my father has always been an enigma to me. a man with many stories. and many demons.
he grew up in the new orleans. in a neighborhood that hurricane katrina swept away. and that no one really plans to rebuild. he was drafted by the govt for the vietnam war. when he returned he was involved in the black radical movements in southern california in the 70’s and a student at ucla.
he worked on the mcgovern campaign in washington, dc. and met my mom. they married. moved to northern va. and had two kids. the eldest one was yours truly.
in the 80’s (and probably before) he suffered from ptsd. he swore that the police and the government were after him for his past political activities. i remember him warning me to not answer the phone. him hiding in the bedroom drinking mylanta. he moved to california. my folks separated.
i remember nights without electricity, mornings without running water. no car. walking to the grocery store. instructed to hide whateva was happening inside our house from the outside world. barely seeing my mother, she was working so hard to keep everything stable.
my mother buying birthday gifts claiming my dad had sent them. but no phone call from him. my mother explaining that he was sick.
i kept my head in books. loved stories of ‘normal’ families. my father calling randomly telling me to be careful of the world, cuz the government was out to get us, because of his past, because of his present, because we, his children, were his future. i was 8, 9, 10, 11 years old. i was scared.
my father was a great story teller. i believed his stories. all of the contradictions. it wasnt till adulthood that i have accepted the contradictions of his personality. and thus, of mine. i am his daughter.
when i was a teenager i felt a strong kinship to tupac. i understood growing up with a parent whose politics could range from radical to regressive, whose soul could be broken and whole at the same time. both tupac and i grew up in the eighties, under reagan, with parents who had survived war. and had not had the privilege or the resources to heal from it quickly. so they found solace in truth and fantasy. in the cold reality of the streets and a desire to lose themselves inside their own dreams.
some have asked me was my father an activist. yes. no. not in that white sense, when you go to jail because it is a part of the theatre of self-righteousness. but in that dark sense of trying to save your soul.
i am grateful to my mother who strove through all of this to achieve middle class stability. and my father who tried to adjust the world to himself. and then tried to adjust himself to the world. i remember when i was 17 he said: i used to believe that love made the world go round, and now i believe that money makes the world go round.
every year he gave me a reading list of black radicals and intellectuals that i was supposed to read. malcolm x before i was 11. they came before colombus before i was 12 years old. and when i was 18 he told me that all those black intellectuals were bullshit.
but he was too late.
i couldnt keep riding his merry go round of radical black thought or capitalist black thought. so i keep my head in the books. and i walk the streets. and love what he gave me.
a world where i, with all my contradictions, am possible.