatest fathers I knew personally were black. Even in my extended family, I look around and I’m surrounded my extraordinary black men whose emotions, experiences, and beauty are as diverse as an ocean of lego collections.

February is for Black history Month & love and while it is important to celebrate the blacks that came before all of us, I’m honored to wake up everyday and be apart of the history of my people. My own personal history with my deadbeat dad has been the catapult to push me into a perfectly God-designed space in (black) history just for me. Tony taught me many lessons but above all, I’m grateful that he taught me that the space he chose to vacate is going to be filled for life by the beautiful black men I get to stare at every day. I now have the opportunity to appreciate my uncles, my male cousins, my male best friends, my future husband and sons in a special way because of the lessons my deadbeat dad taught me with his absence. And if you know me you know that I love me some black men.

They are the light of the Earth. The way they smile, dress, & confidently walk in a room is unmatched! No one else has swag like a confident black man. Their strength, poise and dignity is something I could watch on a loop for all eternity. They stand close to what they believe in and protect their families with pride. They’ll put a whole city on their back and fight off the negative images in the media without batting an eyelash. Loving black men helped me love my own blackness. So go on black King, as long as Janaenicole is around, you will always have a fan in your corner!

k, good talk

-J

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