My Experience Confronting My Demons

I took some time off because my schedule tends to get pretty busy around Father’s Day. Once that passed, I was mentally and spiritually preparing myself for my return to Virginia for the first time in over three years.

In spite of declaring that I would never return, I always knew deep down that I would. I planned to going there in September; but I got let go from my 9-5 gig and was back in survival mode. Around January I told myself that I would drive to the Commonwealth State once the weather got warm. Saturday was my first free Saturday in months and I knew I would be pretty busy the rest of summer. The way that things seem to be working out also suggested that this was the perfect time. My life is changing, I’ll be thirty in a few months, and I needed a reminder of where I’ve been to put my future and present into proper context.

I left Saturday morning a little after 1 AM. I packed Cydney up and I was in Newport News a little after 10. The first thing I did was call my big brother Barry and say “Holy shit, I’m back in Virginia.” I talked to him a lot during those hellish three weeks. We conversed as I drove around to all of the places I would be on the phone with him stressed out until my fingertips were numb. I saw that the Starbucks I spent hours at looking for jobs had closed down and relocated down the street. I took a picture of my apartment at Newport Commons down the street from Christopher Newport University, thought about all of the nights I laid on that green couch in silence smoking weed, and thinking to myself “I’m doing this for my family.” I passed the graveyard that gave me chills because I knew one day I would be burying Timile. Barry kept things in perspective and assured me that it took a lot to be doing this. He said whoever dates my daughter is going to have really big shoes to fill because of how I take care of my little girl. That meant a lot. I have thought that from time to time; but hearing it from someone else meant a lot to me. I felt validated.

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The Starbucks on Oyster Point I spent hours at before visiting Timile at the hospital and Cydney at her grandparents.
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My apartment at Newport Commons
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The cemetery on Highway 60 I passed all of the time.
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The 7eleven all of my meals came from for three weeks. $3 meals once a day.

Cydney and I stopped to get breakfast in Hampton. We then stopped by Timile’s godmother and Cydney’s namesake in Chesapeake. Something in me said I should give Timile’s mother a call and let her know I was in town. I sent a text saying that Cydney and I were driving by and I wanted to know if they were home. A part of me was wishing that she doesn’t respond but I would have been disappointed had I been in Virginia and not seen them.

I ventured back into Hampton. I didn’t have chills. The hair on my body stood up but then feeling was a warm sensation. I felt like I was confronting a lot of proverbial demons. I said even if I ever went back to Virginia I would never go back to that dark house where I last saw Timile. On the way there I was replaying that November 18th night. Timile’s father telling me I can’t take Cydney to New York for a couple of weeks because they don’t know if I’m her father. Having the cops called on me as Timile’s mother yelled to her stepmother “He’s taking the baby!” Leaving the house so enraged that I tripped over Timile’s feeding tube and walking down the street where the police that were called to the house told me my parents were looking for me. My parents telling me I needed to stay indoors when I really needed to walk around by myself and their reasoning being that if Timile died that night I better believe her parents would have a case on me for killing her.

I got to the house and the first thing I saw was Timile’s car she had named Fiona. It still had the Spelman College decals on it and that made me feel a way. I rang the bell and put on my best face like I was happy to see them. Cydney was jovial to see her grandparents and the feeling was mutual. They asked if I wanted to have a seat. I was sitting in the same spot next to the chase lounge where I was last holding Cydney and Timile smiled in a way that I just knew she was going to die soon and that look was one in which she could go in peace. Seeing me take care of our daughter was something that always made her proud.

Timile’s parents had toys that she was saving for her daughter since she was a child all lined up in her old room. I have a jeep so I was able to take a lot of it. They said I could take more on my next trip; but in my head I was thinking “Yall gonna have to ship this shit because I’m never coming back here.” They talked about spending Christmas as a family in California and I nodded saying “That’s a possibility,” knowing damn well I wasn’t doing that, either. Before I left Timile’s mother said “Don’t take so long to return.” It was genuine. However, I got sick of hearing her say some fairly rediculous shit the hour I was there. I acknowledged her sincerity and said “Okay.” I took pictures of Cydney and them and then we left.

It was time to do what the whole trip was about: finally visiting Timile’s grave. I got there around 5 PM. The goundskeepers were being lazy because they were about to get off. I pleaded with two of them saying that I just drove down from New York for my daughter to see her mother. They said they had just got off and there was one more person there until six. I knocked on the door and he heard me yelling in his thick southern dialect “I’m taking a shit can you wait?!” I waited for forty-five minutes then saw he left around the back.

Cydney was excited about being there. All day she had been saying “I’m going to go see my mommy and where she’s buried!” She told everyone we visited that day, she lives in the clouds and on the moon but her body is in the ground because she’s sick. Her understanding of things is beyond uncanny to only be four. She’s been here before.

Because she was so excited to be there I called Timile’s mother to ask if they knew where she was buried. She said she didn’t know the plot number because they hadn’t been back since the funeral because it was too painful. “Maybe we can all go the next time you visit.” She continued to talk but I didn’t hear a word she said. I snapped.

I said “Remember, I didn’t have the fun of seeing a burial.” She responded “Woah, let’s not bring that up. We have been getting along and whamp whamp whamp.” I say that because she began to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me. She was still talking. I took my phone away from my ear and almost hung up on her. But I put it back up in time to say “Okay,” and something along the lines of we can go the next time I’m in town.

I was enraged because I was them reminded that I wasn’t allowed a proper goodbye or the chance to grieve who I thought was the love of my life. Not being able to do that has left a darkness inside of me. I was kind of cynical before this happened; but I have had very little to no trust in anyone except Cydney ever since. Nonetheless, I am thankful for that experience because I wouldn’t have been on this path as a writer or many of the other blessings that have come from it. God has a perfect plan and this had to happen for the greater good. That has been the thing that has given me peace since I last left the Hampton courthouse May of 2012.

Cydney was temporarily disappointed but she gets over things quickly. She was hungry so we went to Waffle House. She wolfed it down saying it tasted like waffle cake. Being worked up had upset me to the point in which I couldn’t drive back to DC which was my plan. One of Timile’s high school friends met us up there and we talked for a little bit. I told her I was never coming back to Hampton and she told me I had to at least one more time for all of her other classmates that would love to see Cydney as an extension of Timile.

I headed back to Chesapeake. Timile’s godmother said she would watch Cydney as I slept. I was staggering because by then I had been awake since 4 AM Friday morning, went to work, slept for an hour, drove, and had an emotional day. She woke me up at 2 AM and I was back on the road by 2:20. I had peace. I was able to leave everything that had happened to me with the Seven Cities literally in my rear view mirror.

I was back at my house by 9:35 AM. I feel like a different person. My home feels much different. While I didn’t see Timile’s actual grave I was at the cemetery. That was enough because all that’s there is just a body. It further cemented how I felt and that the memories are the most second most important thing.

Cydney’s happiness is number one. She was happy we went. I think she feels more connected to her mother. She was nine months when she passed away, so all of her memories that she talks about are figments of her imagination. Cydney’s grandmother gave her a rest in peace shirt with Timile’s picture on it. I thought that shit was so ghetto and I know Timile would have felt the same way. However, Cydney liked it a lot. All she wanted to do was wear it. When we got home she demanded that she put it on herself and went to sleep with it on. I had taken it off that night so that she may not pee in it in her sleep. I woke her up this morning for her Moving Up Ceremony and the first thing she asked about was her shirt with her mom on it. She wanted to fold it up and put it in a drawer and she did just that.

We left and this morning I watched her recite poems, sing, and dance as she was celebrating going into Pre-K in September. Tomorrow can finally begin for the both of us.

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Moving Up Ceremony this morning.

Closure isn’t a good word for our experience. I have moved on in many ways. I have dated, loved, been in love, broken up, made new friends, taken on a new career and so much more. I left Virginia three days before my twenty-sixth birthday the father of an infant, with $4 to my name, unanswered questions, and no idea what was next. In that time I have literally transformed myself into another person. I cut my hair, lost seventy pounds of fat and fifty in muscle, a personality that Meyers-Briggs was once ENTP was now ENTJ, and so much more. I returned to Virginia a grown ass man. I am incredibly hard on myself; but being reminded of where I came from will allow me to give myself-and those that I love-some slack.

My Life in 100 Songs: Puerto Rico by Frankie Cutlass f/ The Evil Twinz

A friend once said to me nothing about my life is simple and made the joke “You would be the one to go to Morehouse and have a kid with the one Puerto Rican girl there!” I laughed because it was funny and that would happen to me. That goes back to something I always say: God knows I live for a great story so he keeps giving me good ones to tell.

Timile constantly said she never felt like she belonged to her immediate family. She would see everyone sitting on the couch and they all looked alike…everyone but her. A recurring dream of hers was that as a baby she grew to a gargantuan size-a la the dream sequence in the first Eddie Murphy The Nutty Professor film-and her mother was running away from her. At twenty-three she felt validated because that’s when she found out the father she’d been named after wasn’t her biological one. Her parents denied it in spite of the fact that everyone else in her family confirmed this to be fact. “The Puerto Rican kid who drove the bread truck!” An elder family member told us while sitting in our living room a week before we moved from Atlanta.

We know who the Puerto Rican kid who drove the bread truck is. I have seen his picture on Facebook and Timile looked just like him. Cydney has a facial structure like his. But it happened while he was seeing who became his wife so they all played it off. She’d try to call and the wife spoke to her exclusively. It might have been some guy named Eddie who was a cousin or friend of theirs they were trying to say. But it all felt like bullshit. I could care less how good of a father he is to their five children because when his oldest needed her, everyone saved themselves. Fuck em.

You can look at Cydney and tell she is a term my friend coined, blacktina. Her looks resemble a little Spanish kid until you see her standing next to one whose parents are both of Taino decent. She has a fair complexion like her mother and a hair texture that is a combination of both of ours.

The way things are going it looks like she’ll never know the Puerto Rican side of her family. Nonetheless, she is of decent so it is part of her identity. If I were to get married and have other children that weren’t blacktino she could possibly look at herself and feel different. Her other siblings have their mother and father to see who they resemble and she’ll only have myself and pictures of Timile to say “This is who I am.”

The Puerto Rican Day Parade is the second Sunday if June in New York. While I have no intentions of ever attending that madness, I still dress her in the colors and tell her why. Cydney’s blackness celebrated and affirmed regularly. Why shouldn’t I the rest of what makes my little girl who she is?

My Life in 100 Songs: Rescue Me by Teedra Moses

Today’s post is building upon what I wrote yesterday.

I was on another date with the girl I wrote about Tuesday evening. En route to our destination I handed her my phone to play DJ because she had earned the privilege by playing UGK. She said she was in a different mood and being the music connoisseur I am I recognized the songs were from singer Teedra Moses’ debut album Complex Simplicity. She played two songs while skipping through for the third the first two chords of “Rescue Me” played.

I was familiar with the beginning of this song because in 2010 I was managing and producing my former roommate’s gospel rap group. One of my best My best friends and early YouTube sensations for making beats, Gabe-Real had given me a few tracks and one of them had this sample in it. Honestly, I thought my phone was playing tricks on me and automatically began to play the group’s version.

Once the date had ended and I was driving back home I listened to “Rescue Me” and the group-Painted Red’s-“Be Free,” began to think about how that song had come to be, and how my former roommate, Devin’s life had begun to change as a result.

When Devin and I first met he had this girlfriend, Toni. He was in love with this girl. In 200t, after being together for about a year and a half they broke up and Devin was devastated. During spring break he came to New York with me and slept every day until 4:30 pm and being a good friend I did whatever I could to cheer him up and keep his mind off of her. For years no matter who he dated or was in a relationship with, no one was ever Toni.

In 2006, Toni and I had become friends outside of Devin. We had a class together in which I would sit next to her and cheat off of her tests. She was engaged to another man. While we were friends, I was loyal to Devin and a part of me still wanted things to work out so I would devalue her new relationship in a passive capacity by making jokes about her ring (I would make jokes that it was bought at Five Points in Atlanta). I just didn’t feel like whatever Toni and this guy had could compare to what Devin could be to her in life.

Every once in a while, Toni and Devin would meet up after they graduated. After graduation, Toni had moved to Nashville for a few years. She was still engaged and hadn’t married the guy yet. In 2008 Devin told Timile and I that Toni was going to be in Alabama and he could see her for twenty minutes and was asking us if we thought he should drive the two hours to see her and our response was “Hell yeah! Stop bullshitting, go, and get your girl!” That was about it for a while.

In 2009, Devin had moved back to his home state, South Carolina and was in Atlanta for the weekend with some of his friends. I was selling cars at the time and thought I would be working; but I got fired so I was free that afternoon. We hung out and one of the guys he’d started a gospel rap group was with him. After being out all evening I recorded a song of theirs and we had begun to talk about the guys coming to Atlanta once a month to cut an album.

On the first trip to Atlanta we recorded the song with the Teedra Moses sample. Devin said to me “Guess what? Toni and I are friends again and have been talking.” I looked at him and said “Oh shit!” The whole time he was in Atlanta he would be texting her, telling me they have inside jokes, and the dialog seemed to have been flirtatious.

The second trip to Atlanta wasn’t just to record; but I had booked a show for Painted Red. Devin told me that Toni had agreed to come to the A from Nashville so that they could meet up and essentially go on their first date in five years. I just knew where things were headed.

About a year later, Devin told the group he was leaving for Washington DC because Toni had moved there. They were back in a full-fledged relationship and wanted to see where things were going. Devin proposed to Toni in November of 2011. I saw them in New York the day after and I was beyond elated for them. Before their nuptials Toni had told me I had no choice but to come to their wedding in Houston. I said “Of course! We all know this wouldn’t have happened without me!” She laughed and said “You’re right.”

I told this story as my toast as Devin’s best man under the premise that what seems like a bunch of isolated events-like me getting fired allowing us to record and that giving him reason to be in Atlanta to rekindle their relationship-is never coincidence…It’s all God. There was a perfect plan that He had ordained for them and He wasn’t going to allow the two of them to get in their own-and His-way to circumvent this. The truth was the two of them had growing up to do. After getting a glimpse of what life could be like they had to see what it would be like without each other; just to find out it wouldn’t be one worth living.

Yep. Isolated events like a Teedra Moses song I’d never paid attention to remind me that nothing in life is coincidence.

My Life in 100 Songs: Let Me See It by UGK

This is the first of three posts that are linked together.

With as much as I write about being a single father, very rarely to I divulge in detail about my dating life. I have alluded to, given general information, and so on, it isn’t something I talk about in an active capacity. But I’m doing something a little different and will be a little transparent…well translucent.

The truth is, being back in the dating world has made way for some of my best stories. My friends are constantly entertained by the drama that exists. My good friends who don’t know each other outside of my tales have become living characters to each other that meeting for the first time would feel like a reunion. I mention this for a reason and it’ll make a little more sense in a few days.

There was one girl I was dating. I’d had a little crush from afar for a while. I had done some freelance writing through a mutual acquaintance. I’d told my barber, 360 some months earlier in jest that I was going to make it happen. When the opportunity to meet her presented itself, I took it. After she and I exchanged numbers I gave him a phone call and told him it happened. Our friend Kalique was with me and he cosigned. She was the kind of gorgeous you can’t help but brag about to your friends to.

As good looking as she was, it was her personality that was alluring. We had a lot in common so we clicked instantly. She had lived a very interesting life full of crazy stories and adventures I enjoyed listening to them. She worked two stops away from Penn Station- where I catch the Long Island Railroad home-so we would meet up for a brief lunch before I headed home after work.

She lived on the other side of New York City. I loved that because it was far away from home. I found peace in the change of scenery outside of work and my parenting duties in Nassau County. I took a day off from life: pretended I had to go to work when I had the day off and spent it with her. We drove up to a mall in Westchester County. As soon as she got in the car she asked if she could hold my auxiliary chord and play music. At first she started playing Rihanna. The guy in me hated that; but I let it rock.

On the way back she asked for my phone and said “I’m gonna play some songs from college!” She was two years older than me, yet she the school she attended was right next door. So whatever she was excited about playing was going to be something nostalgic to being in Atlanta between 2001-2005. She waited for my reaction. One can’t help but light up when the 808 drums boom and initial guitar lick for UGK’s “Let Me See It” starts. She rapped it word-for-word and then followed. She followed it up with “Take It Off.” She bounced up and down while giving her best Pimp C impersonation, “Work sominethin’, twerk somethin’ basis. Makin’ big change dancin’ in them chicks’ faces.” The climax of the moment was playing “Do It” from T.I.’s first and oft ignored first album. “Now a thug done chose and I don’t give a damn if the club done closed. Give the DJ a dub, tell him spin one mo…”she recited as if it was an Atlanta night in the early 2000’s. At twenty-nine with a toddler seat in the back of my jeep I was reminded of a time when I didn’t have a care in the world and this was the person I’d have my eye on around 2 AM in Atlanta. That shit was dope to me.

The moment was full of contrast. Riding through the South Bronx-the birthplace of hip hop-with southern classics playing that under normal circumstances wouldn’t fit the scenery. Yet in that moment it made perfect sense. The moment perfectly summed up our dynamic.

My Life in 100 Songs: Love U 4 Life by Jodeci

A few nights ago, after tucking Cydney into bed, she looked at me, and said she wanted to have “girl-boy talk.” “I want to talk about Timile and _____.” She then let me know what she is looking for which essentially is for me to get married. The conversation ended with her laying on my chest, looking me square in the eye, and asking me “What’s your wedding going to be like?”

It’s funny to me she asked this. About two weeks prior, I had a dream about getting married. I have never envisioned myself marrying anyone before–even Timile as crazy as that sounds. Maybe a flash here and there; but ultimately I have always put more stock in who I would for someone after the wedding.

The bride was my best friend’s wife, Toni; but there’s a reason it was her. The primary reason was because the day before I was telling someone about the day that Cydney gets married I’m going to be shedding thug tears down the aisle as Toni and her dad did.

The second-and most important reason-was because of what my friend Devin and Toni’s wedding represented. After years of drama our friends and family were celebrating and saying “Finally, Chad and _____ got their shit together and did this!” The bride and my friends who only know each other from our horror stories finally met and it was as if everyone knew each other for years. My friends have told me that whenever I do get married everyone’s getting drunk and the toasts will consist of many jokes saying my partnership was everyone’s relationship because they had invested so much time and energy into it. I could totally see that.

The day I exchange vows in front of friends and family will be a big deal for Cydney as well. By the time that actually happens, she will be old enough to remember that day. She wants a mother so badly that it will mean her dream will have come true. Little girls picture this day their whole lives and I can see Cydney’s vision starting off with “I want my wedding to be like my mom and dad’s.”

Dreams about weddings often symbolize a going through a transition and commitment. I’m definitely a commitment-phobe because I don’t trust anyone. I have spent my whole twenties taking care of others. The idea of placing myself in a position in which someone is taking care of me weirds me out a little bit. However, I am quite burned out and realizing this has made me think that making myself available to be emotionally taken care of and not-so-self-sufficient would be a good thing. Realization is often the beginning of transition.

My Life in 100 Songs: Hard Knock Life by Jay Z

Cydney discovered Jay Z’s version of “Hard Knock Life” and her mind was blown. Whenever she hears a song that she likes she will ask “What’s the name of this?” Sometimes she’ll nod her head to the beatand others she’ll give the stank face like she knows the song is hot. She did both.

It came on the radio and Cydney was doing what she normally does: ask me two thousand and twelve questions as well and her song requests will be scattered through there as well. It was midway through the first verse when I’d turned on the radio. Once the chorus came in something clicked in Cydney’s head. Cydney loved the modern version of Annie; so as soon as she heard “It’s a hard knock life for us,” she started singing along happily.

Shortly after I had to pull it up on the phone and play it a few times for her. I rapped the verses and she sang the hook. Whenever I wouldn’t rap the fairly innappropriate parts she would ask me why did I stop. It was quite humorous and endearing.

That song not only sums up Cydney’s and my personality; but that’s our dynamic. I think children’s music is corny, it bores me to hell, and it’s annoying. My parents didn’t really have me listening to that kind of crap and I turned out okay (Many would disagree but oh well…this is my blog). Cydney may be four years old but she’s hip hop. She’s my little hip hop head because that’s me all the way. She loves a good melody and r&b songs that she can sing along to; but she’s all about that head nod when the beat drops. I love that about my girl.

Our dynamic is very much like this song because when it was released, Jay Z was just known in the hip hop world. He’d heard Mark the 45 King play this track in the club and thought it was bananas. The lyrics in the song are pretty dark. And I guess if you think about it, so are the words to the hook. It’s a bunch of little girls saying that life is hard and we don’t get the love we feel we deserve given our circumstances. But it’s so damn bright and catchy. What makes the song a hit-and the beginning of Jay Z being the man we know today-was the little girl singing “It’s a hard knock life.” That’s Cydney…

My Life in 100 Songs: Queens Day by RUN-DMC f/ Nas and Prodigy

My favorite RUN-DMC song isn’t “Walk This Way,” “Run’s House,” “My Adidas,” or any of the classics that are often associated with the Kings of Rock. It’s an album cut off of their last album and I don’t know many who even know a song with RUN-DMC, Nas, and Prodigy of Mobb Deep exists…but I love it.

“We all glow.  And I’m proud to be all I know. Q, B-O-R-O…”-Nasir “Nas” Jones

Whenever someone asks me where I’m from I quickly respond “Queens.”  It may not have the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the rich history of Harlem, be as cool as Brooklyn, or be the home of the most famous and winningest franchise: the Yankees in the Bronx.  However, it is the largest of the five boros-or counties-and is the most ethnically diverse place on the planet.  More than likely if you are flying into New York, you are landing at LaGuardia or JFK airports which are both in Queens. 

Queens’ largest contribution to society as we know it has been through the arts; black music in particular.  Many notable jazz artists called Queens home because it was a place of refuge while most of New York City was segregated.  There is a neighborhood in southeast Queens called Addisleigh Park, which is one of if not the first affluent black place of residency.  Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Count Basie, James Brown, Lena Horne, John Coltraine as well as other famous blacks such as W.E.B. DuBois and Jackie Robinson lived in the enclave on the western side of a place called Saint Albans.  Saint Albans is where I am from.

While many jazz legends at one time called Saint Albans and neighboring Hollis, Queens  their place of residency; the neighborhood’s largest input into culture as we know it has been in hip hop.  A young entrepreneur named Russell Simmons managed his brother’s rap group, Run DMC and made them a household name.  He started a record label with NYU student Rick Ruben and the first artist that they signed was a sixteen year old from Saint Albans named LL Cool J.   This ultimately set the stage for what is hands-down the most influential culture across the world.  Other notable residents of this area are A Tribe Called Quest, Young MC, Ja Rule, Ed Lover, Razel formerly of The Roots, sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, and Al Sharpton.  

From 1985-1998, I lived at 114-25 Francis Lewis Boulevard.  We lived in the upper level apartment of a two-family home right on the border of Saint Albans, Hollis, and another neighborhood Cambria Heights.  It was and still is a lower-middleclass area that is by all means what we colloquially call “the hood.”  I often stared out of our large window facing Francis Lewis Boulevard wondering what it was that I observing.  I would contemplate what life was like outside of there and what would I become once I was able to venture into this world when I was old enough.

What were those young guys doing in front of the bodega all day?  Listening to rap music and slapping a low-five to many people walking by without losing a stride?  Why would there be a bunch of police cars in front of the bodega or at Andrew Jackson High School on the next block?  Why couldn’t my twin sister and I play on our block with the other kids our age?

My parents did a great job not letting the place that we called home infiltrate and eventually influence us.  I remember being a young child in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s seeing these little plastic vials with colored tops littered all over the street.  My mother said that my sister and I used to like to jump and crush them.  While this was something that we enjoyed, I didn’t know those little bottles held crack cocaine until I was much older.  We only played outside on the much quieter blocks that our maternal and paternal grandparents lived on which were both in Saint Albans.

I played basketball and started taking the bus to different gyms and courts for practice and some of what was in the hip hop I listened to more and more began to make sense.  I recall it being 1998 and I was around twelve years old.  All I listened to was hip hop at the time: on the radio and on my disc man to the bus as I headed to school.  In my head I was beginning to become a rapper but didn’t quite have the words just yet.  The more aggressive the content that would be blaring in my ears began to manifest itself in how I talked and how I dealt with things. 

One night my father was sitting at our computer and I must have said something along the lines that reflected the music I listened to and a lifestyle he was well aware of as a musician and growing up in Queens himself.  He looked me dead in the eyes and said “Get out the hood!”  It was a quick moment; however it was one I’ll never forget.  My father made a loaded statement in which he was telling an impressionable black mind to watch how I listened to music; but as long as we lived there to not become a product of my environment. 

“In some cases the only thing that father and son have in common, is their love for Run.”-Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons

With the exception of kindergarten and first grade, we never went to school in St. Albans.  As a teacher, my mother was adamant about us not being in the neighborhood public schools.  In 1996 my sister and I enrolled into I.S. 227 or Louis Armstrong Middle School.  It was located on the other side of Queens in East Elmhurst; the place where the jazz great our school’s namesake used to live in when he was alive.  It was a magnet school that accepted some of the brightest-or well connected-kids all over Queens and bussed them there. 

As a collective, my childhood friends are an anomaly.  I am the only one out of us who was able to leave Queens for the suburbs and yet the whole gang is intact.  No one is in jail or dead.  Professionally we’re teachers, bankers, work for the NAACP, musicians, barbers, actors, and mentors to youth who were very much like us.  Many didn’t grow up with fathers in their household; yet many of us are husbands and fathers who take care of our children.  In fact, I’m not the only single father who has custody of their child. 

I was telling my friend Boogie that I was writing about everyone and how we didn’t become products of our environment.  He said “I think we are products of our environment.  A product could be a tool or weapon that has forged through fire and is still a product.  Since we fall in the category of tools we choose to build and make things better.”  I couldn’t have said it any better.  We-until last night including me-usually associate being a product of one’s environment coming from a deficit perspective.  We say this like “This is the best that they could become given their circumstances.”  A person from neighborhoods like where we came from are written-off to become the b-students of life.  Nah.  As a tool, Boogie’s iron sharpened my iron and here I am sharing it with you.  Hell, I should know better than that because I started this essay off mentioning people who came from the same streets as I did who became prominent in their respective fields. 

“Been the illest since day one, too advanced to ever be caught.   Who’s more legendary than me?  That’s what I thought.”-Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons 

My parents moved us to Freeport in Nassau County in September, 1998.  It’s about ten miles from St. Albans but was a different world.  It was quiet, you could hear crickets, and we had raccoons.  Our next door neighbors were white.  We went to high school in neighboring Baldwin, which was an ethnically diverse neighborhood. 
It was a place I never fully adjusted to living in until I became a father.  I made some really good friends at Baldwin; but I just never felt that I completely fit in.  My best friend Brandon who I went to Morehouse with, my high school best friend Tre, and maybe one or two other people are all I keep in regular contact with.  Truth be told, Brandon and I became best friends because of Morehouse and not high school.  In a diverse school, there were many blacks who had recently moved out there as well.  Many coming from Brooklyn and Queens and pretended they were hard because they did.  I thought most of these people were corny.  Some had come from neighborhoods where I was from and places where I had known people; but they didn’t know any of the people I knew.  I made the best of those years and couldn’t wait to get far away from it.

I am a father, now.  I wouldn’t want Cydney living in a neighborhood like where I grew up.  If I had the money I couldn’t see myself living in some swanky loft in Manhattan, either.  I would want to live in a quiet suburban place like where I currently call home so she can ride her bike in the street.  I want her to be able to make friends in her neighborhood, and as she’s older look back at her upbringing not put two plus two together and go “wow!”  My parents did a great job raising my sister and me.  They moved us out because that was something they thought was best for their children.  I want the same.

“And if somebody want to test mine, yo watch this: Peter Piper picked pepper…[and Run rocks rhymes].  See, I knew you knew the next line, and I bet you said it.  It’s been a minute, I’m still the king of the world, so don’t forget it.”-Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons

My Life in 100 Songs: Dilemma by Nelly and Kelly Rowland

Last night I was supposed to write; but I was too tired to do so. After the nightly ritual/struggle of putting Cydney to bed I sat down on the couch and started flipping through channels. I stopped on BET seeing that it was 10:35pm and Nellyville was on. I watched most of last season and I thought it was a good show. Well, maybe my opinion is biased because a series about a single black father is must-see television for me.

I tuned in to see that Nelly was taking his oldest daughter and nephew-who he is raising as his son-to Atlanta for their respective 21st and 24th birthdays to party.

As they all were in the VIP section, out came a cake, and Nelly wished his now fully grown daughter a happy birthday. He handed her the mic and they sang his hit song “Dilemma” together. I found the moment to be very sweet.

I have such a soft side for all things father-daughter. I see any of it and I think of Cydney and me. Clearly what I really am doing is seeing myself in these moments. I’ll observe fathers on the subway walking hand and hand with their little girls and I think to myself “I can’t wait to get home to my girl,” or I’ll internally inquire what will Cydney be like at that age” if they’re older. These were my thoughts while watching Nelly and his pride and joy onstage sharing drinks and singing together.

I think Cyd and I will always be tight. We’ll have times where we won’t get along and she won’t like the way I do things. I’m her super hero. She is quick to tell a stranger “My daddy can do anything” with conviction and I can see that she believes that when she looks me in the eye. One day Cydney will realize that I am a mere mortal with flaws and that day will be a little sad for both of us. However, I’d like to think she’ll learn to love me a little more because I’m human. Even then, there will be moments where she looks at me with stars in her eyes as if there isn’t anything I can’t do.

Shortly after I went to bed. Cydney stayed awake. She whispered in my ear “I love you, daddy” and I told her that I loved her, too. She then stayed awake and tried to talk my ear off until I said “Look, go to bed!”

My Life in 100 Songs: A Million and One Questions by Jay Z

Cydney can’t help herself…

She’s no longer a baby nor a toddler. My four year old is becoming a little kid. It’s kind of bittersweet because I miss the infantile days; but I love the little person she’s becoming.

While her hair is getting longer, her features more defined, and taller; it’s her personality that has become the most expansive. Unfortunately, this means she’s in that phase where she asks questions until I want to jump out of the window.

Yes, I am aware that one should encourage this. Questioning everything is how children absorb information. But shit, I count down the hours until bedtime.

“What’s the meaning of bird?”
“Are birds dirty?”
“What’s a dirty bird?”
“What letter does bird begins with a b?”
“How do you spell your name? C-h-a-d?”
“Why is water wet, daddy?”
“Do you like puddles?”
“Do dirty birds like puddles?”
“Do dirty birds take baths?”

Now Cydney being Cydney, if I don’t answer her question she will ask repeatedly until I answer her or just yell in frustration “Alright!” In my head I say “Fuck!” right after.

The question I detest the most is “Why?” I hate that question because anything you answer will be followed with another why. Sometimes I just answer “Tell them that it’s human nature” and begin to ignore.

Cydney means well. I tell myself this is a good thing. Cydney is a really smart kid. I do want her to question everything. I just don’t want them to be asked to me all day every damn day.

My Life in 100 Songs: Can I Kick It by A Tribe Called Quest (#Soccerdadchronicles)

I had to take yesterday off…I was tired.

It was Mid-August of 2012.  My family and I were at our church’s annual picnic at Eisenhower Park in Long Island and it was coming to a close.  Earlier in the day I got a concussion by hitting the back of my head on a low-sitting tree that I was laying under.  I was taking it easy sitting at a park bench and Cydney wasn’t too far from me.  I stood up and played around with her and there was a ball nearby.  Cydney had either just turned or was about to be eighteen months.  Cydney looked at the ball and started kicking it.  She was dribbling and doing well for someone who didn’t know what they were doing and she was eighteen months.  In my concussed state of mind I noticed and thought that this is something that I should pay attention to.

Every once in a while I would take Cydney into the backyard and kick the ball around.  I have very little knowledge about soccer.  I played in an afterschool program at the YMCA, we wore whatever red t-shirts we could find from our respective homes as our uniform, and we sucked.  That was it.  I saw a natural ability in Cydney and as much as I could I wanted to cultivate it.  When she was of age I would begin to enroll her into soccer programs and I would become a soccer dad.

Cydney was three years old when she was first enrolled in a soccer program. The girls she was playing with and against were in Pre-K; so they were mostly four turning five.  Clearly she was the little one but she loved being there.  The first half of her session would be instructional: the coaches would introduce drills to the children in fun little ways.  The second half of the session would be a five on five scrimmages.  Cydney wasn’t too crazy about this part.  She was enthusiastic at first; but eventually became indifferent and then discouraged.  Since she was the little person on the team she wasn’t as fast as the other girls.  She would begin to sulk saying “I’m not fast enough.”  That broke my heart.  As soon as it was over, Cydney would exclaim “We won!” as if she hadn’t been feeling a certain way previously.  Cydney was happy and I wasn’t going to let her quit, anyway.  She may not have liked being the slow one but she loved being out there.

It felt weird being out there.  The program was in an affluent neighborhood in Nassau County.  Everyone was a good ten years older than me.  Of course, everyone was white and knew each other.  It was obvious that the black child, her black father, and the one black coach knew each other.  I always felt weird because I didn’t have a lot in common with these people.  In reality, I did.  I was a suburban parent and my life revolved around my kid than it did going out and/or gallivanting in the city like most of my friends my age.  Being that I was much younger, darker, and didn’t dress like suburban white dads-you know: the plain shorts, sneakers, and polo shirt or something-I just didn’t feel like I fit in.  I didn’t talk to any of the parents except the coaches of Cydney’s team.

Over the course of the summer Cydney and I would practice the drills she learned in the yard.  We watched the World Cup and she has a replica ball that she sleeps with.  I looked up drills on YouTube and practice when I am by myself so that I can teach her.  Hip hop is my thing that she’s getting into and Disney Princesses are her world that I am getting into.  Soccer is the thing in which we are on equal footing and learning together.  Eventually she will be much better than I and I will enjoy watching her from the sidelines.

In September 2014 I signed Cydney up for the program that was closer to our house. That program wasn’t much of a challenge for her and she would find ways challenge herself.  If her coaches ask the children to knock cones over by kicking the ball, Cydney would do so from a few feet back as opposed to right on top of the ball.  Cydney weaves throughout cones during drills effortlessly while the other toddlers still stop the ball with their hands sometimes. 

During their first scrimmage, Cydney stole the ball from one of the kids, dribbled down the field and scored the goal.  Cydney’s coach pulled me aside and said that he was impressed by Cydney’s skill set.  He told me how impressed he was with that and that she makes the other children better.  He’s a black man and he said that as the only person of color and the only girl out there he enjoys having her around.  Ever since, he has found ways to train her and make things a little more challenging.  One week, Cydney’s scrimmage was four-on-one:  Cydney vs. the other kids with a little assistance from her coach.  In a fifteen minute game the score was 2-1 and Cydney won.  That’s my girl.

Cydney has improved drastically in this amount of time.  One time we were out playing at a field near our house and Cydney saw another father practicing with his little girl, who was about seven years old.  Cydney went up to them, asked if she could join, and did drill right along with the girl.  Cydney at three was doing them just as good as she was.  This was my goal of having Cydney play with the children older than her.  My first experience playing organized basketball at seven years old was with playing alongside ten year old teammates and opponents.  It made me one of the better players at my age and this is what I wanted for Cydney as her foundation.  It may have been hard at first, but eventually she would catch on and play up the level of the other girls.  Knowing who she is and who her father is she would surpass these girls as well.

She may not play forever; but this is about Cydney starting something young and introducing herself to a discipline.  The whole thing was to set up a foundation.  She is into something and if she has other hobbies she will have the behavioral process of giving something her all, practicing, working on being the best that she possibly can be, and she started this high level of commitment at her age.

She is currently playing soccer twice a day on Saturdays. In one program, she plays along with some children in kindergarten and first grade. From a technical standpoint, she is leaps and bounds above everyone.

…Spelman College: you have approximately fourteen years to bring back your soccer program.  Cydney and I will make it worth your while.

…Read It Because I Wrote It

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