Product of the Recession

US-VOTE-DEBATE
Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Note: this post may not be the most grammatically correct and that is on purpose.

Two nights ago, I was one of 81.4 million people that watch the presidential debate. After thinking to myself “This is taking place down the street from me at Hoftsra University,” a few thoughts ran through my mind. 1) Instead of watching Love and Hip Hop Hollywood, I watched Monday Night Raw with my nephew while playing chess; either show were perfect warm-ups for what I am glued to. B) The back-and-forth bickering of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sounds eerily similar arguments I have had with former girlfriends.

The two front-runners for Head of State gave amazing drama with the fate of the next four years as their backdrop. I listened, laughed, and paid attention to the subtext (I cringed as people like myself were repeatedly referred to as African American…it just didn’t feel right in my spirit). It was all good until the talk of job creation came about.

Donald Trump explained his revamped platform of Reganomics: tax breaks for the rich that are supposed to induce job creation. Hillary Clinton refuted and explained what many of us already know in which this plan obliterates the middle class. Some semblance of the phrase explaining the recession of the late-aughts still leaves a bitter taste in many mouths – including mine.

Many of us are still reeling from the country’s worst economic period since the American stock market crash of 1929. So many factors accumulated into a perfect storm that trickled down to the millenials. While things have become increasingly better, it is very difficult to explain to the generations before us what particularly is going on and why we-millenials-are having a difficult time finding our financial way.

I-and many of us-have heard a variance of “Why don’t you just apply to jobs?” in matter-of-fact-yet-condescending tone. Attempting to have some kind of respect for those before us, we bite our tongues and simply say something along the lines of “I’m a product of the recession.” Eventually, I have learned to rebut this by asking “When is the last time you applied for a job?” After a long pause, the answer is always “A long time ago.” While saying under my breath “So since you don’t know, kindly shut the eff up,” I try to break things down.

Here’s my story. I am 30 years old and graduated from Morehouse College-a very esteemed and renowned institution of higher learning-in 2007. I can think of many people that I matriculated my four years with who are doing some amazing things. To some extent, this includes myself, as well by turning my story into becoming one of the leaders in writing about black fatherhood. I love what I do and am thankful that this passion project of mine has opened up the door for a second career. However, shit is very real out here.

My first job out of college wasn’t at some entry level doing something corporate; I ran the photo department at Walgreens for $7.25 an hour. In Atlanta, that was enough to get by with a roommate and live-in girlfriend; but those student loans I took out had to fall by the wayside. Why didn’t I get some entry level position in Atlanta with as many corporate headquarters in its metropolis? They ALL had hiring freezes.

The second job I attained was working at a mortgage firm October 2008. So what seemed like five years in the making lead to a housing crisis and the people that hired me literally going bankrupt the day before I started. My next job was selling cars in July of 2009. Cash for Clunkers dried up business and I was back to being broke. I had to make my own professional experience and hustled my way into project management.

The problem with having to make your own experience in a time in which everyone is looking for work means that companies can be as picky as they choose. In the days of the internet, a human resources professional can word out thousands of applicants by simply doing a word search, interview a couple of people, hire the one who was referred by a friend, and the answer one gets in return is “You don’t have experience in this setting.” Explaining this to many of my peers, most have sympathetically replied “Yes! This is me!” You can also add to this that one is competing with the 30-50 somethings who were let go and willing to take a pay cut to feed their families? You’re kind of fucked.

As time progressed, so did the interest on my student loans. It’s hard to pay someone $750 a month when you’re already living under your means. So when Sallie Mae Navient calls me about making a payment, I tell them “I know you have a job to do; but I had to choose between paying $700 a month to you all or feeding my daughter. I chose them.” Credit-obliterating debt, the cost of living constantly rising, and many looking out for themselves…what do you do? Hustle and hope for the best.

The silver lining in this all is that The Recession of 2008 has created jobs. They just don’t pay very well, right now. One lesson that always stuck with me from macroeconomics is that cutbacks often lead to some creative people creating new paths. It is still difficult to make ends meet; but I now have two career paths. Right now, neither are paying into a pension; but somehow, I have a feeling that things will continue to work out.

Generation Z is beginning to enter the workforce. They have grown up in a world in which all they know is the internet and being tech-savvy. The way that they have been conditioned to process information means that they will have it much easier than my constituents who are now in their thirties, settling down, and starting families. We’ve become the sacrificial lambs-turned-entrepreneurs.

So…while I’m listened to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump talk about their visions for the future of economic growth, I’m sitting three feet away from a sleeping kindergartner, with fingers typing away on a laptop, thinking “One day this here will all be worth it.”

…This is the very abridged version.

Remembering B.I.G. 20 Years After the Death of Tupac Shakur

It’s only right I used the pic with the Morehouse shirt

Deuteratagonist: the second most important character to a protagonist that may switch from being with or against the protagonist, depending on the plot or conflict.  There is no better word to describe the dynamic of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace in their individual Greek tragedies.

Today marks the 20th year that many of us remember where we were when word was widely publicized that Tupac succumbed from his gunshot wounds (Slow clap for that alliteration).  No one thought twice about Pac dying from the drive-by that occur ed on September 7th.  Like he did two years prior, everyone thought the rapper would survive from his wounds; until it actually happened.  September 13th has become a day of remembrance for generations x and y, as we universally and collectively play tracks from Shakur’s extensive catalog.

This morning, I watched the newly-released trailer for the upcoming biopic of Shakur, All Eyez on Me.  In the less than two minute clip, the producers included a dialog between contemporaries Pac and B.I.G., portrayed by actors Demetrius Shipp Jr. and Jamal Woolard.  I immediately switched from my Spotify playlist entitled “Pac,” and opted to listen to The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die.

Two September 13th’s before Makavelli’s passing, Frank White’s debut album was released.  Ready to Die hit New York City like a typhoon.  There was no such thing was being anywhere within the five boros and not hearing one of its 17 tracks-or one of the remixes-blaring from a tape deck, radio, or a lyric being quoted in everyday conversation. I won’t delve into this anymore; there are hundreds of thousands of words dedicated to the greatness and impact of the album with the chubby baby with the afro on the cover.

One can’t tell the story of the Thug Poet and King of New York without heavily mentioning the other.  Their careers and legacies have been intertwined since their respective beginnings.  The majority of the public was introduced to both emcees between 1991 and ’92.  When Heavy D and the Boyz performed on In Living Color, Tupac-who was well known in hip hop circles but not a household name-can be seen dancing on the stage right next to Puff Daddy, who had already signed the Brooklyn emcee.  There were a few issues of The Source magazine and see pictures of the two as they stood side-by-side and grimaced for the camera with middle fingers up.

Both rappers heavily alluded to dying young.  They either spoke it into existence or inherently knew their life’s work wouldn’t have their significance until they left earth.

While revolving around the use of words, rap is a competitive sport.  In time, the closest allies become almost always adversaries.  In just about every era, there are two that stand out more than the rest of the pantheon.  Collaborative freestyles with “My nigga B.I.G. right beside me” become “If Fay had twins, she’d prolly have two Pacs.”  There could only be one king and both knew it.

In spite of being ready to die, both Shakur and Wallace are proof that there’s life after death.  Their words and influence have lived on 20 years after both were gunned down.  In less than six months, we will all play “Hypnotize” repeatedly, just as the kids did on the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn during B.I.G.’s final ride through his neighborhood.  And on March 9, 2017, there will be some written words about a connection between these two deuteratagonists as well.

So on this day, throw some ice for the nicest emcees. *cues “I Get Around” to follow “Unbelievable”*

 

 

The First Day of Kindergarten

 

Day one.
I attended Kindergarten at Allen Christian School on Merrick Boulevard in the St. Albans area of Queens, NY.  Of my first day, my sister and I walked into the classroom, we met our teacher, her assistant, and a fresh box of Legos were opened for the new students to play with.  In my mind, I can still recall the face of one of the plastic figures in that play set.  If that was September 1990, my mother and I were both across the street from 31 years old when our children first started “real” school.

Cydney began kindergarten last Tuesday.  On Labor Day, her excitement was on level 12.  I was surprised at how easy it was to get her ready for bed that evening.

My little girl woke up the next morning, bright eyed, and adrenaline rushing.  Both she and my nephew were ecstatic about the first day.  My boy is starting fifth grade; and it is the only year that both Cydney and he will be enrolled at the same institution.  My mother, sister, and I walked the block-and-a-half to their elementary school.

I lined up with Cydney in front of the entrance where Kindergarten enters.  There was a nervous anticipation in the eyes and faces of the teachers, students, and parents.  Moms and dads looked at their five and six year olds with pride as they took pictures with their phones.  You could see that every parent was in their feelings.  Someone probably wept in their car.

I wasn’t very emotional about Cydney beginning Kindergarten; but the day was surreal.  A little over six years to the day, Cydney’s mother and I packed up all of our belongings and cats, and drove from Atlanta to New York with five heartbeats in a U-Haul.  Life is extremely different from what Timile Brown and I imagined what our little London Milner’s-that was the original name we agreed on for Cydney-life would be like.  The eighteen month year old I decided to share with the world was at a big-kid school.

When school let out at 3pm, my mother and I greeted Cyd at her teacher’s door.  The first thing that the instructor said to me is “Cydney is hilarious and has a lot of personality!  I’m going to have to stay on my toes with this one.”  All my mother and I could do was laugh because that was a very accurate statement.  We chuckled and Cydney began to yell about how amazing her day was.

Day two.

The second and third days of school went off without a hiccup.  Friday started off like Tuesday through Thursday; until I picked her up.  I was greeting to a tears and a weeping daughter.  Cydney’s teacher in a very un-alarmed tone told me that there was a little girl drama between my daughter and another child.  I could help but chuckle because that sounded about right.  The adults knew that everything would be just fine and blow over by Monday morning; but the girls acted as if it was the end of the world.  The other little girl involved was bawling and wanted her dad.

Day three.

During the whole five minute trip home, Cydney sniffled and told me that her new-and-former-friend was upset and it was her fault.  I inquired about what happened and Cyd said she didn’t remember.  Eventually, my child told me that the little girl said she didn’t want to be Cydney’s friend anymore.  “You don’t need to be my friend anymore.  You can just be free and play by yourself!”  I was too proud.  At five years old, Cydney Moriah Milner knows how to shut shit down.  This apple didn’t fall far at all.

Day four.

It’s a brand new week.  I am all but certain that the two little girls will be friends again.  Cyd excitedly skipped to the line to resume school.  As she walked in the door, I told her “Have a good day!”  She waved back and said “Okay!”

Flashback Friday: Star Trek Edition

 

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Tuesday afternoon, I received a text message from one of my editors.  She asked me if I would like to go to the advance screening of Star Trek Beyond the following day and to bring someone with me.  Immediately, I thought about bringing my father.

My pops is a little too cool to be going to conventions and speaking Klingon.  However, since day one, September 22, 1966, Travis Milner has been a Trekkie.  While I don’t recall seeing him ever watch them, my father had every episode of Star Trek-and the Mary Tyler Moore Show-recorded onto VHS (Maybe this was because he worked so much or wanted to keep his nerd-dom under wraps).  For Christmases and birthdays, I knew a can’t-miss gift for my dad was something Star Trek–even if I knew absolutely nothing about it.

Almost anything that revolved around Star Trek was because of my father.  On a family vacation to Universal Studios, my family acted out a thirty minute episode via blue screen (the screens were still blue in 1992).  I played Mr. Spock and donned the Vulcan ears.  How did we celebrate my ninth birthday?  By seeing Star Trek Generations, the film starring Captain Kirk and Jean Luc Picard’s crew.  Why?  Because it was released on November 22, 1994; my birthday.  These were some of the rare moments in which it was all about dad.

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My sister and I as members of the USS Enterprise

After speaking with my editor, I immediately called my father.  I asked him if he was free Wednesday evening and wanted to go to the screening with me.  One to rarely ever show his excitement, I had to read between the lines.  He told me that he was debating whether or not he was going to watch the movie online or going to the theater to actually see it had decided on the latter.  In Travis, that meant “Oh hell yeah!  It’s about to be LIT!”

We met up in Wednesday evening at the train station in Baldwin and took the Long Island Railroad into the city.  When we got to the theater, my father told me that he’d rest up against one of those large, green garbage cans while I waited in line.  I looked at him and thought “Line?  Please, we’re walking right in there!”  I gave him a minute while I went to will call and thirty seconds later waved him in, saying “Let’s go.”  He asked me “We don’t have to wait in line?”  I replied “Hell no!”

During the screening, I pulled the most Travis Milner move of all time: I fell asleep fifteen minutes into the movie.  I was tired as all hell from entertaining my daughter all day while trying to fit in a full day’s worth of work.  Briefly waking up every ten minutes or so-just enough to pay attention and write my review the next day-I could see and hear my father following along intently (he too pulled a Travis Milner and dozed off for a couple seconds).  He laughed when the rest of the crowd did and all of that.  Because I knew of the millions of times this has happened and the roles were reversed, I laughed internally.

For all of the years I’d gone backstage to see my father perform in various parts of the country and the nights I hoped to see of one of my favorite rappers at his job at Soundtrack Studios on 23rd and Broadway; I finally was able to take him along and say “This is part of what I do.”  At this point, my father has seen me sit in front of a laptop for years and shared dozens of articles I’ve written with my tagline “Read It Because I Wrote It.”  This was something tangible.

I am almost certain that in his mind, my father was replaying the memory of taking his five year old son on the F train from Queens to Madison Square Garden for WWF’s SummerSlam, ’91.  He’s not the virile thirty-three year old anymore.  The long, black ponytail he donned is not a blonde caesar cut with gray roots.  His knees aching from almost sixty years of wear-and-tear slowed him down.  Standing a little taller than he, there is still a part of me that still looks up to my dad as if my eye level is slightly above his waist.  To some extent, the evening was centered around both of us fondly reliving moments of youth.

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The Most Fun I’ve Had In Years

 

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Because I spend so much time with and doing kid stuff, I typically look forward to the moments when I can sneak away from my life in my Long Island suburb and “do hoodrat stuff with my friends.” Underneath it all, I’m a big kid at heart.

While it may be a little more imbalanced than I’d prefer, I do make the time to do the things I consider fun.  I talk shit while seeing my therapist/barber, 360.  I spend time with my family and loved ones.  I give myself at least an hour a week in my home studio to toil around with music (One day, I’m going to finish a project).  I go to the gym and lift weights like I’m in jail.  I scratch my baseball itch with my nephew’s travel team.  I hit the hood and kick it with the homies like we’re seventeen again.  I date and have had pretty good sex.  I love doing it all.  However, yesterday evening was the most fun I have had in forever.

It’s summertime and Cydney is home all day.  More often than not, my daughter being home in the daytime puts a hindrance on my productivity.  I treat my deck like my office, crank up the music, and write all day to make these pennies that contribute to my household.  Cydney usually wakes up and says “You’re in your office?  I’m gonna join you!”  Shortly after, she is asking 2,013,182 questions and wants to be entertained.

Typically, I have a little assistance in Cyd being occupied.  My nephew and she play and I only have to intervene when I hear something sounding remotely close to conflict.  My boy has been in Queens spending time with my father and his mom, so Cydney is really looking for me to be the break in between her favorite shows that I can’t stand.

Yesterday morning, Cydney woke up earlier than normal and/or expected.  For most of the morning, she let me work.  Around 1 pm, she couldn’t take anymore.  Because it’s beyone hot, she asked-read: implored-that I take her to go get ice cream.  We did and she was happy.  Then, she wanted to put her bathing suit on and run through the sprinklers.  That was fine, too.  But she wanted me to join her.  I told her “Baby, I got work to do.”  She didn’t care.  Eventually, she was over the the sprinklers and just wanted to play Subway Surfers on my phone.

Around 5 pm, it was time to get ready and leave for my nephew’s baseball game.  By 5:15, it began raining cats and dogs, so the game was cancelled.  At 6 pm, the sun was back out and Cydney wanted to go back outside and play in the water.  “Daddy, the sun is out, let’s have a water fight.”  I kept putting it off because the idea of being soaked and cold isn’t something I was into at the time.  It was getting late and I was 11 hours into my day already.

I looked at my daughter in her bathing suit and gave in.  “Fine,” I said.  Before I could finish the sentence, she was squirting me with a water pump.  She had two already filled up in which one was for me to shoot back at her.  After the initial shock of the cold, I was into it.  We stood by the sink on the deck, filled up, and kept firing.  As I began to refill, she would shoot and I would do the same.  The two of us jumped as we were hit by the water and laughed uncontrollably.  I kept telling my child “Stop.  STOP!  I’m DONE.”  She didn’t care.  Cydney kept firing.  As I ran around the house, she laughingly followed me and continued to attack.  It was a great time.

How did we follow up this event?  Cydney suggested that we watch Nick Jr. in the den in just our underwear and dance as music played during the shows.  It was a great day.

Cydney wants to do it all again today.

The Answers To Life’s Questions Always Find You

 
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We never receive what we pursue with fervor until we acquiesce…I have been reminded of this by way of searching desperately for a sample to one of my favorite songs.

Ever since his cameo appearance on Trinidad Jame$’ “Southside,” I have been a fan of Atlanta indie artist, Fortebowie.  He is one of the most creative rapper/singer/producers I’ve heard in a very long time.  In his music, Fortebowie flips fairly obscure samples.  Half of the fun in listening to his music is trying to find the original song he lifted to create a brand new song.

Sampling is an art form.  It’s a form of audio manipulation that takes a a creative ear to perfect.  In almost forty years of audio production, engineering, and knowledge of musical theory, my father couldn’t sample as well as I can on his best day.  Because of this, I appreciate someone who can do this beyond well.

On his 2015 project, Something Else About Bowie, there is a song called “Wrong Girl.”  In the first verse, I listened as Bowie apologize to all of the hearts he’d broken.  Attempting to justify himself, the last four bars made me pause:

“Only love one muh’f*cka and she won’t let me rest.  Runnin’ round in my mind, doing laps.  What the f*ck?!  Tryna act like she irrelevant; but I don’t give a f*ck.  But my mama know, and my daddy know, and my n*ggas know who run my world.  And until she comes back…I’m f*ckin’ with the wrong girl.”

Those lines summed up exactly how I was feeling during the summer of ’15.  After things ended with my ex, I began dating my “What If” girl.  Shortly into our courtship, I knew it wasn’t going to work out.  It would have never worked out between us; however I may have been a little more patient.  I wasn’t over someone I was very much in love with.  As a means of proceeding through life with no unanswered questions, this period was something that needed to happen.

While thinking about how I related to Fortebowie, I began trying to figure out what was the sample in this song.  After doing some searching, I put into the Twitter universe that I was looking for the sample in “Wrong Girl.”  Fortebowie replied saying that he’s keeping that a secret and the fans just have to find it.

I scrubbed out Fortebowie’s vocals on my computer.  I tried to speed up the sample to see if I recognized the voice.  I Googled the lyrics.  I downloaded Karaoke apps to scrub out the middle frequencies of the track and then play into Shazaam to see if it would recognize the sample.  No matter what, Shazaam kept telling me that the song sampled was “Wrong Girl” by Fortebowie.  I would leave it alone for a little while and every few months, I would try again to see if someone on the internet had found the answer.

What often prompted me to try once again to look for the sample was another person on Twitter asking me if I had found the sample.  The searches got shorter and shorter.  Knowing that one day, probably the day I truly said “fuck it,” the answer would find me.

On Monday morning, something prompted me to look for this sample one last time.  Well, the honest answer of what inspired me to look was that once again, those four bars-and other parts of-the first verse were ringing true in my life.  Nonetheless, I looked for all of five minutes.  The first result that popped up in Google’s search engine was Fortebowie’s Soundcloud page, where he originally posted “Wrong Girl.”  I decided not to look there because I had repeatedly and no one had yet to find the answer.

The next morning, I saw a Twitter notification in which someone asked me had I found the sample to “Wrong Girl.”  I replied that I still hadn’t.  Immediately, the person said “Wrong Girl by Latrelle.”

The lightbulb went off in my head.  I knew exactly who Latrelle was.  Because the sample was slowed down, it sounded like a man singing; but it was a woman.  Latrelle was a singer that was signed to Arista Records in 2001-2002.  She had two singles, “Dirty Girl” and “House Party;” both produced by the Neptunes when their music was ubiquitous.  I loved “House Party” and was looking forward to her album being released.  However, it was shelved indefinitely.  “Wrong Girl” was the second-to-last song on her unreleased album that of course, was on YouTube.

Repeatedly listening to what I coveted for over a year, I decided to Google “Latrelle, Wrong Girl, and Fortebowie.”  The first thing that popped up in Google’s search engine was Fortebowie’s Soundcloud page.  THE ANSWER TO MY QUESTION WAS THEE ONE PLACE I HAD BEEN IGNORING BECAUSE I HAD LOOKED THERE REPEATEDLY AND COULDN’T FIND IT.  SOMEONE FOUND IT A MONTH AGO!

By nature, I’m both assertive and proactive.  It is beyond difficult for me to stop looking for the things that I am “looking for.”  I feel as if I can find the answers quicker than the universe can reveal them.  I guess this is my way of manifesting “faith without works is dead.”  In the bible, Jacob was dealing with a lot.  One night, we literally wrestled with God until God blessed him.  Jacob had to literally be subdued in his hip.  Most people don’t exhaust their resources until divine intervention steps in.  I try to live my life doing just that.

One of My Proudest Moments as a Father

 
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Little league baseball is a rite of passage for boys.  In America, one would be hard-pressed to find a man who has not spent a spring on the diamond.

Even though I played basketball year-round as a child, spent my high school years on the football team, and follow the NBA and NFL intently; baseball is my first love.  Ever since that first game in the St. Albans Little League on Liberty Ave in 1991, I’ve been hooked.  Once the weather gets nice, I get the “itch” to play.  There’s a part of me that wants to play in a 30-and-up hardball league; but I don’t have the time.  However, my needs are satisfied through my nephew.

At ten years old, my nephew is in the middle of his fourth year playing organized baseball.  He started off with tee ball and began to show he had potential.  But he was and still is just a kid.

While playing catch in the backyard, after I threw the ball, he would flinch as it came in his direction.  I’d tell him “The more you flinch, the harder I’m throwing the ball,” and I would do just that.  Every once in a while he would get hit and begin to cry.  I’d look at him and this would be our conversation each time:

Me: You got hit because you were playing afraid.  What’s the worst that could happen?
Courtney: I get hit with the ball.
Me:  You just got hit.  Was it that bad?
Courtney: No.
Me: The absolute worst thing that could happen just and it wasn’t that bad.  Now you have nothing to be afraid of.
Courtney: *ceases sobbing and continues to play*

In the past four seasons, my nephew has had amazing tutelage in Coach Frank.  The combined talent of Coach Frank’s son, my nephew, a few mainstays and a revolving door of other teammates has lead to something I love: winning.  Those two boys-and my nephew’s friend, Mike-have enough talent and potential that I truly believe one day I can say “I knew them when…”

At first, I watched from the stands.  It was six year olds hitting a ball off of a tee and everyone bumbling around except for Coach Frank’s son and my nephew.  The more time I spent around Coach Frank and his team, the more I became invested.  The families of the core five players have become extended family and when the draft comes along in the spring, there’s a strategy to keep “the band together.”

This spring, all of the boys moved up a division and my nephew was drafted to another team.  Coach Frank wasn’t having that and traded his first pick to make sure he kept his son and my boy together.  It worked out.  Coach Frank’s son had the highest batting average in the league and I watched my nephew clinch the championship with three strikeouts in nine pitches.  We celebrated for three days and then it was for travel-ball in the summer.

Travel-ball is a completely different beast.  The boys are playing against ten and eleven year olds.  Our team is comprised of half ten, one eleven, five nine, and two scrappy eight year olds.  The first few games have been an adjustment and rude awakening; and quite a few of the boys are more than up for the challenge.

Yesterday, our U-10 team practices with the U-12 boys (Note: U-12=twelve year olds).  U-12 is more intense; but I liked the idea of seeing who out of our bunch would rise to the occasion.  Almost everyone did.  I was proud of all of them; but I was especially proud of my boy.

Because my nephew has a cannon for an arm by ten year old standards, he plays third base.  The first drill consisted of fielding and gunning the ball to first base without breaking their stride.  With a longer distance than the ten year olds are used to, my nephew nailed it.  On the diamond, he looked like one of the U-12’s.

While the teams scrimmaged, I conversed with Coach Matt, the manager of the U-12 team.  We talked about how as an organization, all of our teams are mentally lazy and show up once we’re in the hole.  My nephew just happened to be at bat; so Coach Matt and I looked at his form while he was at the plate.  He sent a line drive that dropped mid-center field and rolled all the way to the gate; the furthest hit ball of the evening.  Coach Matt looked at me and asked “How old is he?”

“He just turned ten May 30th,” I replied.  Coach Matt shook his head, chuckled, and told me “He’s ten?!  Once he gets the rest of those mechanics…whew!”  I couldn’t have been more proud of him.  Coach Frank couldn’t make it that day; but I wish he could have seen my nephew-and how many of the boys looked-that evening.

My slowly degenerating shoulder may not allow me to play competitive hardball again.  However, watching my nephew scratches the itch.

 

 

These Are the Best Years

 

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Cydney's getting bigger...It might be time to update the logo.

At the celebratory brunch for her graduation, Cydney walked up to each member of her family, hugged them, and graciously said “Thank you for coming.”  No one told her to do this; she felt compelled to show her gratitude on her own.  The after party for Cydney’s big day consisted of her crying on my lap due to an earache.

Cydney and I stopped at the local drug store to get some children’s Motrin.  Headed back to the car and holding her hand, an older man looked at us and smiled.  He said “I remember those days.  These are the best years…enjoy them.”

I acknowledged the sentiment and reciprocated his grin.  “She just graduated from Pre-K today,” I replied.  The man looked at me and said “I remember that like it’s yesterday.  My daughter is thirty years old.”  The man couldn’t help but smile even more.  His body language suggested that he saw himself twenty-five years ago and reminisced fondly about that time.

There will be a day in which my little girl isn’t going to want to hold my hand everywhere we go.  While I am all but ready for this day, eventually Cydney will not want to sleep in the bed with me.  Almost every problem in her life can be solved with a positive word or affectionate gesture from daddy.  To her, I’m Superman.

In an attempt to understand the world as Cydney sees it, I find myself looking into the reflection of her irises.  There is something about me that she associates as a positive stimulus.  With limited life experience, all my five year-old knows how to do is express how she is feeling in the moment.  My adult life has forced me to mature at a very accelerated rate; and I’m still affected.  While I see myself as someone who is constantly battling a jaded cynic, all this little girl sees is a man that can do no wrong.

I know exactly how my daughter feels.  I remember being much smaller than my parents.  I literally looked up to them and their gestures of love seemed larger than life.  There is a memory that flashes in my mind of being about three or four years old, and my father carrying me on his shoulders after a concert he was performing at.  It’s a moment I often recall when placing my daughter on my broad trapezius muscles.

These are the best years; they’re pleasing to a parent’s ego.  To someone on the planet, we are the most amazing person.  There is a human being who doesn’t see all of the flaws the we constantly harp on.  Without reason, second-guessing, or condition, we are the light in the life of this miniature person that physically and behaviorally resemble us.

There will be a brief period in which Cydney will figure out that I’m not superman.  I remember thinking that my father and because of Moonwalker, Michael Jackson, were the two people on earth that actually knew magic; and my mother was just perfect.  One day, my that light in my daughter’s eye will dim like I once did upon realizing that mom and dad are mere mortals.  She will be disappointed in feeling like her childhood was a facade.

That will change when Cydney becomes a mother.  I have learned to appreciate my mother and father because I can relate.  Behind those smiles were moments of feeling beyond overwhelmed, disappointment, broken hearts, and days they probably were unsure how they would be able to pay bills.

A few days ago, my father sent me a series of text messages.  He told me “You are Superman.  You single-handedly, with only limited parental assistance rescued Cydney.  In her book, you are the best father possible.  That’s awesome.  I get to live on through you and her.  That’s the role of dad.  Superman.”  This is why I look into my daughter’s eyes…because I don’t see it sometimes.  Yet, I know exactly how she feels.  In that moment, there was nothing more rewarding than being called Superman by the man I still see as Superman.

I am almost certain that this man in a CVS parking is much happier as the father to a thirty year old.  However, the only way to explain to someone with much less life experience is to meet them where they’re at: tell them to enjoy right now because it doesn’t last forever.

 

I’m Not Talking To My Children About Police Brutality

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I’m a thirty year old black man living in Nassau County, one of the most segregated places in the country.  However, I love where I reside; it’s probably the only town that is truly blended.  The 2010 US Census says it’s about 40% white, 35% black, 21% Latino, and the rest an equal blend of various other ethnicity.  It’s a great place to raise my five year old daughter and ten year old nephew that for all intents and purposes, is my son.  It’s the American Dream.

Within 48 hours of the fourth of July, the preamble of the Declaration of Independence we celebrated is being questioned:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  The gunning down of Alton Sterling and Philando Castle connote Thomas Jefferson’s words are subjective.

People are disappointed, frustrated, hurt, angry, enraged, and so numb to it all that they are indifferent.  In some capacity, I have seen all these emotions flooding my social media timelines and in conversation with others.  I asked myself is “How do I explain all of this to a five and ten year old?”  I don’t.

My choice in how to educate my children is based on what I already know about their temperament.  They already have a heightened sense of awareness about life that they shouldn’t have.  At five, my daughter already has a grasp on the concept of death.  In her own way, she is grieving the loss of her mother she will never remember.  My nephew knows what racism is.  He is aware that as a brown boy, he must govern himself accordingly for his own safety.

A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the Rodney King verdict and subsequent LA Riots.  My then seven year old nephew walked into the room and asked me about it.  Absorbing what was on the television, he tearfully asked “Why did this happen?”  Seconds later, the infamous clip of King being beat by police officers flashed across the screen.  “That’s why,” I replied.  I wanted him to stay and watch because I thought that he should see this.  He couldn’t handle it.  I comforted him and he chose to leave the room.

I was seven when the residents of South Central destroyed their neighborhood.  All I could think about was how I felt a little over a year earlier, when my mother took my twin sister and I to see the film adaptation of Sarafina.  I left angry at white people.  Twenty-five years later, I still can’t bear to watch it.

Being an innocent child saved me.  I didn’t know what race was; I only saw people.  In my juvenile mind, whites were a special kind of villain that killed innocent children at schools in South Africa in Sarafina. Or they were bad police that beat men with that billy club thing my Dick Tracy action figure had.  While reprimanding me for not acting right in school, my mother said I needed to act right in front of my white teacher. I responded “Mrs. [Redacted] is white?!”  I was relived because 1) I didn’t know I had ever met a white person before.  2) I realized I knew a lot of white people and saw plenty on television. 3) Not all white people were bad; just a small number.  

My faith in humanity was restored. Without proper guidance, this foundation could have become solidified prejudice. I’d be no different than the police who killed the two black men this week.

Within reason, most parents want to keep their children young and innocent as long as possible.  They will be adults most of their lives and unfortunately, many of children of color are forced to grow up an accelerated pace. This burden drastically shortens the life of black men.  On average, we expire at 71 years old.  This doesn’t include how many of us are killed or jailed-which is a figurative death sentence-getting caught up in lifestyles rooted in premature responsibility of our families.

One day, I will converse with my two children; it just won’t be today.  My nephew is headed to the beach with his best friend who is white and their family.  He has practice for summer baseball in which half of his teammates are white.  In two months, my daughter begins kindergarten with children of various ethnic backgrounds and a teacher who is white.

Cydney’s Graduation

 

My little girl graduated from Pre-K yesterday.  Cydney has been preparing for the day for quite some time.  About two months ago, I was asked to pick Cydney up no earlier than 5 pm so that she can rehearse for it.  There were poems to practice and songs I didn’t want her to sing around the house so that I can be pleasantly surprised on the actual day.  On As if they knew this was the end, Cydney’s longest friendand another child ran to her; giving the biggest hug Wednesday morning.  This day has been coming for quite some time.

Yesterday wasn’t just the end of an era for Cydney; but for me also.  Stopping to pick up flowers and breakfast, I left my house in a separate car than my mother and the kids.  I drove to the school silently reflecting on the events leading up to that moment.  My nephew went to that school.  Six years ago, those very women who were my boy’s instructors met Timile when she was pregnant.  They knew when Cydney was born and had heard about Timile’s passing.  When it was established that I would be staying in New York, they knew Cydney would be one of theirs, as well.

I couldn’t afford Cydney being in daycare.  She was with me all day, everyday from her return in April 2012 until we enrolled her two Aprils later.  I had tried getting daycare vouchers from New York State; but something always happened and things didn’t work out.  Hell, I had a guy who worked for the state yelling at me and my eighty-something year old grandmother because he thought I was just trying to get over.  Cydney started school when I couldn’t take it anymore.  She required a lot of attention and I was just starting to get paid to write.  I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and we both needed some time apart.

The evening before Cydney’s first day was the beginning of the end of my first relationship, post-Timile.  Honestly, my trust in people has never been the same since that afternoon; and we didn’t even meet or speak. outside of text messaging.  I’m working on being better.  Nonetheless, while having these flashbacks, this was a moment that hit me.

When I got to the school, I sat in the parking lot for a moment.  I thought about how the road getting here wasn’t easy.  Just thinking about it right know is making my chest hurt.  Before going inside to be proud of my little girl, I talked to her mother for a a couple of minutes.  I told Timile “Yo, we here!  I know you’re watching…Cydney is alright.  I’m alright.  We’re alright.  I know you’d be proud of her.  I’m a little jaded these days; but I’m working on getting my act together.  I’m gonna be alright.”  That last “I’m alright” was my way of reassuring her because I know if she were here, she’d be concerned.

Ten minutes later, I’m watching my daughter and her classmates sing and dance to “We Go Together” from the film, Grease.  For the first time in over a year and a half, I almost cried.  At the most, I’ll get that sensation that occurs right before one’s eyes well up; but that’s it.  I was two blinks and fifteen seconds from tears.  It’s not because I’m devoid of emotion.  I’ve just been through a lot.

As I watched my daughter sing, recite, dance, and receive her diploma I was beyond proud.  Yes, this is just Pre-K; but I’ve been through hell and back for this little girl.  I lived for twenty-five years before Cydney Moriah Milner was born; but life began after.  I couldn’t make up the ride that the two of us have been on…but I’m more than happy to have my little partner-in-crime.

 

How did we celebrate Cydney’s graduation?  The whole family went out to eat.  The after party:  Cydney laying on me and crying because she had an earache.

…Read It Because I Wrote It

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